Lloret De Mar Costa Brava, Catalonia

Lloret De Mar Costa Brava, Catalonia

Sitting on a sun kissed beach on the Costa Brava in Catalonia, staring out across the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean, a cocktail in one hand and a good book in the other- life couldn’t be better- or could it?

Boat on the beach at Lloret De Mar, Costa Brava

Boat on the beach at Lloret De Mar, Costa Brava

For many, this image of a coastal paradise is all that comes to mind when they think of Catalonia. However, the true beauty of the region lies away from the seaside resorts, in the quaint villages in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Snowcapped peaks line the horizon, cowbells ring without warning and the proud locals make you feel more welcome than you could ever imagine.

Picture perfect Sant Marti Vell, Catalonia

Picture perfect Sant Marti Vell, Catalonia

Whether you are an adventure traveller, history buff, wine connoisseur, foodie or a family looking for a refreshing new location to explore, Catalonia has something for everyone. The only problem you might have is not having enough time to visit everywhere on your list.

These are our 5 favourite stops in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

1. San Joan De Les Abadesses 

The Beautiful Village Of San Joan de les Abadesses

The Beautiful Village Of San Joan de les Abadesses

Arriving in San Joan De Les Abadesses, you will no doubt be drawn to the oddly shaped but beautiful stone bridge that leads into the historic centre of the town. Locals will tell you that the new bridge, running parallel, is actually the old bridge and the old bridge is the new bridge- it’s a tough one to get your head around.

San Joan Monastery

San Joan Monastery

The monastery is a photographers dream and offers some respite from the hot sun in summer. Local legends say that the devil used to come here to ‘party’ with the nuns through secret tunnels; for the full story it’s best to take a guide.

Drinking 110 Year Old Wine in San Juan

Drinking 110 Year Old Wine in San Juan

If you are visiting by bicycle or by car you must stop at La Teuleria Restaurant, an incredible family-run eatery, just outside of town. If you ask nicely, the owner may let you into his private cellar where he boasts an impressive wine collection. One hundred and ten year old wine, bottles featuring the Papal seal and the most enthusiastic, friendly hosts are without doubt the highlights.

Inside the San Joan de les Abadesses Monastery

Inside the San Joan de les Abadesses Monastery

Budget travellers like ourselves can stay in a little piece of history on the northern edge of the town. An old railway garage has been converted to a modern hostel, Hostel Ruta del Ferro which is in a great location for exploring all that San J0an De Les Abadesses has to offer.

2. Vall d’en Bas

Vall Den Bas Is Home To Some Pretty Little Villages

Vall d’en Bas Is Home To Some Pretty Little Villages

Set in what used to be a crater, the Vall d’en Bas (the Bas Valley) is surrounded on all sides by rolling green hills, littered with hiking trails. If you are seeking some outdoor adventure this would be a fantastic place to base yourself. As well as hiking, there is rock climbing, mountain biking, road biking and even paragliding opportunities in the hills surrounding the valley.

El Mallol Medieval Village, Vall d'en Bas

El Mallol Medieval Village, Vall d’en Bas

The medieval village of El Mallol is an absolute must for anyone interested in the history of the area. A local guide will be able to fill you in on the rich history, allow you access to the medieval prison, complete with rugged iron shackles, and give you insight into the life of the times and the power that the Lords possessed over the people.

Views of Vall Den Bas from El Mallol

Views of Vall d’en Bas from El Mallol

El Mallol also offers incredible views over the entire valley and is a great spot for photos.

Noelle Getting Ready To Bike Through The Pyrenees, Catalonia

Noelle Getting Ready To Bike Through The Pyrenees, Catalonia

If you’re on a budget we would recommend staying at the newly renovated Alberg de la Val d’en Bas. The staff has great knowledge on all things to do in the area. Whether you want to bike, hike, kayak or even go on a running tour, they can point you in the right direction.

3. Banyoles

Banyoles Lake

Banyoles Lake

Set on the shores of the beautiful Banyoles lake, this town is the biggest in our list. For us, it screamed healthy, active, outdoor!

Rowing at Banyoles Lake

Rowing at Banyoles Lake

The Banyoles lake itself is a hive of activity with people training for everything from triathlons to the Olympics. Rowers, swimmers, cyclists and runners use the lake as their playground and what an amazing location to train in.

Lakeside Huts at Banyoles Lake

Lakeside Huts at Banyoles Lake

For the non super-competitive visitors, there are small lakeside huts run by the local municipality. You can rent these by the day and lie on the deck in the sun or use them to go swimming from.

Boats On Banyoles Lake

Boats On Banyoles Lake

To get a true perspective of the Banyoles lake you should definitely consider a lake cruise. Alternatively you can enjoy traditional food and a refreshing clara (beer with lemon), lakeside at La Carpa Restaurant.

Traditional Spanish Porron Filled With Desert Wine, Served With Nuts

Traditional Spanish Porron Filled With Desert Wine, Served With Nuts

While for us Banyoles lake was the highlight, the town itself is not without it’s charm. As with so many Catalonian towns, the central square is the meeting point for families, couples and visitors alike. There are some wonderful restaurants such as Can Xabanet serving up traditional Catalan cuisine and to make life easy the fantastic Alberg de Banyoles is just around the corner.

4. Sant Pere De Rodes

View From Sant Pere De Rodes

View From Sant Pere De Rodes

WOW!! That’s pretty much all we can say about this spot. Fitness enthusiasts may opt to cycle the road to the top but be warned it’s not for the faint hearted. The good news, however, is that you can drive most of the way and from the car park it’s a pleasant 30minute hike to the top.

Incredible views from Sant Pere De Rodes, Catalonia

Incredible views from Sant Pere De Rodes, Catalonia

Before beginning the hike, you will be treated to incredible views of the Costa Brava in the near distance. Small seaside towns, with whitewashed walls and red tiled roofs, dot the coastline as far as the eye can see.

View Of The Costa Brava From Sant Pere De Rodes

View Of The Costa Brava From Sant Pere De Rodes

But please don’t stop here. The real reward comes only after hiking up to the top of the hill. One foot in front of the other, step by step, you rise high above the coastline below. Reaching the top, we were blown away by the views. From here, you have a magnificent 360 degree panorama of the area. On a clear day you can see for miles down the Catalonian coastline and not far to the north you are looking into France. It really is a breathtaking vantage point.

Inside the Sant Pere De Rodes Benedictine Monastery, Catalonia

Inside the Sant Pere De Rodes Benedictine Monastery, Catalonia

Looking down, is Sant Pere De Rodes itself, a former Benedictine monastery. The cavernous interior is mind blowing. Built into the rock on a platform of terraces, the inside of the monastery is simply amazing. Huge pillars line the cavernous interior and you find yourself standing in complete disbelief, staring up at the high ceilings above.

St Pere De Rodes Monastery Against A Brilliant blue Sky

St Pere De Rodes Monastery Against A Brilliant blue Sky

The monks who sought out this location had the right idea and it truly is a labour of love. Just imagining the sacrifice, time and effort that must have gone into building something like this is hard work.

5. Llançà 

Fishing Boats at Llançà Harbour

Fishing Boats at Llançà Harbour

Our final location worth exploring off the beaten track in Catalonia is back on the Costa Brava. Once a quiet fishing village, we are happy to say that Llançà has not lost its charm. We based ourselves at the Alberg Costa Brava during our time in the area.

Fresh Catch at Llançà Harbour

Fresh Catch at Llançà Harbour

Stroll along the harbour when the fishing boats come in at 4pm everyday with their catch. You can visit the market where the fish are auctioned off or go for a swim off of one of the pebble beaches in the area.

Kayaking at Llançà

Kayaking at Llançà

Llançà has plenty to offer the adventure traveller with snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing and more in the area. During our visit we went kayaking with SK Kayak and although the winds were up, we had an amazing time. In calmer weather, you can explore caves along the coastline or go further afield depending on your experience. The guys at SK Kayak know their stuff and can give you guidance on where to go whether you’re a first time paddler or a seasoned pro.

Locally Produced Craft Beer in Llançà

Locally Produced Craft Beer in Llançà

Renowned for it’s vineyards, the surrounding hills may look bare from a distance but they are covered in thick vines growing the grapes for the local wines. Everything here is locally sourced, locally produced and you can feel the pride in the locals.

White Chocolate Ravioli at Restaurant El Vaixell

White Chocolate Ravioli at Restaurant El Vaixell

We ate at a restaurant deserved of a Michelin star. A seafood restaurant serving up inventive food that Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White or Wolfgang Puck would be proud of. And it’s affordable! Keep an eye out for Restaurant El Vaixell if you’re in the area and we promise you won’t be disappointed.

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Brian Barry
Brian is a travel writer, photographer, blogger, travel addict and adventure junkie. Being outdoors, getting off the beaten track and outside his comfort zone is what makes him tick. Brian's the dreamer in the relationship; when he's not travelling, he's dreaming about it! Keeping fit, cooking, music and red wine take up the rest of his time.

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