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Top Destinations for 2016: Catalonia

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There’s a good chance you’ve already visited Barcelona, so you will have a good idea of some of what Catalonia has to offer – but there is so much more to this Spanish region.

CataloniaThere’s a reason that many residents of the region don’t consider it part of Spain and are looking for independence – Catalonia feels distinctly different.

Its landscapes span everything from 3,000m peaks in the Pyrenees, through stunning meadows and down to rocky coves that punctuate sandy beaches.

History and art flow through the veins of the region with many examples of impressive Roman and Greek ruins and the work of Antonio Gaudi and Salvador Dali prominent in places like Barcelona and Figueres.

In terms of nightlife, few cities in Europe (or the world) have the chilled vibe of the region’s capital Barcelona which acts as the jewel in the crown of Catalonia.

The wonders held within its four provinces mean that it is possible to ski, swim in crystal clear seas and enjoy one of the most vibrant cities imaginable all in one trip.

And 2016 is the perfect time to explore with the region named as European Region of Gastronomy this year and a whole load of new flights from Vueling and Jet2 opening up more travel options.

Where to go?

You can’t mention Catalonia without mentioning Barcelona. The buzzing seaside city is a cultural smorgasbord, with an abundance of fabulous art galleries, modernist architecture and wild nightlife make it a popular destination all year round.

But 2016 is the year to start considering Barcelona, not just as an awesome city, but, also a must-visit “region”. Costa Barcelona has much to explore beyond the confines of the capital taking in stunning scenery and the towns of Sitges, Calella, Manresa, Berga and Vic.

Only 30 miles away, and an easy train journey from the city is coastal town of Sitges If you want to indulge in some sun, sea and sand, the stunning 17 beaches of Sitges make it a prime location to visit.

In fact, Costa Barcelona boasts 100km of beaches as well as some stunning natural parks and protected areas including Montserrat and Montsery (a natural biosphere UNESECO reserve).

Expanding your trip out from Barcelona, into the wider region and then further into Catalonia will give you everything you could need from a trip.

The stunning Pyranees mountain range is just an hour and a half away from the capital. Home to Catalonia’s only national park, Aigüestortes and Estany de Sant Maurici, as well as several ski resorts, there is a huge variety of interesting places to visit. If you want to trek, the landscape around La Seu d’Urgell is the fantastic, or you could go river rafting in the Noguera Pallaresa valley.

Archaeological fiends must visit the port city of Tarragona, home to an abundance of Roman ruins, which have been designated a World Heritage City by UNESCO.

Visit the amphitheatre, roman walls and Forum, as well as the Aqüeducte de les Ferreres, which is located 4km north of the city. 

What to do? 

Explore the majesty of Gaudi’s Architecture in Barcelona

If you’re a fan of “God’s Architect” Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona is rich with his architectural offerings. Of course there is the legendary Sagrada Família; which is still being constructed after work on the Cathedral started in 1882 and it’s estimated it will be completed in 2026. This means a visit to the Sagrada Família is particularly interesting, as it could look different if you visit years, or even months, apart.

Parc Güell is also well worth a visit. Opened in 1926, and is a reflection of Gaudi’s naturalist phase. And if you want to make it a trio of Gaudi’s greatest works, why not visit the Casa Batlló - a fabulously vibrant remodel of a house featuring some of Gaudi’s most fantastical work. 

Attend the Spanish Grand Prix

If you’ve got a need for speed as well as a desire to explore Gaudi’s architecture, why not take an extended city break to Barcelona in May. From the 13th – 15th May 2016 the Spanish Grand Prix will be taking place at the Circuit de Catalunya, which is only 30 minutes from Barcelona. 

Dance in the sunshine at a music festival

Catalonia is the home of some of the best music festivals in the world. The illustrious Benicassim returns with one of its strongest line-ups ever, including Major Lazer, The Chemical Brothers, Muse and Kendrick Lamar. If you want days full of fantastic live music and nights dancing on the beach, Benicassim is the festival for you.

Barcelona itself boasts two of the most cutting-edge events in Europe in Primavera Sound and Sónar.

A Mecca for alternative music fans Primavera’s 2016 line-up includes Radiohead, LCD Sountsystem, PJ Harvey and Sigur Ros, while Sónar offers the best in electronic sounds with performances from the likes of Fatboy Slim, Flume and New Order. 

Sample the local cuisine

Catalonia currently holds the title of European Region of Gastronomy for 2016. Whilst visiting you must sample Escudella (a traditional Catalan soup or stew), Crema catalana (a dense, sweet yellow cream) and of course wash this all down with a glass of Cava (95% of all Cava is produced in the Penedès area in Catalonia). It was also announced recently that El Celler de can Roca in Girona has claimed the top spot in “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” 2015 awards! 

Live Game of Thrones

Catalonia also provides opportunity satisfy your Game of Thrones fandom!Parts of the sixth season of Game of Thrones, which will be aired soon, were filmed in the historic city of Girona, which is located in north-eastern Catalonia.

Girona’s enthralling medieval city walls, old Jewish Quarter and vast network of churches and monasteries created a dramatic backdrop for the show. For any Game of Thrones fan a visit to Girona is a must. 

Ski the Pyrenees

When you think about Spain, skiing holidays may not be the first thing to come to mind, but Baqueira-Beret, located in Val d’Aran in the heart of the Pyrenees, is one of the most outstanding, off the beaten track ski resorts in Europe.

The resort celebrates its 50th anniversary this season, and to mark this will offer an additional 21 slopes, bringing their downhill total to 155km, with 121 slopes. 

Visit Catalonia’s only national park

Aigüestortes and Estany de Sant Maurici is Catalonia’s only national park, and 2016 marks its 60th anniversary! There will be new winter tours with snowshoes, and monographic tours on natural, cultural and immaterial heritage to celebrate this milestone.

If you miss any of these special events, the park is a spectacular scene in itself, with crystal-clear waters, thick forests and a huge range of flora, fauna and animals for any nature fanatics.

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