Classic Sunday Excursions from Barcelona in Winter
From the seasonally uncluttered beaches of the Costa Brava to the snowy pistes of the Vall d'Aran and the volcanos and beech forests of La Garrotxa, here's five classic sunday excursions from Barcelona that are perfect for winter time...
Fageda D'en Jorda, La Garrotxa
Late autumn is a good time to visit La Garrotxa natural park. Covering a series of soft hills surrounded by volcanos, La Fageda D'en Jorda is a beech forest which has grown out of a cape of dried lava. The subject of a famous poem by the Catalan writer Joan Maragall - in whose honour there's a statue at the entrance to the forest - La Fageda kindles with colour at this time of year. Bring a bike and you can ride there from Olot, six kilometres away, and then go on to the most appealing of the volcanos, including El Croscat, the tallest crater in the Iberian peninsula. Standing on top of Croscat's 184 metre high cone you can get a better idea of how volcanic activity - there are 40 dormant cones altogether - has shaped the region's landscape. Don't sweat. The last time Croscat erupted was 11000 years ago. The volcanos are still seismically active, however. In 1428 an earthquake in La Garrotxa caused 20 deaths in Barcelona - over a hundred kilometres away.
The beaches of the Costa Brava are at their windswept, naked best in winter. Llafranc is one of the quietest and most handsome of the CB's classic pobles de pesca, where chalk-white houses with wooden shutters look out over golden sands and fishing boats. At the lighthouse on the acantilados at the eastern end of Llafranc, there's a famous eatery with high, panoramic views over the Cape of Sant Sebastiá amid the ruins of a Celto-Iberian settlement. Another good walk is the bracing jaunt across the western clifftops to the ancient town and pebbly beach of Calella de Palafrugell, where you can get a slow seafood lunch on one of the terraces beside Plaça Port Bou and watch the waves ripple across the bay.
Cala Treumal, Blanes
Blanes isn't most people's idea of the perfect day out, particularly in the year's coldest months. But to the east, beyond the town's botanical gardens, the Camí de Santa Cristina winds into a sheltered cape hoarding three of the region's most delicious bays; Cala Treumal, Santa Cristina and Cala Boadella. The first two, of which Cala Treumal is the real star, are accessible from a car park beside the 18th century hermitage of Santa Cristina. On clear and crisp hibernal days, the scenery here is at its most naked and alluring, and the sea cries out for an invigorating swim. For those that don't have the courage, there are rock pools ideal for paddling. For lunch, there's the extremely popular Restaurant Cala Treumal, which is hemmed in discreetly between the pines. A bit of a local icon, it's due to close in May 2017.
High up in the Vall d'Aran, the ski resort of Baqueira-Beret is a winter playground for Catalonia's jet-set, with over 146 kilometres of marked pistes, six kilometres of cross-country itineraries and a descent of over a thousand metres. The sight of the 3000-plus metre peaks of Maladeta and Anoeta and the sparkling glacial troughs are as stirring as anything you'll see in the Pyrenees. Apres-ski distractions include the romanesque churches of nearby Bossòst, and Vielha, horseriding excursions, thermal baths and a caviar factory - the Vall d'Aran is renowned for its highly-prized Nacarii brand.
Fira de Nadal, Sant Cugat
Decked out in all its Christmas lights with the monastery illuminated, Sant Cugat is at its most alluring in December. A week before Christmas it's Fira de Nadal time and the square beside Sant Cugat's monastery - Plaça d'Octavià - is filled with the scent of mulled wine, spiced cakes, roasting chestnuts and humming cheeses and embotits jostling beside stalls decked out with caganers, percebres and artesanías. It's not as touristy as the christmas market in Barcelona's Plaça Nova, and it's only 20-odd minutes from the city on the FGC train. Just a short walk from the monastery up the Carrer Major, there's also the recently revamped Mercat Vell - housed in a beautifully restored modernist building - which hosts several very enticing eateries.