The otherness of Catalonia – Spain’s separate entity
Barcelona is brilliant, but it’s the rest of Catalonia that defines the region’s unexpected individuality. From exhilarating hikes to the world’s most prestigious prawns, and from Pep Guardiola’s favourite restaurant to Rock Hudson’s beach hangout, allow Sunvil to introduce you…
Sunvil, synonymous with tailor-made travel to less familiar destinations for over 50 years, now brings you Catalonia, a region with way more than you might imagine, and one that has resisted the blight of over-development. The family-run independent tour operator has exhaustively explored this conveniently-compact area of Spain, built trusted relationships with the people on the ground, and now features the cream of Catalonia’s crop – from the soaring peaks of the Pyrenees to the sparkle of the Mediterranean’s shallow waters, via Girona’s fascinating, maze-like narrow alleyways and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Setcases, in the heart of the Pyrenees, 4,040 ft above sea level, is a picturesque mountain village by the swiftly flowing Ter River. The ski resort of Vallter 2000, with peaks rising to 9,452 ft, is a 20-minute drive away. The surrounding lush valleys and impossibly pretty villages invite local walks as well as serious hikes as far down as the Costa Brava.
Hotel La Coma is a wholesome, family-run alpine hotel with a cosy restaurant that specialises in Catalan cuisine (Sunvil highly recommends the mushroom cannelloni). A favourite with families, sunny days can be spent by the lovely swimming pool. Hiking from here is wonderful – whether it’s gentle rambling or a serious mission. The hotel has a lounge with a fireplace, an intimate spa with a heated pool, a games room, a playground, and activities including pony rides. A seven-night half-board stay costs from £1,485 pp (two sharing), including return flights, 23 kg pp hold luggage allowance, and transfers.
Santa Pau is a beautiful medieval village, with 30 volcanic craters nearby. There are many wonderful walks within this Baixa Garrotxa volcanic area. The glorious main square, once an important cattle market, is encircled by colonnaded stone buildings. Buried in the village’s medieval centre, the four-star Hotel Cal Sastre has only eight bedrooms, and the owner-managers, Eva and Jesus, are real characters. Across the street from the imposing, part-ruined 13th century castle, the hotel has a small swimming pool which is seemingly fused into the ancient walls, and a terrace with views of the Santa Margarita and Puig de Mar volcanoes. The hotel and its excellent restaurant are much-loved by the Barcelona football team, and Pep Guardiola is a frequent visitor. The truffle cannelloni is exceptional, apparently. A seven-night B&B stay costs from £1,318 pp (two sharing), including return flights, 23 kg pp hold luggage allowance, half-board for one night, a day’s hire of an e-bike, and transfers.
BeachPalamós prawns are not only the star product of the Costa Brava, but also widely recognised as the best in the world. Vermilion in colour, with an exquisite flavour, they are distinguished from other varieties by their sweeter flavour. Dating from the 13th century, the delightful seaside town of Palamós is alive with fish-related business; both its fishing museum and fish market are worth visiting. Also known for its excellent sandy beaches, it is a centre for watersports and a good base for boat trips.
A 20-minute walk from town, and 150m from the splendid beach of La Fosca, Hotel Ancora is particularly popular with families. Bright and clean, the property is run by a family who welcome guests with great warmth and it has an excellent restaurant which specialises in freshly-caught fish sourced daily, direct from the Palamós Fishery. Within the hotel’s enormous garden, there is a swimming pool and a mini golf course, and bicycles are available to hire. A seven-night B&B stay costs from £813 pp (two sharing), including return flights, 23 kg pp hold luggage allowance, and transfers.
The town of Palafrugell, near Palamós, has what can be classed as three coastal suburb fishing villages – Tamariu, Llafranc and Calella. According to Sunvil’s chairman, Noel Josephides, who used to holiday in Llafranc with his parents in the mid-1960s, the nature of the area has not changed at all. There are no high-rise buildings, the hotels are small, and it remains hidden amongst the forest of pine trees which tumble down to exquisite coves of sand.Hotel Llafranc dates from 1958 and attracted Hollywood’s best back then, including Rock Hudson, Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas and Elizabeth Taylor. Still family owned, Adelita continues to cook her signature dishes. The squid ink black rice is outstanding. A seven-night B&B stay costs from £1,011 pp (two sharing), including return flights, 23 kg pp hold luggage allowance, and transfers.
Girona is one Spain’s most exciting and yet unknown cities of myths and legends. Within its extensive medieval city walls, the architectural style is a heady mix of Roman, Carolingian, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Modernist. The Onyar River flows through the city and is spanned by several bridges, one of which was built by Gustav Eiffel. The cathedral is magnificent, the narrow streets are lined with interesting shops, and there are three Michelin-starred restaurants, no less, including the very famous El Celler de Can Roca. In Figueres, a 45-minute drive away, the Dalí Museum is a must. You could not get a more central location than the Hotel Peninsular 1853, a 10-minute walk from the old Jewish centre, and an easy amble from the Onyar River, cafés and restaurants. A seven-night B&B stay costs from £1,059 pp (two sharing), including return flights, 23 kg pp hold luggage allowance, and transfers.
How about getting to Girona by train? Breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, and dinner in Spain, all possible thanks to Europe’s ever-strengthening network of high-speed rail connections. The TGV high-speed Paris to Catalonia connection, at its fastest, takes a mere six hours. Overnight stays in Paris can also be arranged. A seven-night B&B stay costs from £1,293 pp (two sharing), including return train travel from London, and transfers.
Bring it all together? 14 Night Four Centre Costa Brava and Girona Pyrenees itinerary offers you all of the above in one trip. The cost is from £1,855 pp (two sharing), including return flights, 23 kg pp hold luggage allowance, four nights in Setcases with half board, two nights in Santa Pau with breakfast, three nights in Girona with breakfast, five nights in Palamos with breakfast, and car hire throughout. Flights to Girona are available from Bournemouth, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, East Midlands, London, Birmingham, Belfast, Newcastle, and Glasgow.Sunvil’s
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