Splashed across the Catalonian hinterland – away from the beaches, not yet in the mountains – are a host of little-visited gems. Northwest of Barcelona, en route to Lleida, lies Montserrat, with its revered mountain shrine and rugged hiking trails. To Montserrat's north and northwest you'll find little-visited Manresa and its fine Catalan Gothic basilica; majestic Cardona, where salt-mining riches morphed into a fantastical castle complex (now an opulent parador); and quiet Solsona, home to an early-Romanesque cathedral.
Heading west from Barcelona, you'll traverse the undulating landscapes of the Conca de Barberà, where a trio of beautiful Unesco-listed Cistercian monasteries awaits. Lively, untouristed Lleida, in far western Catalonia, has plenty of history, especially visible in its spectacular old cathedral-fortress.
Halfway between Barcelona and the Pyrenees along the C17 lies the graceful town of Vic, home to an astounding fresco-filled cathedral.