Budget Travel: Catalunya, Spain

Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya, is one of the world's great cities, renowned for the surreal and ambitious architecture of Gaudi; its incredible markets and food; and, of course, its top-ranked soccer team.

But for the traveler who has already wandered down Las Ramblas, seen the ambitious and still-under-construction Sagrada Familia, and eaten paella on the waterfront, there's much more to see, do, and eat beyond Barcelona.

Catalunya, an autonomous region of Spain, offers activities to keep you busy for a long while, and most are within an hour or two's drive or train ride from Barcelona. Though the region itself may be unfamiliar to you, you're probably familiar with the names of some of its most famous residents, both present and past, including world-renowned chef Ferran Adria and the eccentric artist, Salvador Dalí.

Plenty of Americans have spent time here on extended vacations or as expats. Truman Capote wrote part of "In Cold Blood" in Palamos, a beachfront town in Catalunya's Costa Brava region, and Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong lived in the town of Girona, also in Costa Brava, for six years while training for cycling competitions.

There's a reason all of these people have been attracted to Catalunya. With the Pyrenees mountain range running west to east in the north and the Mediterranean coast forming Catalunya's eastern border, there is remarkable geographical diversity in the region's landscapes, inviting visitors to enjoy the outdoors year-round. The diversity in terrain has, in turn, given rise to a rich cultural and culinary diversity, too.

The common thread holding these differences together is the passion of Catalunya's people for maintaining their traditions and sharing them with visitors. Whether encouraging you to sample a local Priorat wine and slurp down freshly harvested oysters and mussels in the Delta d l'Ebre, where fresh water and saltwater meet to produce a distinct flavor, or cheering you along as you try paragliding, hot air ballooning, sea kayaking, or the centuries-old activity of making human towers called “castells”, you'll find that Catalonians are eager to give you a taste—often, quite literally—of their beautiful, delicious culture.