Montserrat is the holiest mountain in Catalonia. 60 km from Barcelona and 720 above the sea, the Benedictine monastery is about halfway to the summit. This desti-nation is equally gratifying to lovers of nature, spirituality, art and/or sport. One never tires of the unusual beauty of this geological phenomenon and the impressive views of the natural park.
Inside the basilica is the figure of Our Lady of Montserrat, patron saint of Catalonia, known by locals as “La Moreneta” (Little Dark One). It is a 12th century polychrome wooden carving which, according to tradition, was discovered by some shepherds in a cave, which also became a holy shrine. Pilgrims from all over the world come here all year round to venerate the Virgin Mary of Montserrat.
We can listen to the hymns of the Escolania, one of the oldest children’s choirs in Eu-rope. The museum has an outstanding collection of paintings from the 17th century to now, as well as art from Biblical cultures. There is a video presentation of Montserrat that includes a tasting of herb liquors. Cable cars make certain spots accessible, and the numerous trekking routes go from easy to quite challenging. Montserrat is accessed by car, bus, train, funicular rail or suspended cable car.
A mere 40 minutes from Barcelona we find the region of the Alt Penedès, Catalonia’s main wine-growing area. The landscape is a sea of grapevines dotted with farms and cellars that make a variety of wines and the sparkling wine known as Cava. There are over 300 cellars, many of them medium or small family enterprises, some of them in the “modernista” style. Visits and tastings are organized throughout the year. Learn how it’s done and how it tastes!.
1872 saw a major change in the life of the region, when the town of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia began to produce “Cava” with the traditional Penedès grape varieties: maca-beu, xarel•lo and parellada. Since then the cava sector has become the most
successful sideline of Catalan wine-making, the 80 cellars in the vicinity of Sant Sa-durni d’Anoia produce 70% of all Spanish cava.
The cellars to visit range from world-famous Freixenet, to “modernista” Codorniu, de-clared a National Monument, a family business like Recaredo or unique brands like Jean Leon.
This route can be combined with a visit to Montserrat or the seaside town of Sitges.
Sitges is synonymous of culture, sunshine and beach, with more than 300 sunny days per year, and only 36 Km from Barcelona. Originally a fishing village, it has grown into a luxury tourist resort that keeps many festivities and traditions such as the Carnival, the flower-carpets on the streets for Corpus Domini (here Corpus Christi), the Fantasy and Terror Film Festival, or the Veteran Car Rally
Well conserved “modernista” houses recall the “americanos”, locals who immigrated to America and returned wealthy. The colonial mansions they built are a splendid arc-hitectural heritage.
Sitges also inspired great artists and painters like Santiago Rusiñol. We can visit Cau Ferrat, the house where he lived and worked, or the Palau Maricel Museum, a legacy of the American collector Charles Deering.
The beaches of fine sand and calm transparent sea are a favorite in the summer.
Strolling and enjoying a meal at one of the sea-front restaurants along the Passeig Maritim, experiencing the local traditions or visiting the whitewashed houses of the fishermen is a relaxing way to enjoy an excursion very close to Barcelona
GIRONA AND FIGUERES
On the way to France, Girona is a medieval town of great charm. Strolling through its historic centrewe can visit its magnificent Cathedral with the widest Gothic vault in Europe and also the important Jewish district. During an itinerary through the ancient walled sector of the city we will discover the history of the Jewish community in Girona.
The colorful houses mirrored in the River Onyar, crossed by the Pont de Ferro bridge, designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel, are some of the photographs to capture. Girona was also the location for key scenes of the series “Game of Thrones”.
Figueres, not very far from the border, is where the genius Salvador Dalí was born. We will visit the Teatre Museu Dalí, built using the ruins of the former Municipal Theatre. Inaugurated in 1974, the entire museum is considered Dali’s last great work; everything in it was conceived and designed by the artist to bring the visitor into his unique and captivating world, a genuine surrealistic experience.
THE DALÍ ROUTE
Cadaquès , Púbol and the Museu Dalí
The Empordà region contains all three corners of the so-called Dalí Triangle. Salvador Dalí didn’t only live in Figueres, where his main museum is located, but in his summer home in a secluded fishing cove near Cadaqués, about an hour’s drive from Figueres, called Portlligat, where he transformed a group of small fisherman’s houses into perhaps the most original dwelling ever seen..
Dalí saw his wife Gala as his muse and inspiration. He often said she was a queen and every queen must have a castle, so he bought one in the village of Púbol and transformed it into an artistic masterpiece to give her the medieval castle she de-served. The magnificent house is full of magic, the artist’s muse and love rests in the crypt, great elephants with spindly flamingo legs hide in the garden, and the pool re-flects an ivy-covered temple with thirteen heads of Richard Wagner.
In Figueres, where the artist Salvador Dalí was born, we will visit the Teatre Museu Dalí (Dali Museum Theatre), inaugurated in 1974. Dalí chose to fit the museum into the remains of the Municipal Theatre of Figueres, destroyed in the war. The result is considered the last great work of his genius. Everything was conceived and designed by the artist to give the visitor an experience, a genuine introduction into the unique and captivating world that Salvador Dalí lived in.
The shore of the province of Girona is called Costa Brava and extends from Blanes to Portbou bordering with France. A mere 90 km from Barcelona we can admire dream-like coves with azure seas, golden sand, wild and rampant vegetation, stretches of dramatic rocky coast but also wide resort beaches, natural parks, botanical gardens, Iberian, Greek and Roman excavations, medieval towns of stone or fishing villages with tremendous charm, like Tossa de Mar and others
Land of habaneras and rice, Iberian, Greek and Roman remains. Also of some of the most beautiful Natural Parks in Europe. The Illes Medes, the Parc Natural del Cap de Creus or the Parc dels Aiguamolls de l'Empordà are some examples.
Among the villages include Blanes, Tossa de Mar presided by a large medieval wall, Calella de Palafrugell, Begur or Cadaqués. In all of them you can stroll through cob-bled streets and the roads of Ronda that link one village to another and allow us to admire the beauty of the territory.
Located in the county of La Garrotxa, Besalú has a historic and artistic medieval centre considered one of the best conserved in Catalonia, with numerous buildings of Christian and Jewish origin. On arrival, we will be overcome by the majestic power of the Romanesque bridge across the River Fluvià, built by the Counts of Besalú. Don’t for-get to turn on your camera! The winding narrow streets of Besalú take you directly to the middle ages.
The Jewish quarter is of great interest, in particular the Mikveh, or ritual bathhouse, the oldest and best conserved in Europe. With the one in Girona, these are the only two Jewish baths discovered so far in the Iberian Peninsula.
Besalú was originally a fortified promontory at the meeting of two watercourses, the River Fluvià and River Capellades. Among the Christian relics of the past are the Romanesque church of the former monastery of St Peter and the façade of the an-cient church and hospital of Sant Julià, both from the 12th century.
The Garrotxa area also has several extinct Volcanoes, the medieval village of Santa Pau, the lake of Banyoles and a reputation for good food. La Garrotxa combines well with a visit to Girona.
In the year 2000 this surprising city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.Tarragona has more than 2000 years of history to show, and combines a unique wealth of classical and medieval features
The outstanding Cathedral, built between the 12th and 14th centuries, stands on the same hill previously occupied by the Roman temple dedicated to the emperors. As the capital city of Roman Spain, the archaeological heritage of Tarragona is im-pressive. It is rewarding to visit the Roman amphitheatre, which saw spectacles such as the gladiator fights, or the Circus where the horse and chariot races took place; the perimeter of the Roman wall, an impressively massive construction, was still in military use in the 18th century.
Tarragona is a city that leans over the sea; this is clear if we stop for a rest by the bal-cony of the Mediterranean, a splendid viewpoint at the end of Tarragona’s Rambla, high above the cliffs overlooking the beach.
EXCURSIONS À LA CARTE
Catalonia is a land of natural contrasts, with the sea and the mountains, natural parks, the Pyrenees,charming medieval villages, “Modernista” masterpieces in the cities, experiences of every kind await you, with culture, history, art, sport, traditions, wine-tasting and cuisine.
Traditional festivities or fairs are also a pretext for an escapade to local markets like the Fira del Ram in the city of Vic (on the Saturday before Palm Sunday); the “calço-tades” (grilled spring onions) in Valls; the Carnivals in Sitges and Vilanova; the living “nativity scenes” at Christmastime; concerts of “Havaneres” (songs of the Cubanseafarers); or a local commemoration of their Patron Saint’s.
Besides the excursions suggested above, there are many other possibilities, such as a visit to the Cripta Güell and the Colony Güell (Gaudí); follow Cistercian Route, with the monasteries of Santes Creus and Poblet; visit the town of Reus, birthplace of Gaudí, where we will find the masterpieces that Domènech i Montaner built in the “cradle of Modernisme”; travel to the high valleys of Nuria, La Cerdanya or Vall de Boí, in the Pyrenees, or even as far as our tiny but impressive neighbor nation of Andorra. We will never run out of places to discover!
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