Centuries of turbulence – everyone from the Greeks and Romans to the Visigoths and French have left their mark – has fired a fiercely proud identity into the colourful cities, postcard-perfect coastline and idyllic countryside of Spain’s northeastern corner.
It’s this independence that has bred a truly unique culture; Catalonia is, after all, classed as an autonomous community. And its largest city – Barcelona – is a microcosm of it all. Ancient temple ruins, city walls and crumbling foundations remember Roman Barcino while the Gothic Quarter is a step back to the Middle Ages. Here, twisting laneways link café-lined plazas host to towering cathedrals and delicate churches alike.
Park Guell, Barcelona
But, it’s perhaps in the architecture of Gaudí and his contemporaries that Barcelona stands truly unique. Great sweeping whimsies bend the skyline – inspiration for such names as Dalí and Picasso whose works are spread throughout the city.
With Barcelona’s green-dappled Collserola Hills the scenic backdrop to a series of gorgeous beaches, it’s a fitting introduction to the wider Catalonia’s natural beauty. To the north the hiking trails of the Pyrenees straddle the French border before the cragged geography smooths itself out into verdant vineyards and farmlands – the setting for idyllic church villages.
It’s all fronted by a spectacular coastline, with the Costa Brava’s white sands dotted with charming seaside towns and hidden coves. Back inland you’ll find such medieval towns as Girona, with its museums, galleries and Gothic churches, and Figueres, whose rich heritage spans from Dalí to the Romans.