Catalonia

Catalonia (Catalan: Catalunya, Spanish: Cataluña, Occitan: Catalonha) is an autonomous community in the northeast of Spain. It borders France and Andorra to the north along the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean Sea to the east, Valencia to the south and Aragon to the west. Its capital is the famous city of Barcelona.

Provinces

Catalonia map with most important airports and railways.
Barcelona (Barcelona city, Mataró)
The most urban province around the beautiful capital.
Girona (Blanes, Figueres, Girona city, Lloret de Mar)
Charming old cities, Pyrenees mountains and small grained sand coves between mountains of the Costa Brava.
Lleida (Lleida city)
Rural towns, the Pyrenees mountains and the romanesque churches on the Val d'Aran.
Tarragona (Reus, Salou, Tarragona city, Terres de l'Ebre)
Fine grained sand beach on the Costa Daurada resorts and Terres de l'Ebre river course and delta.

Cities

Other destinations

Narrow streets in Girona

Catalonia has a great variety of different landscapes very close to each other, mountains on the Pyrenees (at the border with France), green hills on north of the country, agricultural planes on the west and beaches on the east.

Understand

Catalonia is today an autonomous region within Spain, but in fact was part of the Crown of Aragon which in some ways historically predates Spain itself (the Crown of Aragon and the Crown of Castile-León united to form Spain). The region gained its current autonomous status first in the Republican era (1930s) and then again after dictator Franco's death in 1975 and continues to press for more political and economic autonomy, mainly in defence of its culture and language and in the form of the right to collect its own taxes and spend them as they see fit. Catalonia has seen many demonstrations in favour of its independence from Spain; such as the 2013 Catalan Way. A referendum for the independence of the region did not pass in 2014.

Talk

The main languages of Catalonia are Catalan, Spanish and Occitan (Aranese), official language in the Aran Valley.

Catalan (català) is the "own language" of Catalonia, co-official with Spanish (and since 2006 with Aranese). Catalan is also spoken in Andorra, the Balearics, Valencia, La Franja (the eastern strip of Aragon), L'Alguer-Alghero (a small coastal city on the Italian island of Sardinia), and Roussillon (an area in the south of France sometimes called Catalunya Nord that corresponds roughly with the department of Pyrénées-Orientales). In everyday use, 11.95% of the population claim to use both Spanish and Catalan equally, while 45.92% mainly use Spanish and 35.54% mainly use Catalan. There is a significant difference between the Barcelona metropolitan area (and, to a lesser extent, the Tarragona area), where Spanish is more spoken than Catalan, and the rest of Catalonia, where Catalan clearly prevails over Spanish.

Visitors who speak Spanish should note that it is called castellano (Catalan castellà) and that while most people in Catalonia are bilingual in Catalan and Spanish, and are required to learn both languages in school, some people may be reluctant to answer in Spanish, due to extreme Catalan nationalistic ideologies. This is largely due to historical reasons, when the Catalan language was outlawed by the Franco regime as were other non-Castillian Spanish languages. Nevertheless, most locals are aware that Spanish is more widely spoken worldwide, and would be willing to speak to foreigners in Spanish. Replying in Catalan to a question asked in Spanish is the way to inform the other party that the conversation may continue in Catalan if desired. If you do not speak Catalan, just politely say that you do not understand, and there will be no problem in most cases. Spanish is the first language of 45.92% of Catalonia's population and 99% of Catalans speak the language fluently.

Aranese, a subdialect of Gascon (Occitan), is a minority language and only spoken by a couple of thousand people in Val d'Aran in northwest Catalonia. In 2006, it gained official status.

As in the rest of Spain, English is not widely spoken, though staff working at major hotels and the main tourist attractions know enough English to communicate. French is widely spoken as a second or third language in the areas near the border with France.

Get in

By plane

Barcelona El Prat Airport is about 15 km to the city centre. Once there, you can go to the centre by train (every 30 minutes, stopping at Sants and Plaça de Catalunya), by bus (Aerobus), that stops in the same places and with the same frequencies. The bus is the more expensive option, with the added possibility of traffic jams. Both services finish at 23:00.

Two local buses, EA (during the day) and EN (at night) also serve the airport, however these are not particularly frequent and only run as far as the Plaça d'Espanya, which is not particularly central. However, for those on a shoestring budget they may be a good option as they are fairly cheap.

There is quite a good taxi service, the only way to reach the centre directly if you arrive by night. The fares are about €35 if you go to the centre, but this can change depending of the time of the day and, of course, the part of the city you want to reach. All Barcelona taxis are painted black and yellow and are easily recognisable.

See Barcelona#Get in for more detailed information.

Of course, you can rent cars and there is a big car park, though it is quite expensive if you leave your car there for more than a couple of hours.

El Prat airport is served by a number of airlines, including EasyJet, BMI, Virgin Air, Volare, MyTraveLite...

Other airports in Catalonia are:

By train

The main train station in Barcelona is called Estació de Sants, but the most central ones are Plaça de Catalunya (most local and regional trains) and Passeig de Gràcia (serving some local and most long-distance lines).

The Spanish train company is called RENFE . Barcelona is very well connected by train with Madrid, Valencia (City), Zaragoza and the Basque Country in particular and with the whole country in general.

Inside Catalonia, there are frequent trains from the other three provincial capitals (Lleida, Tarragona and Girona).

A few trains travel across the Pyrenees, but it's possible to reach the eastern part using the train to Tour de Carol (France).

Going by train to the Costa Daurada beaches is the best choice, using the line to Tarragona. The Costa Brava isn't well connected by train.

There's also a Catalan train company Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC), which serves destinations near Barcelona, and some tourist routes. It also operates a funicular service in the Pyrenees.

By bus

Buses and coaches connect the principal cities to many national and international locations, and it's the only public transport to get to many local places in Catalonia.

The most important bus stations are: Estació de Sants (Barcelona), mainly for international routes, is next to the train station and very well connected. 'The Estació del Nord (also in Barcelona), close to Passeig de Sant Joan, is the main bus station for medium and long routes - the nearest metro (Line 1) and RENFE station is Arc de Triomf.

The routes inside Catalonia are held by different companies, which leave from different places. Every town has normally only one company, so you should ask at some information point, or check online which, although in Catalan, is quite easy to use (put the origin at the left, the destination at the right, and gives the name of the company and it's telephone number).

See

Do

Adventure sports

Water activities are practiced in a lot of places in Catalonia like Llavorsí in the Pyrenees)

Catalan "Festes" or Festivals

Catalonia has hundreds of "festes" that go on around the region every week of the year. The closest word in English to translate "Festa" would be "Festival" but this is inadequate to describe the type of celebration that exists in Catalonia. "Festes" are ritual like celebrations that have been passed down through generations of people for more than 700 years. They are organized by the people of a town for their own enjoyment, and not for any commercial interest. "Festival" (which also exists in the Catalan and Castilian languages) denotes an event that is usually organized by a specific group of people for a particular market, and is often motivated by economic interest.

“Festes” have ritual like sequences of events that usually involve Giants, Devils, Human Castles and processions. A magical atmosphere is created at the “festa”, almost like a type of Catharsis. “Festes” stem from Medieval Times when fantastical dragons and Giants were created to instruct people about religion in church services. Shortly after the fantastical creatures became a part of the Corpus Christi processions that paraded through the town during the summer. The importance given to these folkloric elements has gradually increased over time and now they have assumed a national importance. Nowadays, these traditions are associated with Catalan identity as something that is individual and separate from the rest of Spain.

These “festes” are not greatly publicized by the Catalan government for visitors.

Bird Watching

Because of its geographical location and terrific range of habitats, including dryland steppes, rocky coastlines, mountains and some of the most important wetland sites in Europe, Catalonia has a greater variety of bird life than anywhere else on the peninsular, with 95% of Iberia's and 50% of the whole Palearctic's recorded bird species.

Some of the most sought-after are Lammergeier, Black Woodpecker, Wallcreeper, Bonelli's Eagle, Lesser Grey Shrike, Dupont's Lark (recognised as probably extinct in Catalonia in 2006), Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Audouin's Gull and Lesser Crested tern. The most important sites are Cap de Creus, Aiguamolls de L'Empordà, Barcelona's Llobregat Delta, the Parc de Garraf, Ebro Delta, Steppes of Lleida and, of course, The Pyrenees.

There are a few companies that will organise tours for you, or even offer free advice, including Catalan Bird Tours and Oliva Rama Tours. There is also the Birdinginspain.com web site which offers birding sites and itineraries and lots of other useful information to help the visiting birder plan his or her trip to Catalonia.

Eat

There are lots of good places to eat. At lunch time (13-15:00 approx.), a lot of Restaurants and Bars offer Menú del dia (Menu of the day - Prix Fixe), usually consisting of a choice of four starters, four main courses, wine and bread for at a reasonable price. Some bars also offer "Plats Combinats" which are a few items served together at reasonable prices - e.g. Hamburger, egg and chips. At dinner time (20-23:00 approx), a Menú is not so frequent.

In all the medium sized cities, you can expect to find a large range of possibilities.

Catalan cuisine

Usually announced as Cuina Casolana, based on the purposes of the Mediterranean diet: Soups, salads, meats, fish and seafood, snails (especially in Lleida during "L'Aplec del Cargol" by early May), desserts ("Crema catalana" or Catalan cream, "Braç de gitano" which is a long roll made of whipped cream and sponge cake) pastries...

Books to read

Consider checking books by Carmen Casas, a restaurant critic and a world-renowned expert on Catalan cuisine.

Other cuisines

Cuisines from other regions can be readily found in cities of Catalonia:

Drink

Don't miss the good Catalan wines and Caves. Catalonia has had a very rich tradition of wine makers through history, and nowadays is a credited producer of world famous wines. "Penedès", "Priorat", "Costers del Segre", "Alella" and "Terra Alta" are good "D.O."s ("Denominació d'Origen" or designation of origin, the Spanish administrative division to control and preserve wine producing areas). Sangría is also served in most restaurants, with large variations in quality.

Sleep

Stay safe

Catalonia is usually a safe place. Be aware of pickpockets in crowds, and don't leave your car in the rest areas in motorways. Tourist areas such as Las Ramblas in Barcelona city attract many petty thieves, and you should be vigilant around these areas. As a tourist, you are a target for thieves. They can spot you and you cannot spot them. Do not carry all your money and documentation in the same bag or pocket. If you have been robbed, always go to the police.

If you travel try to follow traffic regulations or you may be fined. Notice that you will have to pay in cash immediately otherwise your car will be removed from the road. Therefore have at least €150 with you for that occasion.

Respect

You should always wear your T-shirt. It is very annoying for local people to see tourists who are half-naked. Even if you are in vacation try not to do a lot of noise at night as people will be sleeping.

You have to be aware that people usually have breakfast at 9 o´clock, lunch at 2PM and dinner at 9PM. This schedule may seem a little weird but it is like this because of the sun hours. Traditionally, when the people worked the fields of the farms, they worked when the sun was least strong, which is early morning and late afternoon. So they had a snack at 9 or 10 o'clock, ate lunch at 2PM, took a siesta, then back to work at 5 to 8PM, more or less, then came home and ate dinner at 9PM. This tradition is gradually disappearing, but the people are mostly keeping the eating schedule.

Go next

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