Whenever I travel to one of Spain’s province capitals and am able to stay the night, I try to ensure that I have adequate time to visit one of the villages of the province. One of the writers from the important literary movement Generación de ’98 (I believe it was Ortega and Gasset, but I am not 100% sure on this. I don’t want to attribute it to the wrong writer, but I do know it comes from the awesome Gen 98 writers.) said the True Spain can only be found in the villages. This is so true, not only in Spain but anywhere you go. I am a hardcore left-wing liberal guy, but I know all the Republicans and even most of us lefties would agree that would agree that New York City has very little to do with the rest of the state of New York, let alone the country. Barcelona is an incredible city, but there are so many more treasures to be found outside the hustle and bustle of the city. Some of the places I’ve already discovered. Others require a car and/or more time, money and patience with public transport (IE spending the night in the village as there is only one bus a day!) than I have. At any rate, without having actually LIVED in Barcelona, I have to say I’ve done a bang-up job of discovering the Set Meravelles.
The mountain, abbey and sanctuary have become as popular of a destination as the city of Barcelona itself. For those who want to be in touch with nature and avoid the tourists, this is not the place to go. However, it really is worth the hour train ride and the massive packs of people setting out to see this incredible place. Montserrat, Catalán for “saw” due to the edges that appear to have been sawed into the rock, is part of the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range and actually has three peaks, so it could be possible to go hiking and find solitude. Nevertheless, it is the abbey and sanctuary of the Virgin of Montserrat, reached by a funicular or the Montserrat Rack Railway. The train from Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona will leave you near the funicular. For me, despite the tourists (we know I like my solitude to get in touch with nature!), it is perhaps one of the Set Meravelles of the entire Greatest Peninsula in the World.
Sitges, 35 kilometres (21 miles) from Barcelona, has a reputation of being a gay and lesbian vacation destination, but there is so much more than the nightlife here. It’s a picturesque village on the sea with white buildings and cobblestone streets that could actually find itself at home in Andalucía. However, the natives would much prefer to speak Catalán than here “Sevilla mi arma”. It has 17 beaches, and it is said that 35% of its 26.000 permanent residents come from outside the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I found myself here by coincidence during a Carnival parade in 2011. There are a few museums, and for me, it is easily to imagine artistic and creative types finding themselves a home here.
Vic is a city of 41,000 people located 69 kilometres (41 miles) north of Barcelona and 60 kilometres (36 miles) from Girona. It is a crossroads of sorts in Catalunya. The Catalán film (and the first film in Catalán to be considered for the Best Foreign Film Oscar) Pa negre takes place here, and it was an important focus during the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession. It offers a glimpse of the Real Catalunya and is a quaint place worth exploring. It also has a lot of old Roman ruins as it was an important Roman city back in the day.
4. Arenys de Mar y su mar
A small town of 15,000 people, Arenys de Mar is a small city on the sea. “Arenys” is Catalán for Sand (arena in Spanish), and “Mar” is sea in both of the official languages here. The woman in the tourist agency was impressed with my Catalán, and this town is a place to practice your Catalán. For me, the best part was the hike along the coast. The tide was coming in, and at one point I had a choice of taking the boring sidewalk/pavement along the train tunnel or jump across the rocks. The tide won, so I had a very wet trip back to Barcelona.
5. Cardona (to be discovered)
Cardona was almost my village daytrip destination during my November 2014 trip to Barcelona. Located 90 km/51 miles northwest of Barcelona, it has a castle and a Parador. It is also home of a major salt deposit. Located in the mountains, the town of 5000 people seems to be a perfect place for nature and to practice Catalán. One day, one day…
6. Rupit i Pruit (to be discovered)
Rupit was another major consideration for the recent trip. 98 km or 59 miles north of Barcelona, the village of 300 people is located 800 metres above sea level. It’s one of the northernmost villages of the provinces and is extremely hard to arrive without a car. It would be worth the effort due to its natural beauty, medieval streets and incredible views. The best places are often hard to get to!
7. Puente de Diablo/Pont de Diable de Martorell (to be discovered)
The bridge between Martorell and Castellbisbal over the Riu Llobregat is an old Roman bridge originally constructed around the year 10 BC. Destroyed by a river in the 12th century, it was reconstructed with Gothic architecture soon after and restored in the 18th century. The Republicans of the Spanish Civil War destroyed it in their retreat from the fascists, but it was reconstructed in 1963 with the Gothic design of 1283. According to a local legend, the Devil himself offered to build the bridge overnight for an elderly Señora who crossed the river by wading daily. Of course, the Devil being who he is, would do it only in exchange for the soul of the first person to cross the bridge. The bridge was built overnight, and Satan awaited the Señora to cross the bridge. She came around with her bucket to fetch the water, but instead of crossing the bridge right away, she let a cat cross it first. The Devil had to be satisfied with the cat’s soul, and to this day, the cat’s soul accompanies whoever crosses the bridge. I knew I was a dog person for a reason! (Meaning…the Devil has cat’s souls? The soulless creatures once had souls? xD)