Catalonia: More Than Barcelona
When you think about Spain, what are some of the first cities that come to mind? Madrid? Or maybe Barcelona? Because who has heard of Girona or Tarragona, unless you’ve taken an interest in Spain or Spanish geography?
The two cities I hear about the most that are located in Spain are Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid is the national capital of Spain, but Barcelona is the capital and largest city of its own region–Catalonia, which consists of four provinces; Tarragona, Girona, Lleida, and Barcelona. They even have their own language that they prefer to speak more than Spanish: Catalan!
Though there’s a possibility that you may have heard of Tarragona or maybe even Girona or Lleida, it’s most common to hear about people gush about wanting to visit the Gothic Quarter or going to see Gaudi’s amazing architecture; that would mainly conjure the idea of the popular Barcelona.
But I’m here to try and break the idea that Catalonia is just Barcelona, or at least expand your vision and open your hearts to wanting to visit places outside of Barcelona, inside Catalonia. Though Barcelona is a beautiful region and the Gothic Quarter is a must-experience for visitors, the Catalan region of Spain has so much more to offer in every sense. And by every sense, I mean any kind of person could visit Catalonia and find something that they really enjoy.
Serra del Cadí and Gósol
One morning, I had the opportunity to go hiking in the Serra del Cadí, which is part of the Pyrenees. How cool is that! I’m not much of a hiker though, so the trail we took was a little difficult and had me out of breath by the end; luckily going back was easier than getting to the final destination!
I don’t have the opportunity (or a huge desire) to hike in general, but whenever I do go hiking, I’m able to see and experience new landscapes. The Serra del Cadí is no exception–even if the air was a little chilly, the blue skies were a perfect compliment to the color of nature in the mountain range. If you want to go hiking somewhere naturally scenic and still get a workout, then this part of Catalonia could be a perfect match.
After hiking in Serra del Cadí, we got to explore the town of Gósol, which is just a few minutes drive from the mountain range. Gósol is just a pleasant, small town, with something to take a picture of every turn you make. If you’re the photographer type, you’ll know what I mean, but even if you aren’t, it’s still easy to admire the simple beauty and the charm of Gósol. If you’re not a big city person and can appreciate the personality and understated tranquility of a small town, then this is the place for you.
I would say Llafranc was one of the most scenic places I was able to visit in Catalonia, and as a California native, I know my beaches. Just as I was starting to get a little too comfortable with California’s beaches, the coastal town of Llafranc in the Costa Brava area has a whole different ambience from what I’m used to feeling when I’m within 5 feet of touching the ocean.
Llafranc is a beach town, but it’s a small beach town. If you’re seeking adventure and a big city, this isn’t what you’re looking for if you plan on spending a week or two somewhere in Catalonia. If you’re seeking some adventure and the experience of a picturesque, quiet town, you could probably spend a day or two in Llafranc and you’ll be happy. But if you’re just looking to unwind and get away from everything, you could be here for a lot longer than two days.
On the beach, everyone is relaxed and laid-back, minding their own business. In the water, the boats lightly bounce back and fourth between small waves in the water, hovering by the shore. But it’s not until you’re a little bit removed from the sand itself that you’ll be able to see the beauty of the water; as I explored the town of Llafranc, I came across a path that hugged the side of the coast where I was able to see the beach from a distance. The color of the water was beautiful, and it was somewhere where I could just enjoy being in this part of Catalonia.
It was peaceful. That’s what it was. And if peace is what you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Llafranc.
Costa Brava is another beach, but with an entirely different personality than the one in Llafranc. After I first saw the beach in Costa Brava, it reminded me of the beaches at home in California, but a bit more pleasant to the eye because of how blue the water is. After arriving at the beach, we started along a coastal path that hugged the edge of the land where we were able to see the waves crashing against the rocks below us.
If you’re looking to get your mind off of things, and want to take a scenic walk near the beach, then this beach in Costa Brava would be a good place to go. I don’t know what it is about the spot along the coast we chose to stay at, but it’s the kind of beach-spot that makes you think. The water was filled with creases of itself, and the sun shone brightly just before there was a hint of dusk in the sky. You look out into the ocean and get lost in not only your thoughts, but beauty as well.
Everyone asked me what my favorite part of the trip was and even if I’ve answered it before, I always stop to think about it just in case there was something I was missing. There were multiple places and activities that made visiting Catalonia amazing as it was, but I always end up with the response that going to Girona was my favorite.
The week I spent in Spain was my first week in Europe–ever. After living in a country that’s only about 237 years old, I knew going to Europe for the first time would be something unique and very special, and I knew it would be very different from being in the U.S. The thing is, I don’t think I realized how different it would be once I was actually there.
If history (especially European history) is exciting to you, Girona is your place to visit. It has a lot of history with the Romans, Moors, Charlemagne, the Jewish community, the French…the list goes on, so unless you’re already an expert on this city, I would recommend getting a local guide to explain the extra myths and history you can’t get from reading a book.
Not only is the history invisibly engraved into Girona’s personality, but you can see it on the buildings and in the architecture, and you can feel it as you walk beside the old bricks that make up the old city’s walls, towers, and churches. Besides the history, the some of the architecture is amazing; I was most in awe of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona, mainly because I had never seen anything like it before. That’s what I like the most about Girona. It has a certain feel that I couldn’t get anywhere else in the United States, or anywhere I had visited before. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t do well in big, metropolitan cities, but I could definitely spend a long time in old, historical cities like Girona.
Disclaimer: This post was made possible by Catalunya Experience, but all opinions expressed are our own.