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Last updated : Nov 2009
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Catalonia is the eastern coastal region and borders France. It has an ancient culture quite distinct from its neighbours, and many of the inhabitants speak Catalan, a Romance language influenced by medieval French. Catalonia is Spain’s industrial and commercial powerhouse but agriculture (olive oil, almonds wine and fruit) is also important in the region. Catalonia is an important focus of tourism, especially the seaside resorts of the Costa Brava and Costa Dorada. Skiing and winter sports are on offer for up to six months of the year in the Pyrenees, the resorts include Baqueira-Beret, Espot Esquí, Masella, La Molina, Nuria, Port del Compte and Rasos de Peguera.


Barcelona is spain’s second-largest city with a population 2.5 million, is a major commercial and industrial centre and an important Mediterranean port. The Barri Gótic (Gothic quarter), as the name suggests, has buildings dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Highlights include the Seu (old cathedral), the Episcopal Palace, the Palau de la Generalitat and the Plaça del Rei.

The Museo Picasso focuses on the artist’s formative years, but includes works from the Blue and Rose periods. Barcelona’s main thoroughfare, Las Ramblas occupies the site of the ancient city walls and extends from the Plaça de Catalunya to the port. Cafes, bookstalls, flower and bird markets and street artists are just some of the attractions of this fashionable avenue. Beyond Plaça Catalunya, the Eixample (Extension) boasts a wealth of Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture.

The still incomplete church of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) is the masterpiece of Spain’s greatest 20th-century architect, Antoni Gaudí. Other examples of his work are the Casa Batlló, the Parc Güell and Casa Mila. The funicular to Tibidabo, the highest of Barcelona’s hills, and the cable car to Montjuic in the southern suburbs, offer spectacular views over the city. There are funfairs on both summits.

Barcelona’s best museums include the Picasso (see above), the Fundació Joan Miró with works by another of Spain’s most innovative 20th-century artists, the Museum of Catalan Art, the Maritime Museum, the Zoological Museum and the Monastery of Peldralbes , which houses part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection.

A popular excursion from Barcelona (40km, 24 miles) is to the famed monastery of Montserrat and the shrine of the Black Madonna. The mountain setting, 1135m (3725ft) above the Llobregat River, is spectacular.

The Costa Dorada

The coastline from Barcelona to Tarragona has more fine sandy beaches. Tarragona was an important army base in Roman times and visitors can still see the remains of the forum, amphitheatre, aqueduct and fortified walls. The city also has an impressive medieval quarter. Inland is the town of Montblanc with a fine Gothic church and the ruins of the 12th-century Cistercian monastery at Poblet. The two main resorts are Salou where the Port-Aventura Theme Park is a key attraction and the cosmopolitan Sitges.

The Costa Brava

The coastal strip northeast of Barcelona comprises pine-clad rocks, sandy bays and package resorts. Inland is Lleida, a province that borders the Pyrenees and boasts some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Spain.

Resorts on the Costa Brava include, Tossa de Mar, remain largely unspoilt despite the massive influx of holidaymakers, Blanes and Lloret de Mar are intensely developed. In summer the crowds can begin to pall but, with persistence, relatively isolated beaches can be found.

Coastal ferries operate between the main resorts. Girona (Gerona) is one of Catalonia’s oldest cities, dating back to the Roman period. The Gothic Cathedral has a remarkable collection of medieval religious art. Other attractions include the Arab baths, the former Jewish quarter and the fortified walls. Figueres was the birthplace of the artist Salvador Dalí and has a fascinating Museum devoted to his work. Cadaquès is an enchanting, but touristy, fishing village made famous by Dalí who was a regular visitor. Pals is an intact medieval village, complete with fortifications. Empúries (Ampurias) has impressive Graeco-Roman remains.