The autonomous Spanish region in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula extends to the border with France, from which it is separated only by the Pyrenees. With an area of almost 32,000 square kilometres, the region is slightly larger than Belgium. More than seven million people live there, more than 1.6 million of them in the capital Barcelona, which is one of the most dynamic cities in Europe. Catalonia is the most varied province of the Spanish mainland. From the high alpine Pyrenees to extensive forests in the low mountain ranges and agricultural plains to steep rocky coasts and wide sandy beaches, you will find a wide variety of landscapes and climatic zones. The traditional language is Catalan – a bridge language between French and Spanish. It was forbidden during the Franco dictatorship, today it is becoming increasingly important.
Alpine hiking paradise
This national park, which was established in 1955, protects a unique mountain environment located between 1,000 and 3,300 meters above sea level. A variety of ecosystems can be found here, including grasslands, agricultural fields and deciduous forests at the park's lower altitudes. Evergreen forests, alpine meadows and rocky terrain can be found higher up. The best way to explore the park is on foot. There are information centers in Espot in the eastern part of the park and Boí in the western part. These are also starting points for a number of hiking trails.
Catalonia's glittering capital
The capital of Catalonia is situated on the Mediterranean Sea, about 120 km south of the border to France. With a population of around 1.6 million, it is the second largest city in Spain after Madrid. Much of the avant-garde architecture in the downtown area stems from the 1992 Olympics. Madrid and Barcelona are bitter rivals, a tension that is reflected in fierce encounters between the two cities' football (soccer) teams. The Romans built a massive wall around the city originally founded by the Carthaginians in 300 BC. Remnants of the Roman wall still exist today. Major attractions in the Gothic quarter, Barri Gòtic, and the historical city center include the Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, the Plaça del Rei (King's Square), and the city hall (Ajuntament). Much of the city life takes places on the “Ramblas”, the principal thoroughfare in the downtown area which includes a wide pedestrian zone.
Remnants of Jewish and Arab culture in old labyrinthine alleys
With its labyrinthine alleys exhibiting signs of Arab and Jewish culture, no city is considered more Catalonian than Girona (Spanish: Gerona). Originally a Phoenician stronghold, this city owes its existence to its strategic location along an important road in the Pyrenees. The Gothic cathedral, which boasts a huge room built on arches, is regarded as unique in Spain. The Parc Natural de la Garrotxa is also nearby, offering numerous hiking trails in a landscape formed by volcanic activity. Costa Brava is only 35 kilometers away.
The Catalan Cistercian Abbey in the province of Tarragona was declared UNESCO World Heritage Sight in 1991. It is the largest and most magnificent royal monastery of Spain, at the same time the most extensive and best preserved Cistercian monastery of the West. The main buildings date back from the 12th to the 15th century. It was given to the royal crown out of gratitude for the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain.
Abbey with a view built on the side of a cliff
The “serrated mountain” rises like a giant stone castle over the hilly landscape of Catalonia. One of Spain's most important abbeys is perched precariously on a rocky promontory along the edge of a gap in the mountain. An image of the Madonna, which attracts Catholic pilgrims from around the world, hangs above the alter in the 16th-century basilica. The mountain can be reached via a cable railway and the upper station of Sant Joan is the starting point for a hiking trail that will lead you to the highest summit, Sant Jeroni (1237 m). Here you will be rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view.