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Catalonia Travel Guide

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (© MasterLu - Fotolia.com)
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.

Introduction

Catalonia (Cataluña in Spanish, Catalunya in Catalan) is the second most populous Spanish autonomous community (after Andalusia) and the wealthiest in terms of GRP. Its capital, Barcelona, is the centre of the fourth largest metropolitan area in the EU, after Paris, London and Madrid, with approximately 5 million inhabitants.

Catalan language is closely related to the Occitan dialects of southern France. It has over 11 million native speakers, only 5.5 million of whom in Catalonia itself. The rest are to be found in the Balearic Islands, Valencia, Aragon, Andorra, the French department of Pyrénées-Orientales (also known as Roussillon ou Northern Catalonia), and around the city of Alghero in Sardinia.

Historically, Catalonia has its roots in the County of Barcelona, founded by Charlemagne in 801. Along with Navarre and Aragon, Catalonia were originally part of the Frankish Empire, then of the nascent Kingdom of France. In 1150, Petronilla of Aragon, sole heiress of the Kingdom of Aragon, married the Count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer IV, thus uniting the fate of the two regions. In 1469, Ferdinand of Aragon wedded Isabella I of Castile, an alliance that would give birth to modern Spain.

Catalonia has retained deep-rooted cultural ties with other regions of the former Kingdom of Aragon - not least among them the Catalan language and a good share of its cuisine. Nevertheless, Catalan nationalism has been gradually rising in recent years, especially since the global recession of 2007. The percentage of Catalans supporting the independence of Catalonia soared from 15% in early 2007 to 46% in early 2013. One way the Catalans display their nationalist feelings is by replacing the oval sticker on vehicles showing the 'E' country code for 'España' by the 'C' of Catalonia, often on a striped red and yellow background representing the Catalan flag. A more subtle way is to substitute the Spanish black bull sticker (very popular nationwide) for the Catalan donkey sticker.

Famous people from Catalonia include (chronologically): the architect Antoni Gaudí, the cellist Pablo Casals, the surrealist artist Joan Miró, the surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, the opera soprano Montserrat Caballé, former President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell, and the celebrity chef Ferran Adrià.

Catalan entrepreneurs have also made their mark on the international scene, for example with Facundo Bacardi, founder of the Bacardi rum distillery in Cuba, or Joseph Oller, who founded the famous cabaret Moulin Rouge in Paris.

Cuisine

Catalan cuisine, true to its Mediterranean location, is rich in fish, seafood, herbs, and fresh vegetables - notably aubergines, artichokes, scallions, tomatoes, and red peppers, which it blends with produce from the mountains: mushrooms, poultry, game, and of course goat cheeses like formatge de tupí and Garrotxa. The local sausages include the butifarra (uncured and spiced) and fuet (thin, cured and dry). Catalan cuisine puts a lot of emphasis on sauces, a feature that distinguishes it from other regional cuisines in Spain. The five essential sauces are allioli, sofrito, samfaina, picada, and romesco/salvitxada. Like in Valencia, rice dishes have a considerable importance.

Notables Catalan dishes inlcude arròs a la cassola (the Catalan paella, a variant cooked in a ceramic pot without safran), arròs negre (rice cooked in cuttlefish ink), coca (Catalan pizza, usually rectangular), escalivada (grilled vegetables skinned and seasoned with olive oil and salt), escudella i carn d'olla (soup with various vegetables, beans, meatballs and sausages), esqueixada (salted cod salad with tomato and onion), habas a la catalana (broad beans with herbs and spices), pa amb tomàquet (toasted bread rubbed with fresh tomato, olive oil, garlic and salt), suquet de peix (fish stew with potatoes, garlic and tomato), xai rostit amb 12 cabeces d'all (lamb roasted with 12 heads of garlic), and for dessert the ubiquitous crema catalana (crème brulée).

Catalonia produces its fair share of wines, like the Cava, Spain's most famous sparkling wine, and Priorat, the only Spanish region that earned a Denominaciones de Origen Calificadas (DOC) along with La Rioja.

Attractions

West

Aigüestortes & Estany
Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park (photo by Josep Borrut - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
outstanding Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park
Tarragona ※
Roman amphitheatre by the sea, Tarragona (© wazymodo - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Tarragona
Lleida
La Seu Vella, Lleida (© Véviga - Fotolia.com)
very good Lleida

Other attractions

good Taül

Centre

Barcelona ※
Park Güell, Barcelona (© MasterLu - Fotolia.com)
must-see Barcelona

Montserrat
Abbey Santa Maria de Montserrat in the Montserrat mountain (© ttretjak - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Montserrat
Poblet Monastery ※
Poblet Monastery (photo by PMRMaeyaert - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
very good Poblet Monastery

East

Costa Brava
Costa Brava (© travelpeter - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Costa Brava

Girona
Girona (© matthi - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Girona
Cruïlles & Monells
The fortified village of Cruïlles (photo by Vincent van Zeijst - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
very good Cruïlles, Monells i Sant Sadurní de l'Heura

Other attractions

very good Cadaqués

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