Break out of Barcelona and find some spectacular landscapes
The heart of the matter Geographically at the centre of Catalonia, Vic is a fantastically historical city, with lots to see. The local council has created an itinerary that takes in 32 buildings and sites, including a second-century Roman temple and remains of the city walls from the 14th century as well as various religious houses. The cathedral is one of the highlights, with its myriad architectural styles including Romanesque, gothic and neo-classical.
In the footsteps of monks Sant Benet de Bages was a powerful Benedictine abbey founded more than 1,000 years ago towards the end of the tenth century. It was inhabited by monks until 1835, when the ecclesiastical confiscation policies promoted by Spanish politician Juan Álvarez Mendizába forced them to abandon it. It was then privatised in a piecemeal way. An adjoining factory was built in 1853, and in 1907 it was bought by the family of painter Ramon Casas, who commissioned architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch to renovate it as a residence. The Casas family sold the monastery to the Caixa de Manresa savings bank in the year 2000, and it is now a cultural heritage centre. Each weekend, they offer workshops for families, giving parents and children the chance to get creative together.
On your bike Head to Ecorail del Cardener, an experience that takes advantage of old railway lines. Each ‘carriage’ consists of two bicycles attached to either side of a platform, which you move along the train track by pedalling. Various platforms can be joined, so a group of you can travel the eight-kilometre route together. If you’re not up to pedalling, you can take the Trenpat mini train. It’s open only on Sundays though.
Castles in the sky At the beginning of the tenth century, Anoia was on the southern border of Catalonia, which was in the process of winning territory back from the Saracens. As such, a series of castles were constructed along this border as a defensive measure. With more than 1,000 years of history, Claramunt Castle is an icon of the region, one of the most spectacular forts in the country and the main attraction of the local Border Castle Trail.
Up, up and away Stay overnight in Igualada, so you can make the necessary early start to go up in a hot-air balloon and fly over Anoia with Xavi Aguilera and his Camins de Vent company. Take-off will be around 7am, the best time for ballooning, as there’s less wind, the air is cold and the atmosphere is stable.
Picture-postcard pretty While there are plenty of gorgeous villages in the foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees, Castellar de n’Hug stands out for its location near the source of the Llobregat River. The tumbling waters are dramatic, and the red roofs of the local houses against the forested hills will provide plenty of photo opportunities.
A hot place Head to Caldes de Montbui to enjoy the health benefits of thermal waters. In the centre of town, in the Plaça del Lleó, you’ll find the Font del Lleó (Lion Fountain) from where water comes out of the ground at 74 degrees Celsius. While there, treat yourself to a session at one of the local spas, and visit the Thermalia Museum, which includes works by Picasso.
Making the most of mother nature Sant Miquel del Fai is located in a spectacular setting, perched on top of the Bertí clifftops. Here you can find amazing old buildings such as a 15th-century gothic monastery with its chapel carved out of a cave in the mountain, the beautiful caves of Sant Miquel and Tosques, and the Tenes and Rossinyol waterfalls.
Created from another world A trip to the Colonia Güell is a must. This social living and working project was dedicated to the production of textiles in Santa Coloma de Cervelló (Baix Llobregat), and constructed in 1890 at the behest of businessman Eusebi Güell – he wanted to transfer the industrial operations that he had in the Vapor Vell part of Sants in Barcelona city. Commissioned by Güell, Gaudí sought to create the sensation of a small city, and today it is still possible to see the inn, hospital, school, theatre and Güell crypt, which is said to be the basis for the Sagrada Família design.
Going underground At the Parc Arqueològic de les Mines de Gavà, you can visit Europe’s oldest mines. The pits were dug some 6,000 years ago and continued working for 1,000 years. Variscite, a green coloured mineral, was what drove the people of the time to mine this ground. It was made into jewellery, and historians believe that it had religious and magical significance for the Neolithic community that inhabited Gavà.
Gaudí’s inspiration Montserrat is well-known as one of Catalonia’s major sights, attracting thousands of locals and visitors each day. However, why not head inside the mountain to explore the saltpetre caves in Collbató, with its incredible stalactites, stalagmites and columns formed by water erosion over thousands of years, which recall the work of Antoni Gaudí.
Modernisme beyond the Eixample region The Vallès Oriental region is full of summer houses of the Barcelona bourgeoisie who wanted to find peace and cool away from the city. You’ll find them in Cardedeu, l’Ametlla and Granollers especially, but if you have time to visit only one, head to the Raspall de la Garriga development.
Need to know
Getting there Pegasus Airlines flies to Barcelona via Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen from Dhs1,816 return. www.flypgs.com