Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Catalonia

Watefall Maria is all smiles trekking through Catalonia's stunning scenery. Image courtesy of Maria McKenzie

Maria McKenzie, Social Communications Coordinator at Lonely Planet, has just returned from an action-packed road trip around Catalonia in Spain.

In a nutshell… My boyfriend and I decided to venture beyond Barcelona and take a look at what Catalonia has to offer. The result? Astounding scenery (sometimes so gorgeous I had to question whether we were in Spain and not Canada), some delicious regional cuisine (vermouth and jamón aplenty) and a double dose of village life in the mountains (signal free!).

Tell us more… Bookending our week-long trip with a couple of nights in Barcelona we looped our way around Catalonia. Our first stop was a tiny farming village about 30 minutes or so outside Girona. From there we headed west into the Pyrenees and based ourselves in the valley of Vielha, where we ventured to the nearby Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park for its beautiful trekking routes and some very unpredictable weather.

Good grub? Good doesn’t even begin to cover it. On an overnight stop in Sort we went to a restaurant that served up some traditional Catalan dishes with a modern twist. Before each course the restaurant owner (a sweet and chatty local man) explained the origins of our dishes and where the local ingredients had been sourced - luckily for me, my boyfriend could translate the Catalan! My favourite was dessert: strawberries with a creamy moscatel (a typical liqueur from Catalonia) foam. Yum.

STAR GAZING Romance abounds in the star gazing pods at Mil Estrelles. Image courtesy of Maria McKenzie

Fave activity? Catalonia’s varied landscape is an adventure traveller’s dream, but aside from the trekking and kayaking, I really enjoyed stargazing. During our trip we checked into Mil Estrelles, the only hotel in Spain to offer stargazing pods as accommodation. Sleeping in these luxury pods was an amazing experience and luckily the night sky was mostly clear so we could work out constellations and even spot a shooting star. Ahh… so romantic!

Defining moment? For a 7 day trip we packed a surprising amount in, but my defining moment was probably when we reached the top of the Sant Esperit waterfall on one of our trekking routes. We took a breather from the trek to look out across the valley and just enjoy the moment, blissfully unaware of the tricky descent that awaited us...

So, learn anything new? With its Gaudi masterpieces, sun-soaked coastline and charming neighbourhoods, Barcelona is quite rightly hailed as Catalonia’s capital, making it one very popular destination. But this trip really opened my eyes to what lies beyond it. The Pyrenees mountains are so varied and breathtaking, local Catalan cuisine is surprisingly underrated and there are some tiny villages tucked away in the mountains that make great places to get a sense of local life. Whether it’s a hideaway beach, an adrenaline-fuelled adventure or a taste of the Catalan countryside, there’s something to suit every type of traveller.

Top tip? If you’re looking for some beach bliss, skip Barcelona’s busy coastline and take a day trip. The towns of Sitges and Sant Pol de Mar have some great beaches that are less crowded and equally, if not more, beautiful.