The new Grand Tour of Catalonia touring route through Spain invites you to take its roads less travelled
Is there anyone who doesn’t love Barcelona? With its eye-catching architecture, its grand promenades and maze-like alleys lined with bars, not to mention world-class museums and ancient relics, it is no wonder that Barcelona has become one of the world’s most-visited cities.
As visitors start flooding back to Spain, however, the Catalan government is encouraging travellers to look beyond Barcelona and get to know the rest of Catalonia. Its new Grand Tour of Catalonia is an epic 2000km exploration of the best of the region, from prehistoric cave paintings and rich wine routes to splendid Roman ruins, Michelin-starred restaurants to family-run tapas bars.
There is no need to commit to the whole tour – it is divided into five separate sections, each of which has its own beauties and could easily fill a week or more. You might explore the Mediterranean coast and Cistercian abbeys on the route between Tarragona and Lleida, or head high into the rugged Pyrenees, with its artisanal cheesemakers, glacier lakes and clear night skies, on the route between Leeida and La Seu.
Whichever section you tackle, there are plenty of local treasures to unearth. South of Barcelona sits Reus, once one of the global centres of the vermouth trade. The town is known for its magnificent modernista mansion, commissioned by the Reus burghers who built their fortunes on the aperitif.
Just half an hour down the road is the pretty port town of L’Amettla de Mar, where you can swim with wild tuna before continuing on to Fangar Bay, where you can sample fresh-from-the-sea molluscs at one of the local mussel farms.
If that whets your appetite for outdoor adventures, there are plenty more to choose from. Hike or kayak the breathtaking Congost de Mont-Rebei gorge in northern Catalonia or zen out at the serene Delta de L’Ebre. One of Europe’s most important wetlands, it hosts 300 bird species at various times of the year. Rise at dawn for the best birdwatching opportunities: you may spot grebes, Western marsh harriers, and even brightly-hued flocks of flamingos.
The dedicated website, grandtour.catalunya.com, is packed with tips offering a new take even on the area’s most-visited sites. Take the peaks of Montserrat, known as much for the wild Alpine landscapes as for the magnificent 1000-year-old monastery. While you are there, the website suggests you try some of the local cottage cheese, mato, best eaten with honey, and check to see whether one of Europe’s oldest music schools, the Escolania, is giving one of its regular performances inside the basilica.