This is our first trip to Spain and we need itinerary suggestions. There's so much to see! We are flying in and out of Barcelona (end of March-beginning of April). We will be traveling, as always, with our two young kids. They are no strangers to rushed travel, but we would rather take it easier this time. My first thought was to rent a car when we arrive, head north to the mountains, find some amazing views, medieval towns, and experience Catalan life as a family. We would like to at least dip our toes into Southern France if possible. I've seen pictures of Nuria, Besalu and Santa Pau and would love to see those places. We just aren't sure where to spend our time, however, we are mountain lovers. We usually stay somewhere for a couple of days to rest the kids and adjust to the time change from the US right after arrival. Where would be a good place to stay for the first 2 nights away from Barcelona? We would spend the last 2 or 3 nights in Barcelona after dropping off the car. In between, I'd like to find places to stay more than one night at a time so we didn't have to hop from place to place, i.e. stay for a couple of nights and take day trips from that spot. Any suggestions? Thanks!
Hi JR -not Larry Hagman from Dallas though, right? LOL! (if you're under 50 you might not get the joke, apologies!)
Welcome to Catalonia, my turf :))... a first glimpse to get a peek of this small nation within Spain (for now) -where Barcelona is capital of. Yes, of course, I could also include a link to this year's tourism board promotional commercial, but it's a bit cheesy!
Obviously, where to be based depends a lot on your bucket list, but you'll be happy to know Catalonia is much the size of the state of Maryland, so you can actually go from end to end in a few hours drive. This means that you could actually reduce the hassle of having to stay in different hotels to the bare minimum.
- and for bits and pieces on history, language, etc... http://www.infocatalonia.eu/w/beyond-barcelona/
Some videos I feel you might be interested in as per your post above:
- The Costa Brava, located on the north-east edge of Catalonia
- The Pyrenees mountain range, its most eastern side, close to the coast.
- The Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park in the most western side of the Catalan Pyrenees, close to Aragon.
- The Vall d'Aran counties, where the above park is located.
- The mountain of Montserrat, where the famous abbey is located, at a mere 60' by train from Barcelona.
- The Natural Park of the Ebre river Wetlands, not mountainous, but with one of the best nature reserves in the South of Europe.
(yes, everything is a -mere- few hours drive from Barcelona... albeit some are not suitable for a "day escapade" of course)
Here some brochures (pdf) with further suggestions:
Once you've had a peek, come back and publish your "bucket list" and I will gladly suggest how to best organise the itinerary -should you need it.
Also, I've mentioned this before in the forum, there is a TV series in Catalan TV which can be useful to many planning their trip to Catalonia. The aim of the series is to show nooks and crannies of this nation as well as traditions and other interesting activities for would-be visitors from the point of view of the traveller. For this, a series of famous travel bloggers from around the World are invited to spend a week accompanied by one of our most cherished TV presenters that prepares an itinerary for them based on their likes... but without telling them what are they going to visit. The show mixes Catalan -the local language- and English -spoken with the guests- but it's pretty easy to follow if you only speak English. Have a peek and see whether something catches your eye....
There have been two seasons already for this series, so plenty of videos to look at --after all, seeing is better than reading sometimes, right? If you want to see all of them, here for the first series and here for the second. Note: on clicking on each video in these pages, you'll be taken to the page displaying the specific footage, which will be in Catalan language only, underneath it, you'll see the sentence "Vídeo del capítol en versió original" which will show you the video with bits in Catalan and bits in English.
I think you might be specifically interested in these: Mary Jean and Kelley, Travellers of the Year 2012 by National Geographic, visiting the mountain of El Montseny and the counties of Anòia and Penedès and Allan (chaiwalla), a very popular instagramer from London, visiting the counties of Pallars Jussà and La Noguera
And of course, there is much more beyond landscapes, monuments and ruins: the heritage and tradition of our small nation, which is over 1000 years old!... With exact dates I can perhaps suggest a festival, a fair or something happening in those dates (and in the areas you intend to visit) so you can enjoy our hospitality and our traditions.
Personally, although you mention you're "mountain people", I strongly feel you should allocate more days to Barcelona city as it's really worthwhile seeing and has far too many things to be explored in just three/four days. Have a look at some ideas: http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/wv3/en/ || http://www.timeout.com/barcelona || http://lameva.barcelona.cat/en and also choosing the tag 'barcelona' here: http://www.infocatalonia.eu and for a visual clue.... (again, I profusely apologise for the cheesiness of these promotional ads, hahaha!)
Do remember to bring your IDL, otherwise, you won't be able to drive here with your US license -I imagine you already know this, just reminding then!
I think Girona would be a lovely place to spend your first 2 nights. It's within about an hour of Barcelona if you take the fast train. It has a lovely, largish historic district that includes two historic churches, a fine not-too-large museum and a wall you can walk on. It's also a good base for visiting Besalu (with its fortified bridge) and the Dali sites in Figueres and near Cadaques. All of the above can be accomplished via public transportation (probably with a taxi from Cadaques to the museum outside of town) if you don't plan to have a car. Cadaques is a picturesque coastal town, all white-washed houses and bougainvillea (though I guess the latter won't look like much in March). It may, however, be less-than-lively in March. Girona is a full-fledged city, though, and I think it could be enjoyed any month of the year. That would be my top recommendation for a place to stay outside of Barcelona.
Zaragoza is a good-sized city with a restored Moorish palace and some other interesting architecture in the old town. It has good transportation links to Barcelona, but the bus/train station is about a 30-minute walk from the old town (15 minutes from the palace). Fortunately, there are buses making the run in addition to taxis. I was even more impressed with Teruel, which is about 2-1/2 hours beyond Zaragoza via infrequent trains. It has multiple mudejar towers as well as quite a number of interesting early-20th-century buildings scattered around its historic district. Very atmospheric place with few non-Spanish tourists.
Thank you so much for your replies! I will look over all the links you provided. We like rustic, old, historic, natural, and uncrowded places. We love the uniqueness of a place. We try to find lodging that has an element the kids would like (animals mostly), but not in a hotel or other touristy place. I'd love to see cave art also. We will arrive March 29 and depart April 10. We were going to begin in Barcelona for 2 or 3 nights to get adjusted, but that does't work well for renting a car on the weekend to head north. So, I thought we would rent a car from the airport and drive north and end in Barcelona. I don't want to go too far immediately because I know how we and the kids feel after a long flight and time change (and no sleep). We need to get out of the airport and get somewhere easily to crash for a day or two.
I know there is much to see in Barcelona, but we are really not much for cities. A few days is our max most of the time. We have been to Paris twice for 5 days each, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, and Lucern ( as far as larger cities go). Other than Paris, we were happy to leave after a couple of nights.
I will look at the PDF links on drives and family destinations and get back to you. It all looks amazing! We feel like we will just have to go back because we cannot see it all. We always want to see it all...hence, rushing from place to place and exhausting ourselves on every trip. We see a lot, but pay for it in the end. If we just stay in Catalonia, I'm hoping it won't be so bad.
I will post again soon, after I've looked through everything. I mostly wanted to say thank you for getting us started. :)
By the way, how much Catalan will we need to know? Is speaking Spanish or English insulting? We will do our best to learn some Catalan so not to offend anyone.
Totally agree with you, there's far too much to see :)
Catalan is the local language albeit Spanish is co-official too. A hundred and fifty years ago I would have replied that not knowing Catalan would have been a problem for you as Spanish was hardly spoken among most of the population, but these days, after successive waves of Spanish migrants coming to Catalonia (plus the repressive activity of different Spanish regimes), Spanish has become ubiquitous, especially in bigger cities and industrial belts. Elsewhere in the countryside, while you'll hear mostly Catalan, everybody can communicate as well in Spanish so it shouldn't be a problem for you.
Addressing Catalan-speakers in Spanish is not considered rude or causes offence, especially when it's obvious you're a tourists, yet learning a few basic words (thanks, good morning, etc) will always put a smile on the other party's face of course, and it'll certainly warm up many Catalans as it's obviously seen as a sign of respect from our guests. Our language is spoken by "just" over 10 million people, and much as in with the vast majority of other languages around, it's not expected you to master it when you're coming over for a short holiday.
Also, you might hear people talking to each other in different languages, that is, conversations in which a party speaks say in Catalan and the other replies in Spanish. This is a sort of "mutual understanding" to which Catalan society has reached overtime in order to respect everybody's mother tongue. Catalan is the teaching language in our schools, thus, all resident children, local or foreign, do speak Catalan, but many of them have Spanish as their mother tongue (or other languages, especially Arabic, Chinese and Russian).
Yet you can also use English -younger generations should understand you and should be able to speak it back (or at least mumble it!), and if you're visiting the northern counties, you might get by with French too as these counties do receive as well many French tourists from across the border.
If you're interested.... http://wikitravel.org/en/Catalan_phrasebook
Also, would this fit as "a lodging that has an element the kids would like"??... There are several lodgings like this in Catalonia. This particular one is located in Sant Hilari Sacalm, by the beautiful Les Guilleries massif.
Also, it's very near the small city of Vic, with a well preserved labyrinthic medieval centre and the region also offers excellent landscapes for a balloon ride ('globus' in Catalan). Googling around will yield several companies offering this service, such as http://www.caminsdevent.com/ || http://www.globuskontiki.com/ || http://www.ballooning.es/ || http://www.volaventura.cat/ || http://www.aircat.cat/ or http://www.globubolg.com/. Vic is also known for its famous Medieval Market Fair, unfortunately for you though, it's celebrated at the beginning of December.
JR, you'll be in Dali country and I can enthusiastically recommend visiting Castel Pubol (Gala's house), the Dali Museum in Figueres, and the beach house in Cadaques. I think your kids should find these sights stunning for they are big, bold and in-your-face. We also enjoyed several hikes along the Costa Brava while staying in Calella de Palafrugell. A bit south of Barcelona, there are several hikes above Montserrat with amazing views.
While in Girona take the one hour tour of Casa Maso - a stunning preservation of home designed by a Modernista with the actual furniture, etc. from the family.
While the small towns and countryside of Catalonia is spectacular, don't cut your time too short in Barcelona - there's so much to see/experience. From Gaudi sites to the beach, Barcelona is unforgettable. BTW - we took a couple of walking tours with Runner Bean - check them out your kids would fit in well with their low key approach.
Now that Craig mentions it...RunnerBean offers a tour for families with kids
We spent two weeks in Catalonia in late November and early December. We were using public transit, which was very easy, so we based ourselves in Barcelona and Girona.
From Barcelona we did day trips to Vic, Montserrat, Tarragona, and Vilanova i la Geltru. We really enjoyed Vic and found Vilanova to be a charming, less touristy beach town. Vilanova may be a good place to spend the first couple of nights.
From Girona we did day trips to Besalu, L'Escala/Empuries, Tossa de Mar, Banyoles, and Figueres. For the L'Escala excursion, we started in town and took a coastal path which went by the Roman/Greek ruins at Empuries and continued to the village of Sant Marti for lunch. If you go to Figueres, it's not just the Dali museum. They have a really interesting castle (Sant Ferran) on the edge of town, a short walk from the Dali musuem.
In Girona, I'd highly recommend eating at La Regolta. It's well outside the tourist area, and as far as I could tell we were the only tourists there. Most other people seemed to know somebody as they walked through the restaurant. The menu is only in Catalan, but one of the waitresses speaks English and was happy to help us.