Around Catalonia you'll find beautiful spots that look like something out of a fairy tale and coastal villages that seem to come straight from Patricia Highsmith's novel, 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'. In the Girona region are some of the most impressive of these must-visit places, thanks to its contrasts and magical ambience. Catalonia really has everything and something for everybody!
Home to intellectuals and artists from Dalí to Pau Riba, this is currently a magnet for city slickers looking for some peace and quiet far from nearby crowded beaches. It's surrounded by rocky hills that meant until the end of the 19th century, Cadaqués was practically accessible only by boat. Of the old fortified town there remains a bulwark, that now houses the town hall, and a lowered arched gateway that gives onto the beach. This is definitely a place to visit if you're seeking inspiration (or a good plate of fish).
Far from the hordes of skiers and hotels, Bagergue still retains the mountain charms of the Aran Valley (Vall d'Aran). The cold of winter and pink of spring accompany the 13th-century church of Sant Feliu and the sanctuary of Santa Margarida, which have both borne witness to a past of barns and farmyards, which stands in sharp contrast to the holiday houses and apartments of today.
The colonial houses built by Berga residents on their return from the Americas, where they'd made their fortunes, is the clue that lets us know we're in a place that's inviting for visitors, a place full of contrasts and history, and more besides. Located in the heart of the Baix Empordà (Lower Empordà) region, at the foot of the medieval castle that dominates it the town, historic centre and nearby beaches combine to make this one of the loveliest spots in the whole Costa Brava.
Tossa de Mar
This is the place where, in 1950, Ava Gardner and James Mason filmed the movie 'Pandora and the Flying Dutchman', so there's not much point discussing its inherent beauty; that's a given. Its old walls and towers give it the appearance of a charming fishing village in the winter, in contrast with the popular summer destination that's invadad by throngs of holiday-makers each year. It's a great place for diving, walking and a relaxing break with all necessary conveniences.
The town of Tivissa in the Ribera d'Ebre region in the south of Catalonia is built on a hill, at the foot of the northern slopes of the mountain range of the same name. The narrow streets in the historic centre, the Market Square (Plaça del Mercat), where trials were held in the medieval period, and the castle are all must-sees. If you like to visit churches, then you're in luck with the Església Arxiprestal de Sant Jaume, a large building divided into three parts: the 'Old Church' (Església Antiga), 'Rose Chapel' (Capella del Roser), and the 'New Church' (Església Nova), constructed between the 13th century and the start of the 14th, and combines a variety of architectural styles. And yes, it's really spectacular.
Calella de Palafrugell
This village is still as charming as it was before the tourist boom arrived on the Costa Brava. It's an old fishing village surrounded by a rocky coastline that's dotted with beautiful, peaceful coves where you can enjoy a calm day by the sea. To the north of Calella de Palafrugell is the natural landscape of Castell-Cap Roig, which is amazing and a great place for walks and outings; to the south is Llafranc. In the summer, in the Botanical Garden, one of the most popular cultural events in Catalonia takes place, the Cap Roig Festival.
The houses of Alcanar
Depending on your perspective, this is either the last or first village on the Catalan coast, located just next to the Delta de l'Ebre, in the province of Tarragona. Looking like an ancient Mediterranean village, if you get away from the hotels, you can find secluded corners and beaches for outings around the Sénia river.
Peralada is much more than the eponymous castle that's found there. The town, which is clearly from the medieval era and has a long wine-making history, houses the important 'Castell de Peralada' vineyards, which are part of the Empordà-Costa Brava protected designation of origin (DO). In addition, every year they celebrate the International Festival of Peralada with top-name musicians and other artists.
Santa Pau is home to La Fageda d'en Jordà, one of the most beautiful natural areas in Catalonia and part of the Natural Park of the Volcanic Region of La Garrotxa. The village itself has medieval origins and was declared a Historical-Artistic Area in 1971.
Peratallada has also been declared a Historical-Artistic Area as well as a Cultural Asset of National Interest, and is deemed one of the most important villages with medieval architecture in all of Catalonia. It sits on a base of sandstone and is surround by a large pit that's been excavated down to the rock. As well as its historic interest, it's renowned for its gastronomic and artisanal options.
This town is named after the nearby lake, hangs over a cliff and has an important Arab past; in Siurana you can find the remains of an Arab castle from the ninth century and stories such as the one of Abdelazia, daughter of the Arab wali of Siurana who gives her name to the cliff, the Leap of the Moorish Queen.
Banyoles is famous for having the largest lake in Catalonia where, according to legend, a dragon lives that not even Charlemagne could beat. A trip to Banyoles and its surrounds is always worth it, whether you go to see the lake or not, and whether you believe in monsters or not.
This village is located in the heart of oak forests, beech trees, shady spots and swathes of fields and meadows. You should visit the Romanesque temple from the 12th century that's dedicated to Sant Cristòfor, as well as the houses with sloping roofs. Beautiful!
Also known as the Red Town ('Vila Vermella') thanks to the reddish colour of the stones used to build its main buildings, Prades used to be popular as a summer destination for many families from Reus and the surrounding area. Every year for Sant Jaume (Saint James), whose feast day is the third Saturday of July, the town celebrates the Cava Festival and from the fountain flows cava instead of water. Scenery, history and bubbles; what more could you ask for?
Pals is the ideal village for lovers of snorkelling, with the Medes Isles and their many underwater attractions very close by. If you can ignore the souvenir shops and instead focus on walking among the cobbled streets and golden houses adorned with flowers, Pals will remind you of the south of France. Noteworthy features include the church of Sant Pere, the medieval wall and the bell tower, known as the Tower of Time ('Torre de les Hores'), from the 11th and 12th centuries.
Castellfollit de la Roca
Castellfollit de la Roca is located on a basalt cliff with volcanic origins. As well as its interesting location, this is also one of the most beautiful and appealing villages in the whole of Catalonia. A place to go to escape from daily life again and again.
Castellar de n'Hug
Castellar de n'Hug, located in Berguedà, still retains its essence as a mountainous medieval village and has cobbled streets and Romanesque hermitages. You can also walk along paths that will take you to the Fonts del Llobregat, spectacular waterfalls where the Llobregat river originates and that are easily reached on foot from Castellar de n'Hug.
Some people believe that the legend of Saint George and the dragon (Saint George is Sant Jordi in Catalan, and the region's patron saint) originated in this town. It's not surprising. With its imposing walls and impressive architecture, you can easily find yourself being transported back to the time when legends of dragons and knights were written. Every year, around the feast day of Sant Jordi on April 23, the town celebrates a Medieval Week, re-creating the daily life and occupations from that time, and all the inhabitants of Montblanc get involved. It's a great place to visit if you're a fan of fairy tales, princesses and romance.
Yes, this is another medieval village in the Baix Empordà region, but Monells is truly glorious. You'll travel back to the 13th century as you wander under its archways, along its narrow streets and see the famous Plaça Sant Jaume I square. In the winter, life is dominated by the harvest, while in the summer it's busy with children playing in the streets.
It seems impossible that just an hour from Barcelona this inviting and picturesque village is hiding, a place where time seems to have stood still. The Natural Park of Sant Llorenç del Munt i L'Obac is the source of the interesting scenery as well as the isolation of Mura. The information centre is the start of various worthwhile walking routes and all in all, a visit there is a truly rural pleasure for anyone looking to escape city life.
Gósol is famous as being the place where Pablo Picasso decided to start investigating Cubism. Discover everything about this momentous decision at the Museu Picasso and small homages to the visit of the Malagan painter around the town. Gósol lies within the Parc Natural del Cadí-Moixeró and is a great starting-point for outings to the mountain of Pedraforca, the Sierras of Cadí, Verd and Ensija, and various walking routes.
This village may well be little-known if it wasn't for the fact that it's home to the Monastery of Santes Creus. Founded in the 12th century, it's one of three monasteries that makes up the Cistercian Tour in the area, and includes an important Gothic cloister and the tombs of royalty from the past, such as Pere el Gran and Jaume II el Just and his wife Blanca d'Anjou. After seeing the cloisters and tombs, we recommend eating in a restaurant nearby; it's bound to be delicious.
This is a small village close to Rupit where three or four stone houses welcome you, witnesses to an isolated but glorious past. From the viewing-point you can enjoy extraordinary views of the Sau Reservoir. This is the kind of place that just proves the saying that good things come in small packages.
Located in the province of Tarragona and nestled on the slope of a hill on the banks of the Ebre river, its strategic position has seen it used as a settlement by all manner of peoples from prehistoric times to the present day. Without any doubt, its 12th-century Templar Castle is the main attraction, but it's also worth visiting the cellar of Gandesa to try its wines or take a dip in the natural pools of Fontcalda. It's the perfect place for a weekend trip.
Rivert has between 40 and 50 inhabitants, although in the summer numerous relatives of those living there descend for their break from city life. Situated in the Pallars Jussà county, the houses are surrounded by rocks, there's a beautiful network of cobbled streets and a small waterfall gives it an unequalled charm.
Vilalba dels Arcs
This is a village found in Terra Alta, in the Ebre area of southern Catalonia. Standout features include the natural park of Els Ports and the Canaletes and Algars rivers that cross the county; the first of these crosses the Ebre in the area of Benifallet. In addition, you'll find the Sierras of Pàndols and Cavalls there, between Canaletes and Sec. The landscape is perfect for outings and trying excellent wines.
Llers, located five minutes from Figueres, has unique views of El Canigó mountain and the landscapes of Salines-Bassegoda and Albera, of the Cape of Creus and the Bay of Roses, and even the Medes Isles, all of which are protected spaces. Nowadays, Llers itself is a dynamic village with lots going on, such as the annual 'festa major' (village festival), Carnival festivities and the Classic Car Fair, where you can see, sell and exchange old motorbikes and cars, parts and accessories. It's a must-visit for car fans that takes place on the first Sunday of April.
The first mention of Queralbs as a town is as 'Keros Albos' in the act of consecration of the church of Seu d'Urgell in 836. It lies in the county of Ripollès, to the north of Ribes de Freser, the west of Setcases and south of the counties of Cerdanya and Conflent. It's renowned for its Romanesque church dedicated to Sant Jaume that dates from the 10th century. Perfect for art lovers.
Rupit i Pruit
Rupit i Pruit is located in the sub-county of Collsacabra and has less than 300 inhabitants. It's made up of the town of Rupit and a sprinkling of 'masies' (Catalan country houses), collectively known as Pruit; there the land and cattle are still key to daily life. These are two places perfect for outings and enjoying the peace and nature of La Garrotxa, which is found at the heart of Catalonia.
Burg, in the region of Pallars Sobirà, is a collection of houses rather than an actual village. These buildings are on the southern slope of a sierra, from one side to the other of El Torrent de Burg. In the central part is the parish church of Sant Bartomeu and on the easterly side is the chapel of Sant Francesc. It has an important cultural and gastronomical side: L'Espai Tomata is a restaurant that promotes local produce, and dansBurg is a theatre that hosts shows and dance events.
Surrounded by walls, as its name indicates ('murallat' means 'walled' in Catalan), is an exceptional example of an enclosed town that still has its exterior wall in good condition. Indeed the collection of buildings and constructions has been declared an asset of national cultural interest. Spectacular.
Horta de Sant Joan
Very close to Terol, Horta de Sant Joan belongs to the Terra Alta region in the province of Tarragona, and has the Algars river running through it and providing water to the town. To the south is the rugged but beautiful Natural Park of Els Ports. Manel Pallarès, a friend of Pablo Picasso, was born in the town, and the Spanish artist spent some time with Pallarès there. One result of this is the active Centre Picasso, which organises exhibitions, symposia, publications and more.
This last one isn't actually a village any more but rather an uninhabited spot full of beauty and peace. The ghost village of Aramunt was one of the places where colonies were established during Roman times. In fact, the old town of Aramunt almost certainly came into being as a settlement at the foot of the Castle of Aramunt, of which a few remains still stand. It's a marvel and ideal for contemplating the passing of time, and what changes and what stays the same.