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You could spend a lifetime in Barcelona and seemingly never run out of places to go, things to do, delicacies to eat, and cocktails to sip! But venture a little further afield and discover that for most Catalans, their childhood, weekends and holidays were all about escaping the city and discovering the greater region. Ask any local and they will tell you that there is far more to the Meditterranean paradise than the popular metropolis, with unique experiences ready to provide a taste of true Catalan life! At just the size of Tasmania, it is easy and accessible to get around in Catalonia. Simply rent a car and explore at your own pace, or jump onboard a train, sit back and enjoy the ride, and within no time at all you’ll be exploring the pretty little towns, famous landmarks, and unique attractions that lie just beyond the city limits
VISIT THE FAMOUS FILMING LOCATIONS OF GAME OF THRONES
Winter may have come and gone, but in the medieval town of Girona, the Game of Thrones spirit lives on. Just a 75-minute drive north of Barcelona, or a 37-minute ride on the high speed AVE train, this historic town boasts dreamy landscapes, quaint neighbourhoods, and iconic landmarks featured in the hit HBO series, Game of Thrones (GoT). Whether you’re a devoted fan, or you’ve never watched a single episode, many of the fabled filming sites offer far more than just a chance to relive a moment from the series! The backdrop of several scenes, GoT fans will want to beeline straight to the Girona Cathedral. As well as being the set for Braavos, Old Town and King’s Landing, the striking cathedral is also steeped in history, much of which is depicted in the spectacular combination of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic-style architecture. Just a 6-minute walk from there, the trip down memory-lane continues at Pujada de Sant Domenec and the old Jewish Quarter, the very same place where Arya Stark staged a dashing escape. Snap a token picture on the iconic steps before continuing on to Abbey Sant Pere de Galligants, a former benefictine monastery that features in the series as a citadel library where maesters are trained. From there the town offers plenty of quaint eateries and photo-opps to easily fill an afternoon. Restaurant 8de7 offer an exceptional menu del dia (menu of the day), including a selection of traditional Catalan and Mediterranean tapas and dishes that won’t break the bank however, booking in advance is necessary! Top off your visit with a trip to Rocambolesc gelateria, the very first to be opened by the world’s best pastry chef Jordi Roca, and perhaps the only place you can enjoy a scoop of Jamie Lanniester’s hand!
GO WINE TASTING IN THE HEART OF CATALONIA’S WINE REGION
Just an hour’s drive from Barcelona, the Catalan wine region of Penedès is one of the most exciting and privileged Spanish wine territories! Recognised worldwide as the home of Cava (sparkling wine), this area is a must-visit for wine connoisseurs and less seasoned wine drinkers alike. Known for producing robust, aromatic blends, the region celebrates a diverse range of wines, including organic and biodynamic varieties, meaning it’s highly unlikely that you’ll leave without tasting a palate pleasing drop (or two). To get a first-hand glimpse into the wine making process, learn about the growing region, and taste some iconic regional wines, kick-start your winery-hop with a visit to the Bodegas Torres Winery in Penedès. Here, you can take a winery tour where you get a behind-the-scenes look at the ins-and-outs of wine making, as well as a background on the history of the winery, before sampling a variety of blends accompanied by tapas. Those keen on jumping straight into the tasting, treat your palate to a specialty wine and Ibérico ham pairing or a wine and cheese pairing tour. Each of the tours are held by a sommelier and expert guide to ensure that even if you arrive a novice, you’re guaranteed to leave wiser (and fuller!).
PARTY IN THE GAY CAPITAL OF SPAIN
Known for its incredible beaches and seafront promenade, Sitges is a hotspot for sun-worshipers and beach-lovers. But beyond the coastal treasures, this Mediterranean town also boasts a thriving LGBTQ nightlife scene that rivals that of the famous Sunset Strip! You don’t have to be an extravagant party queen to get in on the fun though, with a variety of bars, clubs and festivals that welcome and entice all! In July and August, Sitges cranks up the volume turning the town into one big beach party, while Sitges Mardi Gras equivalent, Carnival unleashes the town’s wilder side in an explosion of colour, costumes, and characters (the cocktails are a given!). For those seeking something a little more low key, the Sitges International Film Festival is an event not to be missed. The world-renowned festival attracts celebrities, culture fiends and film-buffs from around the globe, screening a variety of films, but specialising in horror and fantasy. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for famous faces during October! Sitges close proximity to Barcelona, just 30-minutes by train and under an hour by car, also make it the perfect getaway to experience and explore more of Catalonia.
CHECK OUT ANCIENT ROMAN RUINS
Catalonia is positively brimming with history, and perhaps nowhere is it more evident than the charming town of Tarragona. Located just over an hour’s drive southwest of Barcelona (or a 35-40 minute high speed train ride to the camp de Tarragona) the scenic journey there is the perfect appetizer for what awaits. Home to 13 of Catalonia’s 36 UNESCO World Heritage listed sites, you could easily spend an entire day and night exploring the city, but it also makes an easy and very doable day-trip! Dive headfirst into history with a visit to the Roman Amphitheatre. Located just metres from the oceanfront, overlooking the shimmering Mediterranean Sea, the spectacular backdrop adds an air of magic to the already enchanting arena. Spanning 109.5 metres long, and 86.5 metres wide, it’s not hard to imagine the vibrant buzz of 15,000 spectators cheering on a grisly battle, but a visit during Terraco Viva leaves nothing to the imagination! Bringing the amphitheatre to life with a range of gladiator fights, concerts, and period performances, it’s a rare and exciting chance to experience Catalan’s Roman history first hand. Despite bearing some of its own battles scars, the 2nd century Amphitheatre remains one of the most-well preserved in the city. A little less-known but equally as striking, the Circ Roma (Roman Circus) was once the site of horse-drawn chariot races. Although just a small corner of the once 304-metre long circuit is left today, it’s the subterranean remains that are most impressive. Running under what would have been the seating area of the circus and extending beneath numerous 19th-century buildings, the tunnel connecting up to the Praetorian Tower offers a glimpse into the past.
SEE A HUMAN TOWER (CASTELL) FIRST HAND
Part of the fun of visiting somewhere new is doing as the locals do, and in Catalonia that means spectating (or for those who dare, being part of) a Human Tower known as Castell (meaning castle in Catalan). It may sound a little bizarre to some, but it’s a tradition that dates back to the 16th century, and over time has developed into a competitive sport, with regional and local teams (collas) that includes members ranging in age from 5 – 65 years old, forming throughout Catalonia! Whilst it’s common to see Castells, the gravity-defying tradition is particularly resonant in Valls, the town where it originated. It was here that the very first castell took place, and where the oldest team and reigning champions, the Colla Vella, reside. Known for building towers of dizzying heights (up to nine levels even), the team trains regularly, allowing spectators and willing participants to be a part of the fun. For those keen on experiencing the UNESCO listed sport first hand, Valls is an easy day trip from Barcelona (just an hour by car) with buses and trains running regularly. Performing often at shows and festivals in the town centre, keep your eyes peeled for the famed Castellers (and the large crowds that follow), or head along to a training session (they practice twice a week) and try your hand at being a Colla Vella for a day!
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Special thank you to Excite Holidays for this blog post
Welome and thank you for visiting! I am a travel agent with a passion for good food, design, general craftiness...and of course TRAVEL. I treat everything in life as an adventure. Sometimes the journey is short and sweet and sometimes it's long and messy, but if we try to stay in the moment we can make most things enjoyable.