Outdoors lovers will be hard pressed to choose just how to spend their time in Catalunya, given the vast range of options. Mountain lovers descend upon the town of Llivia for skiing in winter and mountain biking in the warmer months. Hikers can enjoy day trips of varying difficulty levels at Catalunya's only national park, Parc Nacional d'Aiguestortes (pictured here). Skilled hikers can plan multi-day treks in the park, which has a network of huts for overnight stays.
Another way to enjoy Catalunya's mountains is by air. The region is popular among both paragliders and hot air balloon enthusiasts, and visitors can contract local tour operators to arrange either experience—or both. Seeing Catalunya from a bird's eye view helps you understand the unique landscape that serves as fertile ground for the area's food and wine, and to appreciate the beauty of Catalunya.
There's still another form of transportation you can take for a tour in Catalunya, and that's the Segway. Tarragona isn't the only city or town in Catalunya that offers these tours on two wheels, but it packs in nature and history and culture at a pace that allows you to maximize your visit. Also, there are plenty of opportunities to stop along the way and take photos. The tour is preceded by a brief training orientation to familiarize riders with the Segway.
Spain is known worldwide for the quality and variety of its wines, including those from the Rioja region. Catalunya has its fair share of vineyards, too, including a cluster of wineries in the Priorat region. The family-owned Bodegas Pinord (whose vintner, Joan Josep Tetas, is pictured here) is Priorat's organic and biodynamic winery, producing, reds, whites, and cavas (sparkling wines; Catalunya's answer to Champagne). Most cellars in Catalunya have been passed down from one generation to the next and favor the growing of native grape varieties.
What's a great, local wine without great, local food to accompany it? Just as Catalunya's combination of mountain and sea create the Mediterranean climate conducive for growing grapes, it also supports other types of agriculture. Many Catalan chefs specialize in cooking native-grown vegetables and fruits, and often do so using traditional methods. Roger and Nina Felip-Soler offer “cuina al foc” (“cooking with fire”) classes from their home in Falset, turning out such delicacies as calçots, tender green onions cooked over a wood fire.
It's hardly surprising that seafood is a staple here, given Catalunya's location on the Mediterranean. What may be surprising is how hard oystermen are working to keep more of their bounty at home rather than exporting it. Oystermen in Delta de l'Ebre have banded together in a co-op style operation to harvest, package, and distribute their mollusks for domestic consumption. Travelers can visit the co-op's oyster beds and taste the freshly harvested bivalves by making an advance appointment.
Meals are not intended to sate only the appetite in Catalunya; they are full-sensory experiences intended to be savored. In the Costa Brava region, families and friends who gather for informal meals may spend hours at the table together, first partaking in a multi-course lunch, and ending with a round of songs called “habaneras” (or “havaneres” in Catalan). These songs narrate—often in a lively and occasionally salty fashion—the historic relationship between Catalunya and Cuba. Even guests who don't know the language can't help but be swept into the spirit and fun of the sing-along.
Another cultural experience that's unique to Catalunya is the building of human towers, or castells, by teams of people called “castellers.” The tradition is traced back to the 18th century and is still practiced actively across Catalunya today. Hundreds of castellers of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels are needed to construct the most impressive of the castells, which can reach ten or more levels. The Castellers Vilafranca (pictured here) will be in New York to build human towers this June.
Though Catalunya's small towns can become bustling 'burgs during high season (which vary depending on the region and its particular attractions), the low population density of year-round residents means low light pollution... which means impressive stargazing. The best place to see the stars is at Montsec's Centre d Observacio de l'Univers. Arrive before dark to enjoy the astro-park's museum exhibits; stay until the stars come out for the special observatory show and heavens-gazing. The centre is notable for being the only observatory in the world with a fully retractable ceiling.
Source: JD Andrews
There's much more to see, do, and eat beyond Barcelona; in Catalunya.