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Barcelona : Sagrada Familia


Barcelona - Casa Batllo

Barcelona & Catalonia

Catalonia includes Barcelona, Costa Brava and the Costa Dorada.

Catalonia is a hilly coastal region in Spain's northwest corner, bordering France. It has an ancient culture distinct from those of neighboring regions and many of the inhabitants speak Catalan, a Romance language. The environs of Barcelona are Spain's industrial and commercial powerhouse, but inland and up the coast, the rocky, forested landscape is largely unspoilt and Catalonia attracts many tourists, mainly to seaside resorts on the Costa Brava and Costa Dorada. Despite its energetic bustle, tourists are also drawn to Barcelona itself, a city of great charm, many fine buildings and a vibrant nightlife. The region is also an important centre for the production of olive oil, wine, almonds and fruit.

Note: The names of cities and sites described in this section are given in Catalan. Where the Spanish (Castilian) name is very different it appears in brackets after the Catalan version.


The second-largest city in the country, is Spain's major commercial and industrial centre and one of the most important Mediterranean ports. The Barri Gótic (old town) near the railway station has a museum with a fine collection of Picasso's early sketches. The old cathedral, the Episcopal Palace, the Palau de la Generalitat and the Plaça del Rei have architecture to rival the Baroque splendours of central Europe. The Ramblas, originally the site of the ancient city walls, is now the major promenade area of the city, where one goes to see and be seen. Proceeding from the port towards Plaça Catalunya (the principal square), the atmosphere becomes more sophisticated. The Ramblas are home to food, flower and bird markets and are lined by bookstalls. Beyond Plaça Catalunya, the Eixample (Ensanche), whose name means extension, boasts a wealth of Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. Gràcia is a particularly attractive neighborhood. Museums worth visiting include the Picasso Museum, the Museum of Catalan Art, the Maritime Museum, the Peldralbes Monastery housing a Thyssen collection and the Zoological Museum. Like most towns and cities in Catalonia, Barcelona is famous for its excellent Romanesque art; and of course it contains the most famous examples of the work of the visionary Catalan architect, Antonio Gaudí. The funicular to Tibidabo, the highest of the peaks that enclose Barcelona, and the cable car to Montjuic in the southern suburbs, offer spectacular views over the city. Fun fairs are located on both peaks.

Gaudí was born in the 1850s, and began work at the age of 32 on what is now one of the world's most extraordinary churches, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Statues portraying biblical scenes are sculpted into the walls of the building, surrounded by stone palm leaves, strange viney branches and fungus-like vegetation. George Orwell described the church as `one of the most hideous buildings in the world', and although unfinished (Gaudí died while work was still in progress) the people of Barcelona are intensely proud of it. Now a century old, construction still continues. Recent structures added to Gaudí's own work have provoked lively local debate. Other examples of his work are the Casa Battlló (with mask-shaped balconies and an undulating blue roof) and the Casa Mila (an apartment block taking the form of a dragon perched precariously on a melting slab of cheese). Overlooking the city and the port, Parc Güell was conceived as a garden city. It was never completed, but the park features exquisite tiled pavilions and fountains. The walkways stand on curious sculpted pillars and are flanked by throne-like stone seats.

Costa Brava

This coast, which begins 65km (40 miles) northeast of Barcelona, is a stretch of spectacular pine-clad rocky coastline interspersed with fine sandy bays and is one of the most famous resort areas in the country. Some places (such as Tossa de Mar) remain relatively unspoilt by the massive influx of holidaymakers and retain the small-town flavor of the original town; others (such as Lloret de Mar), have an intensely developed tourist industry. Summer is very crowded everywhere, but with persistence and a short walk relatively isolated beaches can be found. Coastal ferries operate between most resorts on the Costa Brava.

Although most visitors come to the Costa Brava for a relaxing holiday of sun and sea rather than serious sightseeing, there are nevertheless certain points of cultural interest in the area. These include Girona (Gerona), one of Catalonia's oldest cities with a well-preserved Jewish quarter; Figueres, home of the Salvador Dali Museum; Cadaquès, an enchanting fishing village nestling on the coast about 30 minutes bus drive from Figueres, where Dali lived for many years; and Empúries (Ampurias) with its impressive Graeco-Roman remains.

Resorts on the Costa Brava: Roses, San Pedro Pescador, San Martín d'Empúries, La Escala, Estartit, Bagur, Palafrugell, Palamós, Platja d'Aro, S'Agaro, Sant Feliú de Guixols (the market is worth a visit), Tossa de Mar, Lloret de Mar and Blanes.

Costa Dorada

This extends south from Barcelona to Tarragona, with fine sandy beaches that are often separated by the road or railway from the interior.

The lively and cosmopolitan resort town of Sitges on the Costa Dorada has several museums, in particular the Cav-Ferrat which houses two paintings by El Greco. Off the A2 motorway towards Lleida are two monasteries, the Cistercian Monastery of Santa Cruz dating back to 1159 and, near the ancient medieval town of Montblanc, the Santa María at Poblet. Lleida (Lérida) itself is the capital of a province that includes the wildest, most mountainous area of the Pyrénées. Its wealth of scenery and monuments make it one of the most interesting and attractive areas in Spain. The coastal city of Tarragona is one of the finest examples of a Roman city in existence, virtually built on the Roman plan. The amphitheatre overlooking the sea is well preserved and atmospheric; in addition there is an aqueduct. Just along the coast, Salou boasts the Port-Aventura Theme Park, inaugurated in spring 1995. The town of Manresa has a 14th-century church noted for its stained glass. 60km (37 miles) northwest of Barcelona is Montserrat, the site of a world-famous monastery, the legendary home of the Holy Grail, and the actual home of the famous Black Madonna. Founded in 880, it is set in the "serrated mountain" landscape 1135m (3725ft) above the Llobregat River valley. There are inspiring views from the monastery and on the mountain walk from the Hermitage of San Jeronimo.

Resorts on the Costa Dorada: Calella de la Costa, Arenys de Mar, Castelldefels, Sitges, Calafell, Comarruga, Torredembarra, Tarragona, Salou, Cambrils, Miami Playa, Hospital del Infante and San Carlos de la Rapita.



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