If you cruise frequently, then you’ve probably been in and out of Barcelona numerous times. It’s a beautiful city, and there are countess things to see and do there, but sometimes you just want to see if there’s something “beyond Barca.” Here are 5 “do-it-yourself” day trips out of the city that might fill the bill.
Think cava! The village of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia is the center of the Penedes wine region, and is renowned for the sparking whites produced there. Tours and tastings are offered at some of the bodegas, including Freixenet and Codorniu. Of the two, Freixenet is the easiest to get to: it’s next to the railway station. You need to take a taxi to get to Codorniu, but the trip is worth it: the winery is housed in a building designed by Puig I Cadafalch, one of the masters of Catalan modernisme.
Getting there: Take the RENFE L4 (Rodalies) from Barcelona-Sants or Barcelona Placa Catalunya in the direction of Vilafranca del Penedes/Sant Vicenc de Calders and get off at Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. The trip takes 45 minutes. The entrance to Caves Freixenet is 50 meters from the station.
For information on tour highlights and times at Caves Freixenet: http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/Tour-of-Caves-Freixenet/_vf-SMlY1yIuKQTV1aq49kIcZLYM_Jl6AzNoeJ8GkHu5GgFTF2GY0JSthg-P44iWk
For information on tour highlights and times at Caves Codorniu: http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/Visit-Caves-Codorniu/_vf-SMlY1yIuKQTV1aq49kKmmlQE3ArKccuufOXsrrNwPxUQjQMFkbycEA3EBG2aC
According to legend, the Black Virgin of Montserrat was carved by St. Luke sometime around 50 AD and brought to Spain. She was hidden from the Moors in Santa Cova (the Holy Grotto) and rediscovered in 880 AD by shepherds, who were led to the grotto by heavenly music and a bright light. Though small (just over 3 feet in height), the statue was too heavy to be lifted, so the Benedictines built a monastery around it. Or, so they say.
In fact, art historians date the Romanesque statue on display today to the 12th century. Affectionately known as “La Moreneta,” the statue’s black colour has been attributed to the smoke from the many candles burned before it over the centuries, though it seems more likely that it is merely discolouration due to chemical changes in the varnish that sealed the polychromed statue.
One of the most important religious shrines in Spain, Our Lady of Montserrat has seen millions of pilgrims since the Middle Ages. (St. Ignatius Loyola laid down his sword there and took up a religious mission after praying before the statue in 1522.) The Virgin is housed in a raised chapel in the Sanctuary of the Mare de Déu, behind a sheet of glass. One of the statue’s hands extends beyond the glass shield, and it is the custom to kiss or touch the Virgin’s hand while opening your other hand to Jesus.
In addition to the celebrated statue, the monastery is home to the Escolania (Monserrat’s Boys’ Choir), which dates from the 13th century, making it one of the oldest in Europe. The Choir sings “Salve Regina” and “Virolai” (the hymn of Montserrat) in the basilica daily at 1 pm. There is also a large museum in the monastery complex. Visit this link for information on its contents, hours of operation, and fees: http://www.montserrat-tourist-guide.com/en/attractions/museum-at-montserrat.html
Montserrat is one of the most popular shrines in Spain. Depending on the time of day and the time of year, lines can be quite long, and you may have to wait 20-45 minutes to see the Virgin. Since most bus tours arrive in the morning, lines are shortest around 1pm, when the Boys’ Choir sings, and in the afternoon.
Getting there: Montserrat is one hour from Barcelona by train, plus additional travel time to the monastery via cable car or funicular railway. Take the FGC’s “R5” line from the Placa d’Espanya in the direction of Manresa. The train connects to an aerial cable car at the Montserrat-Aeri stop, which is included in the round-trip fare of €18.80. If you’re afraid of heights, you can take the funicular railway (Cremallera de Montserrat) at the next stop, Monistrol de Montserrat. Combined round-trip tickets cost €21; the last funicular descends the mountain at 6:15pm.
See the FGC website for timetables: http://www.fgc.cat/cat/index.asp
The historic center of this quaint town rises on a steep hillside on the banks of the River Onyar, one of the four rivers (the others being the Ter, Galligants and Guell) that meet in Girona.
Girona’s top tourist attraction is the Jewish Quarter, “El Call.” The first Jewish residents arrived in the 9th century; by the 12th century, theirs was a flourishing community numbering 1,000. Girona became an important center for the study of Kaballah, and included Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, also known as Nahmanides, among its residents. The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, and Christians moved into the old Call, destroying many of the Jewish homes and building new ones on top of them. The Centre Bonastruc ça Porta (Carrer de la Força, 8), is housed in a former synagogue, and is dedicated to the preservation of Girona’s Jewish heritage. (Open Sept-June: Tues-Sat, 10am-6pm, Sun & Mon, 10am-2pm; July and Aug: Mon-Sat, 10am-8pm, Sun, 10am-2pm – Admission: €4)
The 11th century Romanesque Cathedral of Girona was redesigned in the Catalan Gothic style in the 14th century: its most important feature is the single nave, which spans some 22 meters (72 feet), second only to Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica. The Baroque façade and the monumental stairway before it, date to the 17th century, while dozens of Baroque chapels line the nave. The Cathedral Museum holds several treasures, including the 11th century Romanesque “Tapestry of Creation,” and the 10th century illuminated manuscript, the “Girona Beatus.” (Cathedral open Apr-Oct, Daily, 10am-7pm; Nov-Mar, Daily, 10am-6:30pm; Closed during Services – Admission includes audio guide: Adults €7, Seniors €5, Children under 16 €1.20)
The medieval walls that encircle Old Town were built in the 14th century, but their foundations date to Roman times. Partly demolished in the 19th century to make way for the city’s expansion, the walls have since been reconstructed, making it possible to stroll the ramparts and take in the view from the Passeig de la Muralla. An 11th century tower near the Cathedral provides access.
Getting There: RENFE now operates high-speed AVE service between Barcelona/Sants and Girona. See the RENFE site for timetables and fares: http://www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/
Figueres is home to the “world’s largest Surrealist object” – the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali. Figueres is the artist’s birthplace, and is also where he is buried – in a crypt beneath the stage of the old theatre where he had his first exhibition. The theatre was burned during the Spanish Civil War, and remained a ruin until Dali convinced the city fathers to rebuild it as a museum dedicated to his works. He even designed the façade, which is topped with egg sculptures (Dali said they resembled ideas waiting to hatch).
The Museum displays the largest, most diverse collection of Dali’s works: there are paintings, sculptures, 3-D collages and site-specific installations, such as “Face of Mae West Which Can Be Used as an Apartment.” Dali’s personal collection forms the core of the Museum, and also includes works by El Greco (“St Paul”) and Bougereau (“Bather”), as well as a second floor gallery devoted to the work of Dali’s friend, Catalan artist Antoni Pitxot.
In addition to the Mae West installation, highlights include Dali’s Port Alguer (1924), Soft self-portrait with grilled bacon (1941), Galatea of the Spheres (1952), and his last oil painting, The Swallow’s Tail (1983), as well as jewelry and holographic art designed by the artist.
(Open Nov-Feb, 10:30am-6pm; Mar-Jun, 9:30am-6pm; Jul-Sept, 9am-8pm; Oct, 9am-6pm; Closed Mondays, except Jun-Sept – Admission: Adults €12, Seniors €9, Children under 9 Free
Getting there: Figueres is approximately 2 hours from Barcelona/Sants by RENFE, or 53 minutes if you book the AVE. See RENFE site for timetables and fares: http://www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/
Just 100 km from Barcelona are some of the most important Roman ruins in Spain – the remains of old Tarraco, capital of the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis.
Just a few minutes walk from the downtown train station is the 2nd century Amphiteatre, which has been partially restored. Carved from the bedrock and oval in shape, this structure could hold up to 14,000 spectators, and was the scene of gladiatorial contests and Christian martyrdoms. A short distance away is the Praetorian Tower and the old Circo Romano (Rambla Vella, 1c) , a 25,000-seat arena that was used for horse and chariot races. The Archaeological Museum of Tarragona (Plaça de Rei, 5), considered to be among the best in Spain, is nearby, as is the Museum of the History of Tarragona (Plaça de Rei, 0). There are also about 1.5 km of the 2nd century Roman walls still standing, along with three towers. You can stroll atop them via the Passeig Arqueologic (Av de Catalunya, No #). For a downloadable PDF with a map and information on the Tarraco Archaeological Ensemble, see: http://www.tarragonaturisme.cat/en/routes
Most of the Archaeological Ensemble is Open May-Sept, Tues-Sat, 10am-9pm, Sun & Holidays, 10am-3pm; Oct-Apr, Tues-Sat, 9am-7pm, Sun & Holidays, 10am-3pm, CLOSED MONDAYS YEAR-ROUND – Admission: Adults €3.30, Seniors €1.70, Children Free
Passeig Arquelogic is Open Tues-Sat, 9am-9pm, Sun, 9am-3pm, Closed Mondays – Admission: Adults €3, Children under 16, Free
Archaeological Museum of Tarragona is Open Oct-May, Tues-Sat, 9:30am-6pm, Sun & Holiday, 10am-2pm; June-Sept, Tues-Sat, 9:30am-8:30pm, Sun & Holidays, 10am-2pm; CLOSED MONDAYS YEAR-ROUND – Admission: Adults €4.50, Seniors €3.50
Getting there: Tarragona is about an hour from Barcelona/Sants by RENFE, or half that time if you book the AVE. However, the slower Medium Distance trains leave you at the downtown station, while the AVE trains that go into the Camp de Tarragona station will require either bus or taxi transportation into the city. See RENFE site for timetables and fares: http://www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/