Discover Catalonia & Northern Spain
With its diverse geography and landscapes, from the rocky Pyrenees to the Mediterranean coastline, each producing their own local specialities, it is little wonder that the region of Catalonia is world renowned for being a bit of a foodie-lovers paradise!
From the sea to plate
600km of coastline mean there is ample opportunity to eat delicious fresh seafood in Catalonia! White fish is very popular in the Costa Brava. Some specialities include Esqueixada (a delicious salad tossed with salt cod), Suquet de Peix (a fish stew using bits of hake, monkfish, clams and mussels mixed with saffron) and the best Palamós prawns.
Hearty mountain food
The pastoral landscapes of the Pyrenees are ideal for producing tasty vegetation and fauna, giving rise to some of the finest meat, vegetable and cheese specials. Mongetes amb botifarra is a hearty sausage and beans dish, very popular in the mountains. Calçots are hugely popular, a type of onion cooked in hot ash and served with a spicy salsa sauces. And Costa Negra is a unique black cheese sour and tart in flavour.
Around 55 restaurants throughout Catalonia have 1 or more Michelin-stars, the prestigious award given to top-rated eateries. The famous Roca brothers are some of the most famous chefs in Catalonia, and their restaurant in Girona, El Celler de Can Roca, actually owns 3 Michelin stars and has been named the best restaurant in the world - twice!
Of course, you can't eat amazing food without having it accompanied by some delicious wine, and this is another area Catalonia is expert in. There are 11 Designation of Origin (DOA) wines in the region as well as 1 for cava. With over 50 wineries in the Costa Brava region alone to discover, you are sure to discover a new favourite! The Garnatxa de l’Empordà is a famous sweet wine from this region.
One of the best ways to try some Catalan specialities is to have a wander round one of the many markets. There is not only the famous Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona on the Ramblas. Try the Mercat de Palafrugell for sampling lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, the Mercat de Girona, in the central Plaza de Lleo, and the Mercat de Sant Feliu de Guixols with over 100 stalls near the sea.
Wildlife in the Picos de Europa
Due to its contrasting range of habitats from low-lying river valleys to lofty limestone mountains, the Picos de Europa National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife. You can expect to find some of the following;
The Chamois - this graceful, deer-like animal can almost be seen as an icon of this area, and you are pretty sure to see at least a couple of them on your adventure in the Picos.
Wild Boar - although quite elusive, you can see evidence of these animals from the piles of mud they turn over whilst foraging in pastures.
Cantabrian brown bear - even more elusive with only 29 groups recorded in the 2009 census so spotting one is extremely unlikely!
Birdlife - only around 100 males Capercaillies are said to survive but they can very rarely be spotted along with the Golden Eagle. Slightly more common are Peregrines and Griffon Vultures.
Butterflies - over 150 species of butterflies have been identified in the Picos, making the alpine meadows there a delight to visit during the summer months.
Traditions and Customs of Catalonia
This fiercely independent region is home to a whole host of unique customs and traditions from the quirky to the downright crazy!
Ball de bastons - a Catalan folk dance which can be seen at most Catalan festivals. Dancers dress in white costumes with red or blue sashes and perform a unique dance by hitting wooden sticks together, accompanied by bagpipes.
Sardana - another dance which celebrates the Catalan identity and unity, where dancers join their hands in a circle and raise them as a proclamation of pride.
Els Castells - one of Catalonia's most iconic cultural events, the Els Castells are essentially "human towers". They are formed by a base (the strongest performers), the trunk, and then right at the top the anxaneta. They are performed throughout the year in different towns and cities throughout Catalonia and the crowning moment is when the anxeneta (usually a child) scrambles to the top and gives a four finger salute, said to represent the four stripes of the Catalan flag.
Cagatio - one of the slightly more wacky traditions, this happens around Christmas time when a wooden log is brought into homes around Catalonia and "fed" on orange peel and dried fruits. If taken good care of, the Cagatio (poo uncle) will bring gifts. On Christmas Day, the log is wrapped in a rug and then beaten, before presenting or "pooping" its gifts!
Els Segadors - the official national anthem of Catalonia since 1993 but dates back to 1639 when the War of the Catalans was fought against the king of Spain. Make sure you try and spot at least one of these Catalan traditions on your adventure here!
Correfoc (fire-run) - a high-energy performance which has its origins in a medieval practice called Ball de Diables where performers dress up as devils, arm themselves with pitchforks and set off fireworks in a fight of good against evil! You might see Correfoc at most major Catalan festivals.
There are many more very special and unique Catalan customs and traditions, but make sure you try and catch at least one of these whilst on your Catalan adventure!