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Guide to Catalunya

Catalunya, in the North Eastern corner of Spain, is best known to millions of foreign package holidaymakers as the home of the famous Costa Brava with its bustling beach resorts and ruggedly beautiful coastline.

Indeed the much loved resort areas such as Lloret de Mar, Tossa de Mar (Right) and Roses have so much to offer the two-week vacationer that many overseas visitors never find the time or inclination to discover the many other treasures of this highly individual Spanish province.

Like the Basque Country (Pais Vasco), Catalunya has its own unique character which sets it apart from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s an autonomous region with its own language, Catalan, and a fierce sense of brotherhood among the local population. A sure fire way to incur the wrath of a Catalan is to suggest that his or her language is nothing more than a dialect of Castilian Spanish.

In fact the language is unique although it’s Latin-based and some of the vocabulary is similar to Spanish and French. Catalunya (known locally as Cataluña) was one of the main hot beds of resistance to the Franco regime in the first two decades following the Civil War (1936-39). Book shops and public libraries were scoured for Catalan books which were destroyed and the language was banned from schools, television, the radio and press.

Small wonder then that both the language and culture of Catalunya were revived with a vengeance after Franco’s death in 1975. An enduring and very public symbol of this revival can be seen throughout the region in the famous local Sardana dance which you can see on summer evenings in almost every Catalunyan city, village and beach resort. The dance, depicted in a famous statue on Barcelona’s Montjuic Hill, involves joining hands and dancing in circular movements to the strains of a flute-like instrument. It symbolises the unity of the Catalans – a people so proud of their special identity that they dared to sing the unofficial anthem of Catalunya in front of Franco when he visited the region’s Palau de la Musica (Left) in 1960.

Besides the obvious allure of the Costa Brava and Costa Dorada, Catalunya is a fascinating place to visit not least because of its cosmopolitan capital, Barcelona – arguably Spain’s most sophisticated city and without doubt one of the most exciting cities on the planet.

Major visitor attractions within easy reach of the capital include the Port Aventura theme park at Tarragona, the Salvadar Dali museum in Figueres (birthplace of the famous surrealist painter’s) and the mountain monastery of Montserrat 40 kilometres inland from Barcelona. The1,000 year-old monastery is perched high amid weird and wonderful rock formations which inspired the work of the great architect Catalunyan Antoni Gaudi.

The northern border of Catalunya consists of awesome Pyrenean Mountain landscapes which offer some of Spain’s best walking and climbing country along with a number of good ski resorts, largely undiscovered by foreign visitors.

The Baqueira-Beret ski resort, in the gut-wrenchingly gorgeous Vall d’Aran, has facilities to rival the far better known southern resort of Sierra Nevada. It’s popular with Spanish skiers including King Juan Carlos and his family.

The Catalan Language

Catalan is a dynamic characteristic of Catalunya and one of its most distinctive features - you'll hear Catalan being spoken wherever you go in the region. It is a language of romance understood by as many as 12 million people in portions of Spain, France, Andorra and Italy, although the majority of active Catalan speakers are in Spain. People have been speaking Catalan since the Middle Ages, the language spread around the Mediterranean through victory over the kingdoms of Majorca, Sicily, Sardinia, Naples, Athens and Neopatria.

During the 14th century it was one of the most widespread languages. Catalan went through various periods of prohibition and even of repression, such that changes in the extent to which the language was used in its own territory from the 18th century on were due to politics. Under the Nationalist dictatorship of General Franco (1939-1975), the Catalan language and culture were subjected to unprecedented persecution.

In the 19th century, during the Renaissance period Catalan was reborn as the language of literary culture. The Renaissance raised awareness of the lack of unity in the use of the language and subsequently led to the language being codified through the publication of Spelling Rules, the Spelling Dictionary and the Catalan Grammar.

During the 20th century, Catalan was finally restored to its official language status, which it had lost in the 18th century. However, the Civil War and its consequences made the use of Catalan in public forbidden and the language retreated once again into the home.

Places of interest in Catalunya

Barcelona

Catalunya's capital, located at the Mediterranean Sea, offers the structures of a true metropole. Among its most outstanding sights are the Gothic Quarter and the works of architect Antoni Gaudi including the Sagrada Familia.

Costa Brava

Certainly one of the most famous Spanish coasts, stretching from the north of Barcelona over the province of Girona. It is of great natural beauty, with steep cliffs and romantic small coves.

Girona

A beautiful historic city with the old Jewish Quarter among its major sights.

Figueres

The birthplace of great painter Salvador Dali. Its main attraction is of course the museum dedicated to Dali, showing a collection of some of his finest works.

Costa del Maresme, Costa del Garraf and the Costa Dorada

South of Costa Brava you will find the Costa del Maresme and Arenys de Mar and and after that Barcelona. South of Barcelona is the Costa del Garraf including Castelldefels and Sitges and south of Garraf is the Costa Dorada (Golden Coast).

Tarragona

An important city of the Roman empire, still preserving outstanding monuments: the Aquaeductus, an amphitheater and the Tomb of the Scipios, located at the seaside. Close to Tarragona there are the monasteries Santes Creus and Santa Maria de Poblet, both of high historic-artistic interest.

Lleida (Lerida)

Located inland in a mountainous area. Most interesting is its cathedral, 'Seo', built between 12th and 15th century.