The province of Catalonia is a contrast to the castles, spires and medieval architecture that characterises much of Spain. Located in the north-eastern extreme of the Iberian Peninsula, most of Catalonia, belongs to the Mediterranean basin.
The region offers incredible diversity in terms of geography and even climate. The mountainous Pyrenees border the north of the province, and overlooks the plains that house the wine orchards.
The coasts border the east and south of the province. That is why the climate ranges from mountainous and alpine in the Pyrenees, to coastal Mediterranean climate in more populous Barcelona, and nearby towns.
Having studied, graduated and now working in The Netherlands, I have explored various parts of Europe. Rural settings and smaller towns and cities have figured higher on my priority list, because of the less crowds, and greater vibrancy and culture, often missing in cosmopolitan cities. I visited Catalonia in Spain last November and was happily accompanied by my friend Amlan, here for his exchange abroad.
Even though the weather was getting cold at this time of the year, I went ahead as Spain would offer more sunlight than The Netherlands at that time. I flew from Rotterdam to Barcelona. Transavia offers cheap prospects as does Ryan Air from flights ranging from 10€ (750?) upwards.
TheAerobus ferries one from the airport to the Barcelona city centre (Placa de Catalunya) for 5€, one way taking approximately 40 minutes. Placa de Catalunya is the square where the old city and the modern Eixample intersect.
The square is also the site where important avenues such as Passeig de Gracia and Las Ramblas meet. It is decorated with fountains and statues, frequented by pigeons that provide for a relaxed spectacle.
We stayed in St Jordi Hostels that offered quality accommodation, within budget. The best attribute of such places is the international people you get to interact with. And even if you do not have your own room, it evens out by listening to stories people have to tell from around the world.
The next day, I took a trip to Montserrat, a Catalan Pre-Coastal Range of jagged mountain ranges, as high as 1200m. The train R5 leaves from Placa de Espana, another Barcelona centre, around 1 kilometre from Placa de Catalunya. The train covers a scenic journey. As the slopes approach, one can see the peculiar mountain shapes and rock formations.
One has to take the cable car to the top from station Aeri di Montserrat or the rack railway from the next station, Monastery de Montserrat. The entire journey ticket can be purchased from the Placa de Espanya station and costs around 17-18 €including the return.
The next day we visited Park Guell. A collaboration between Gaudi and an industrialist Guell, the Park Guell stands amidst a natural park. The houses originally meant for porters, are designed in a manner that strives to incorporate modern amenities. The walls are decorated with mosaic, mostly the contributions from JosepJujol, Guells collaborator.
Park Guell can be reached from Placa de Catalunya by bus line 92. Entrance to the park is free, but if you want access to the main section (the one in the photograph), it costs 8€. I would recommend it, if you are not short on time, as the place looks just like a toy-town, only a lot more gigantic.
Tickets can be bought online, and this saves time that would need to be spent otherwise waiting in the line. The closed section allows a maximum of 500 people at a single time, and can be accessed for half an hour, every four hours, from the time it opens (08:00h).
In the afternoon, we visited another of Gaudi’s masterpieces-the La Sagrada Familia, a large unfinished cathedral, slated to be the tallest of its kind, when completed in 2026. Paul Goldberg, a noted architectural critic, describes the La Sagrada Familia, “the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages”.
It really was huge, and the cranes and construction equipment around it were working assiduously to make it what it is. The central tower is still not evident, and once done, it is expected to prove to be the tallest church building in the world.
What is more praise-worthy is the effort and time devoted to intricately design the walls of the building. Construction had started in the 1880s, and would still take another decade as per estimates, a pointer of the gigantic aura involved in the construction. The entire endeavour teaches that to do something worthwhile, it needs a lot of time.
Our next port of call was Gerona, another major Catalan city at the confluence of rivers Ter, Onyar, Galligants and Guell. We treated ourselves to a plate of Paella, a rice based dish, traditional to Valencia.
Though you can get it with chicken or rabbit meat, or even octopus, we could only get our hands on some seafood Paella that seemed most common.
We went for a walk along the banks of the Onyar river front that offered colourfully painted houses. These were built towards the end of the Middle Ages and look similar to Venice and Florence.
The only house not coloured is the Maso House, belonging to a famous artist from Gerona. The river divides the street in two, and is crossed by many bridges, the most famous being the d’en Gomez bridge designed by the creator of the Eiffel Tower-Gustave Eiffel.
On crossing the river, we came to the old part of the city that gave way to cathedrals and Moorish architecture. It has 2000 years of history in its part and comprises the old Jewish quarter “Call jueu” and Gothic buildings like the Gerona Cathedral and the Arab Baths (that were closed when we arrived).
Traditionally we were not supposed to leave without having kissed the Cul de la lleona (The Lioness), but we could not spot that either. We did locate the Gerona Cathedral.
A Christian temple dedicated to Santa María and currently the seat of the Bishopric of Gerona, consists of a Gothic pivot, the second largest in the world, after St Peter’s Basilica. It means a climb of over 90 steps to get to the front door.
We wrapped up our day in the Gerona old town with a walk through Passaig de Archeologique, a confluence of medieval Gothic and Moorish architecture. On an autumn day, the sceneries were indeed beautiful, as the colours of the fall contrasted against the ancient walls.
The next day, was our last in Catalonia, and before heading back to Barcelona Airport, we visited Costa Brava. Located in Lloret De Mar, the north-eastern coasts of Spain, Costa Brava, resembles a rugged terrain, sandy beaches and crystal blue waters.
This town mainly serves tourists, and hence empty now, as winter approached. Ruins of old forts speck up the coastline, and rocks so atypical add to the beauty. Fishing is or was the main profession as is the case with many coastal towns around the world, and as seen painted on the walls, though not many fishing boats were visible. The Pyrenees guarantee good hiking trails as well.
Costa Brava gets it name from the rugged nature of the coast. A regular bus service (e4) runs from Gerona to Lloret De mar. There is also a bus service from Barcelona, and is not as frequent, and runs once in 4 hours. Due to not being in season, we found quality private accommodation for 10 € per night. The city was small, and offered a pleasant respite from the busy streets of Barcelona.
Costa Brava offers the most gorgeous and unspoilt stretches of coastal Europe. The coasts are incredibly diverse, with stretches of green vegetation followed by sudden rugged, scanty green areas within the same mile. The region also offers arts and history, especially the home of Salvador Dali, in Cadaques, and Iberian and Greco Roman architecture.
We stayed the last night in Barcelona in the house of a friend, Kaushaya, working in Barcelona, also from school. We reminisced about our days with some traditional Bengali sweets from a sweetmeat shop in La Ramblas, Barcelona. As the flight back to Amsterdam rose above the clouds, the Barcelona skyline took on a beautiful hue and bids goodbye, till next time.