I wasn’t really prepared for beautiful scenery and charming towns and villages when I came to Catalonia. Calling them secrets may be a bit much, but I suspect there are many of us (especially in Britain), that overlook Catalonia as a holiday or travel destination. 7 secrets of Catalonia is me showing you what’s out there, within easy reach of anywhere in Europe, so add these places to your bucket list now, you won’t regret it.
St Joan de les Abadesses
St Joan was my first taste of Catalonia after my Barcelona Weekender, a small town in the Ripollès region on the River Ter. It’s a quaint town, with an abundance of history to be admired. Make sure you take a tour around the Monastery, the Palau de l’Abadia (the Abbey Palace) and the historical centre, and learn about the fascinating history here.
Eat here: La Teuleria Restaurant. The owner of this family run restaurant has an incredible cellar full on wines and souvenirs, including wine stamped by the Vatican and drunk by the Pope!
Sleep here: Hostel Ruta de Ferro
Cap de Creus
The photos of this stunning 190 square kilometres of National Park in the foothills of the Pyrenees should speak for themselves. Arriving here after 4 days of cycling was simply breathtaking. It has clear 360-degree panoramic views of the towns below, and it really is a gem of Catalonia. Then you can enjoy the long winding roads down to the town of Llançà. My advice is to spend some time exploring the whole park, and make sure you don’t miss Sant Pere de Rhodes…
Sant Pere de Rhodes Monastery
It’s kind of cheating as Sant Pere de Rhodes is technically in Cap de Creus, but the monastery is so spectacular it deserves its own entry. The monastery was built on the side of Verdera Mountain below the ruins of the Sant de Verdera Castle, which you can see on the 45 minute walk to the top of the mountain, which I highly recommend. The tour of the monastery is brilliant, and full of interesting facts and history.
Originally a fishing village, Llançà is not best known for its tourism, but it should be. Just a few miles from France in the Alt Emporda region of Catalonia, you’ll find lots of quiet beaches and coves, and plenty of water sports to take part in. On top of that there’s an abundance of shops and restaurants which of course serve the beautifully fresh fish caught that same day. Then there’s Cap de Creus National Park on your doorstep. Finally it’s worth exploring the coastal paths that take you south through the rest of Costa Brava.
Vall d’en Bas
Surrounded by mountains in the Garrotxa region lies the beautiful town of Vall d’en Bas. It’s a very agricultural city and the valleys provide lots of lush soil to farm. We had a tour organised by the hostel below, which was a great way to learn about the remarkable history behind the buildings in the old town, and the rather terrifying prison!
Girona is the only city on this list, and easily the most visited place in my seven ‘secrets’. I couldn’t exclude Girona, because I think its overlooked and I don’t know why. There really is no excuse with its own airport and frequent trains from Barcelona that take just 40 minutes. Girona has a lure to it, a romance that you can’t resist and once you leave you just want more. The Old Town and modern city are generally split by the River Onyar, and you can’t beat Saint Julia Mountain for stunning views over the city. This is definitely one I want to come back to and explore again.
Girona Photos: Girona Dreaming by Miss Barlow
Banyoles is a town known best for its lake, which is the largest in Catalonia and famous for rowing. You’ll often see Olympians training here in the summer, and it hosted the rowing in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But its not just the rowing, you can swim, canoe, mountain bike and go running until your heart’s content. I also had arguably the finest coffee in Catalonia, whilst people watching in Banyoles Old Town Public Square.
If you needed any more reasons, you’ve got the friendly Catalan people, their fascinating history and their fight for independence. You will also find most of these towns are linked by a popular and very scenic cycling route, look out for a new article about Cycling in the Pyrenees, coming soon.
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Have you been to Catalonia? Where would you recommend? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below 🙂