5 ways to experience the Grand Tour of Catalonia

Head on a road trip to uncover a different side to this unique region of Spain

Team Wanderlust
04 December 2023

Beyond the headline grabbing beauty of Barcelona, a lesser-known land of Catalan wonders awaits. Taking in everything from the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees to lush valleys, vineyards and volcanoes, from coast, culture and Roman ruins, to slow food and adrenaline-fuelled water sports, the Catalan Grand Tour is a road trip with a difference. Spanning some 200km across the length and breadth of this extraordinary region, you can cover the whole Tour in a fortnight or choose one of the stages below to explore in three or four days. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it here.

Barcelona – Tarragona: Vineyards with a taste of the sea

Visit the award-winning cava and wine-growing region of El Penedès (Maria Rosa Vila)

Start your Tour in Barcelona itself with the curves, colours and cupolas of the Catalan capital’s exceptional ‘Modernista’ (Art Nouveau) architecture, including showstoppers from Gaudí. Then head out of town to the spectacularly rugged, almost lunar landscape of the Montserrat mountain – a holy site for centuries, before moving on to the historic, Medieval town of Solsona, famous for its papier maché carnival giants and Baroque architecture.

From Solsona, it’s just a short drive to the majestic 9th-century fortress of Cardona – now a Parador, looming high above the town. But the Tour is not just about art and culture. Catalonia is renowned for its wines and your next stop is the award-winning cava and wine-growing region of El Penedès. Stop for a tasting and the wonderfully punchy local calçots – somewhere between a spring onion and a leek, before heading back to the coast, taking in the soft sand beaches and lively Old Town in Sitges and the musical legacy of world-famous Catalan cellist, Pau Casals in El Vendrell. Finally, you’ll visit Tarragona, exploring the city’s UNESCO-listed Roman heritage.

Tarragona – Lleida: In search of history

Spot flamingos at the Ebro delta nature reserve (Sergi Boixader)

From Tarragona, the Tour leads back inland to the Art Nouveau gem of Reus – a small town with a big history. This was Gaudí’s birthplace and the fascinating Gaudí museum is almost worth the visit alone. Back on the coast you’ll head south via Cambrils – famous for its prawns and on to the ravishing Ebro delta – a nature reserve teeming with pink flamingos and wild birds. Sail out in a canoe to the mussel and oyster farms or cycle along the paddy fields before heading westwards back on the road to the dramatic, rugged landscape of the Els Ports mountain range. Look out for the hilltop village of Horta which famously inspired the young Picasso.

Elsewhere there are more wines – both in cathedral-like, Art Nouveau wineries as well as the wine-producing villages and vineyards of the Priorat, not to mention a 13th century monastery at Poblet. For the final stop on this stage – the city of Lleida, you’ll want phones and cameras at the ready for the magnificent, 13th-century La Seu Vella cathedral, sitting high above the city on a hilltop, overlooking the surrounding countryside.

Lleida – La Seu d’Urgell: Heading to the heavens

Paddle through turquoise waters in Pallars Jussà (Oriol Clavera)

From Lleida the Tour begins winding its way back north towards some of Catalonia’s most far-flung northwesterly nooks and the Catalan Pyrenees. After some serious star gazing at Àger – a designated ‘Starlight Reserve’ amidst the Montsec mountains, you’ll move on to the spectacular Mont Rebei gorge – a mecca for kayaking. Next, take some time out for a walk in the dramatic parkland of Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici – Catalonia’s only National Park, full of sky-skimming mountain peaks, rivers, ravines and waterfalls as well as golden eagles and antelopes.

Next it’s on to the lush Vall de Boí, where you’ll find stone villages with exceptional Romanesque churches before heading further north still to the Val d’Aran – a historic valley in the shadow of the lofty Pyrenees, with chalet-style houses and adventure activities aplenty, as well as French-influenced food. The region is also an adventure sport lover’s dream, especially known for its white water rafting along the River Noguera Pallaresa. Finally, you’ll head south-east where you can take some well-earned time out, exploring the city of La Seu d’Urgell, with its Romanesque cathedral and church.

La Seu d’Urgell – Figueres: Ode to nature

Besalú is a beautiful Medieval village complete with its spectacular bridge (Sherry Ott)

Leaving La Seu d’Urgell, look out for panoramic views of the imposing cliffs as you head east across the Catalan Pyrenees along the edge of the El Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park. You’ll pass the extraordinary, forked rock formation of the Pedraforca mountain, and the winter sports havens of the La Cerdanya valley before moving on to the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll. Don’t miss its exceptional 13th-century façade complete with biblical scenes carved in stone.

From there it’s on to the extraordinary Natural Park of La Garrotxa – where you’ll find no fewer than 40 (non-active) volcanoes amidst dense oak forests, flower-filled meadows and green pastures, as well as Medieval villages such as the picturesque Besalú, with its Medieval bridge. Next, you can go rowing on the magnificent lake at Banyoles before finishing up in Figueres – the gateway to the wonderful world of Salvador Dalí. The maverick surrealist maestro was born here and you can visit his family home as well as the predictably eccentric Dalí Theatre Museum, with its pink façade and giant white sculptured eggs.

Figueres – Barcelona: From Surrealism to Modernism

Wander through whitewashed villages nestled between mountains and sea shores (Francesc Tur)

From Figueres, it’s less than an hour’s drive to Catalonia’s northeasterly coastal tip and the serene, whitewashed village of Cadaqués where Dalí’s brilliantly bizarre home and studio are open to the public. You can also explore the surreal landscape of the nearby Cap de Creus Natural Park which inspired him. Then head south along the Costa Brava’s rugged and blissfully unspoilt coastline, taking time out to see parts of it on foot from the spectacular Camino de Ronda footpath.

Weaving inland through the heart of the lush, wine producing region of the Empordà, you’ll pass through the geranium-filled Medieval villages of Pals and Peratallada, full of sandstone palaces, crafts and superb restaurants amidst their narrow, cobbled streets. Then head back to the coast to Palamós with its sweeping, sandy bay and famous prawns before stopping inland once again in the city of Girona, whose amazingly well-preserved Old Town has gained film star status after famously appearing in Game of Thrones. Finally, crossing the scenic Montseny mountain range, you’ll wind your way back along the coast to Barcelona, where it all began.

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