Several million visitors come to the Catalan capital every year. It has to be said that the bustling city of Barcelona appeals to an eclectic public with its cosmopolitan atmosphere, its colourful architecture and its golden beaches. But Barcelona is much more than a metropolis, it is the name of a whole province. To discover the cultural wealth and natural attractions of this territory, you have to go beyond the "green belt" that surrounds Barcelona. From natural parks to industrial cities, from coastal panoramas to medieval towns, the Catalan soul is revealed from every angle

Geotourism in the heart of Catalonia

It's almost hard to believe, but more than 36 million years ago, a sea stretched across the centre of Catalonia. The evaporation of this salt water reserve, due to the rise of the Pyrenean massifs, has left the region with important mining resources. To find out more, we'll head for the Cardener Valley. In the northwest of the province of Cardona, the town of Cardona is home to one of the most beautiful castles in Catalonia, built in the 11th century. The collegiate church dedicated to Sant Vicenç is worth a visit. But one of the great curiosities of Cardona is undoubtedly its amazing salt mountain. It was once one of the most important salt mines in Europe before it closed in the 1990s. The mine was later converted into a tourist attraction. To discover it, you will be guided 86 metres underground in the galleries sculpted with salt stalactites and superb multichromatic swells. Continuing along the Salt Route, geology enthusiasts will make a detour to Súria, which, in addition to its well-preserved medieval architecture, is a potash mining centre with interesting geological formations

The Montserrat Natural Park is part of the Geopark and is a must-see. Some people come to admire its monastery perched at an altitude of 700 metres. But Montserrat is first and foremost the name of a spectacular mountain. With more than a hundred caves, the massif also has some geological wonders. In the north of the province, in the village of Moià, the "Coves del Toll" are among the most important Paleolithic sites in Catalonia.

The contrasting relief of the Sant Llorenç del Munt i l'Obac Natural Park has been shaped by the river currents that flowed towards the sea and once occupied the centre of Catalonia. Its landscapes, studded with oak and Aleppo pine forests, alternate with bare rock, giving the area a wild aspect that is rarely visited, except by walkers, rock climbers and speleologists. And in the heart of the natural park, the small village of Mura preserves a dazzling medieval heritage

Discovering the medieval history of Catalonia

A trip to the hinterland is also an opportunity to learn about Catalan medieval history. In addition to Cardona Castle and the monastery of Montserrat, a cultural stop at the Benedictine monastery of Sant Cugat de Vallès is a must. Considered a jewel of Catalan Romanesque, it was one of the main monastic centres of the region and its remarkable cloister reads like a sculpted bible. Further north, the town of Manresa will also attract attention. The capital of Bages exudes a charm of yesteryear with its narrow streets, its shopping alleys, its tree-lined squares... Its medieval heritage rubs shoulders with the vestiges of a rich industrial past that has left some beautiful modernist buildings here and there. The monastery of Sant Benet is also worth a visit: it invites you to spend a night out of time. A visit to the monastery, with its video projections, sound effects and scented atmospheres, is an experience in itself. Before going to their room, gourmets will dare to go crazy by dining in the Michelin-starred L'Ó restaurant

Then head to Vic, the capital of the Osona region. Every Tuesday and Saturday, the town's market unfolds its stalls in the Plaça Major. You can take advantage of the opportunity to stroll through the pretty streets and push open the doors of Saint Peter's Cathedral and the Episcopal Museum. In the surrounding area, the pleasant medieval villages of Rupit and Tavernet are among the most beautiful in Catalonia, and the monastery of Casserres, nestled in a meander of the River Ter, offers a picture-postcard view. The lake of Seu, formed by an artificial dam, is just a stone's throw away and is ideal for kayaking

An atmosphere between sea and mountain

Then you can put on your walking shoes and walk along the paths of the Montseny Natural Park, criss-crossing the arid landscapes of the Garraf massif or wandering from springs to dolmens in the heart of the coastal Serralada. But if you wake up in the morning and want to take a dip in the sea, the seaside resorts are not far away. Sitges is one of the most popular in the region, appreciated for its gay-friendly party atmosphere, its architecture and its beautiful sandy beaches. It must be said that it has managed to preserve its authenticity and traditions, despite thousands of tourists. Those who prefer a family atmosphere can anchor in a more intimate seaside resort (Montgat or Ocata) while enjoying a meal on the terrace of a typical chiringuito. From the centre of Barcelona, after boarding the train that runs along the coast to Blanes, you will be spoilt for choice over a hundred kilometres. Finally, from Malgrat de Mar to Castelldefels, the most active will set off to tackle the "coastal paths" that line the coastline, nestled between sky and sea

The legacy of the textile industry

Original and fun, industrial tourism is attracting more and more followers. If you want to relive the history of the Catalan Industrial Revolution and the textile industry boom, hop on the first train to the Western Vallès. Sabadell and Terrassa are home to a remarkable industrial heritage. From the end of the 19th century onwards, the two towns, hand in hand, became the centres of the Catalan wool industry. The wool weavers' workshops were gradually transformed to the sound and rhythm of the steam engines and the streets saw the factories and their long brick watchtowers grow like mushrooms. Terrassa was even nicknamed the "city of chimneys". The wealthy industrial bourgeoisie was quick to invest in superb mansions and other modernist style buildings. After the Museum of Science and Technology of Catalonia, housed in an old steam factory, we will be surprised by the architecture of the Masía Freixa, which, in the centre of Terrassa, reveals its Gaudi inspiration. We will then set off along the route of the province's textile colonies in search of these avant-garde workers' towns. Gaudí's crypt, built at the beginning of the 20th century for the Colonie Güell in Santa Coloma de Cervelló, is a little-known masterpiece that has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO

A gastronomic destination

Catalan gastronomy offers great variations, whether you are tempted by a gargantuan seafood platter or a hearty game stew. If it has seen the rise of renowned chefs, it is the quality of its products that has made its reputation. Throughout the province, you will witness the festival of colours of the fairs and popular markets. After the mythical Boqueria market or the Santa Catarina market in the heart of the capital, we must mention the Vic market for its cold meats, the stalls of Montserrat for the delicious mató (a kind of fresh cheese) or the stalls of Granollers for their excellent farm products

But how can we talk about gastronomy without mentioning the sweet elixirs of the province? Vilafranca del Penedès, 60 km from Barcelona, has become the "capital of wine". The Alt Penedès region has also specialised in the production of Cava. In the centre of Catalonia, the county of Bages has some pleasant surprises in store for wine lovers, such as its fresh and fruity white wines. Only 15 kilometres from Barcelona, the oldest denomination in the Iberian Peninsula is also the one that occupies the smallest area. The cellars of Alella have long been the wine reservoir of the Barcelona bourgeoisie. And when the end of summer comes around, the grape harvest period will console those who are nostalgic for the summer months

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When is it open? All year round. In spring and summer, you can take advantage of the long beaches along the coast to recharge your batteries. Excursions to the mountains are also an opportunity to find some fresh air. In winter, relatively cool temperatures can be expected in the mountains. In autumn, the landscapes are covered in shimmering colours.

Getting there. By train, by car, by bus and, of course, by plane, everything is possible.

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