Our previous post about the Mediterranean Cruise deal (still on offer, by the way, so hurry) made team GK Travel a little nostalgic about our last visit to the fabulous independent Catalonia region of northeast Spain. So, we thought we’d share a few reasons why you should get on the phone and book your next Barcelona holiday with us. It will blow your mind … not your wallet.
Catalonia – Barcelona and Beyond
Catalonia truly has it all. While FC Barcelona is world renowned, it is the culinary prowess of the region, the staggering cultural delights and the beautiful landscapes of Catalonia that combine to create the ultimate destination.
Whether eating at a multi Michelin star restaurant, visiting picturesque seaside white villages or skiing in the Pyrenees, Catalonia encapsulates a diversity of experience bound in a proud identity that sets itself apart from the rest of Spain.
No other capital city in the world looks or feels like Barcelona thanks largely to the incredible vision of architect and designer Gaudí. Catalonia also boasts 36 UNESCO World Heritage sites and two Masterpieces of Intangible Heritage. There are also 11 designations of origin for wine and an exceptional cava (Catalonian champagne). All of these lie in a region that boasts the highly sought after Mediterranean climate, where visitors all year round feel sunkissed.
Due to Catalonia’s popularity, the tourism offering is not only diverse, it is well established and of the highest standard. Whether you are looking for a luxury break, an adrenaline-packed adventure, a beautiful honeymoon or a business destination with a difference, Catalonia is truly the place to experience the good life.
CATALONIAN CULTURE & UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE
Catalonia is blessed with many things – its wonderful climate, its world-class cuisine, and its spectacular scenery. But on top all all that, it boasts of cultural credentials that are truly second to none. Barcelona is certainly the jewel in the cultural crown, but it is just the surface of what Catalonia has to offer.
Starting from Barcelona, the architectural work of Antoni Gaudí is one-of-a-kind, and gives the city many of its treasures and much of its character. As you take a stroll around the city, be delighted by whimsical Catalan Modernism epitomized in the Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, Park Güell and Colònia Güell’s Crypt. But these triumphs of architecture and human endeavour shouldn’t overshadow the many other cultural highlights of Catalonia.
Just a stone’s throw away from Barcelona, is a myriad of UNESCO World Heritage treasures waiting to be discovered. Immerse in the full cultural experience- be it listening to the boy’s choir on Montserrat, visiting ancient Roman structures in Tarragona, or trekking past Romanesque churches in Vall de Boi
CATALONIAN CULTURAL MUST VISITS
• Sagrada Família – Designed by Gaudí, this remarkable Roman Catholic church is still a work-in-progress, but remains an iconic world structure. No trip to Catalonia is complete without a visit, but do you dare traverse the walkways at the top?
• Casa Batlló – Another Gaudí masterpiece, these houses in central Barcelona are often used for prestigious and glamourous events. A part of the unique jigsaw that is Barcelona.
• Casa Amatller – Built for a chocolatier and designed by Josep Puigi Cadafalch, this building is core to Barcelona’s modernist district: the Block of Discord.
• Casa Lleó‐Morera – Also in the Block of Discord, the building is a piece of art and a culmination of many brilliant minds. A must see while in the district.
• Casa Milà – Or more commonly known as La Pedrera, is Gaudí’s last architectural civil work. With innovative features and underground parking, it was, and remains, an inspirational feat of design and engineering
Park Güell – Gaudí in his naturalist stage, took the shapes of nature and created the most incredible park, boasting views across Barcelona. With surprises at every turn, it’s a wonder to behold.
• Church of Colònia Güell – Designed as a place for worship in a manufacturing district, this Gaudí piece was never completed due to the lack of funds. The crypt, however, was completed, and visitors can now stand on its roof, which would have been the church floor.
• Gothic Quarter in Barcelona – Stretching from La Rambla to Via Laietana, and from the Mediterranean seafront to Ronda de Sant Pere, this Medieval area boasts a labyrinth of stunning facades and streets. Perfect for exploration and escaping the sun.
• Montserrat – A mountain steeped in myths and legends. It plays host to the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Some believe the site is part of the Holy Grail story.
• Colònia Güell – While the church is the star attraction, uncovering the history of this pioneering industrial village is definitely worth the trip out of Barcelona.
Tarragona Amphitheatre – Th is carefully preserved Roman amphitheatre in the city of Tarragona was built in the 2nd century AD. At its peak it held 15,000 spectators, but was converted to other uses before being restored.
• Dalí Triangle – Intrigued by the works of the incredibly influential artist Salvador Dalí, many fl ock to Catalonia to visit the Dalí Triangle. The triangle consists of the Dalí Museum in Figueres, the Portlligat Museum House in Cadaqués, and the Castle of Púbol.
• Ancient Greek ruins of Empúries – Dating back from 575 BC, these ruins provide a glimpse into the past, when Greek colonists from Phocaea set up camp.
• Castle of Cardona – Constructed by the wonderfully named Wilfred the Hairy in 886, this medieval fortress is an important symbol of Catalan independence.
• Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí – Nestled in the Catalonian Pyrenees, the UNESCO World Heritage site boasts some of the world’s most important frescoes and artwork surrounded by nature, in the Pyrenees.
• Castells – Th e building of human towers, or Castells, is symbolic of the Catalonian unity in strength. Oft en emotional to watch, it’s a heart-stopping experience as the towers can reach staggering heights.
• Monasteries – Catalonia is resplendent in fascinating monasteries and some of the best are Sant Benet de Bages, Sant Pere de Casserres, Santa Maria de Santes Creus, Santa Maria de Vallbona, Santa Maria de Ripoll and, of course, the Monastery of Poblet.
• Seu Vella – This former cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lleida is stunning. It was used as a military citadel, but is once again used as a cathedral and symbol of the city
WORLD CLASS GASTRONOMY AND WINE
Mediterranean cuisine is known throughout the world for its delicious vibrancy and health benefits. But Catalonia has been central to a food revolution and is at the epicentre of modern European cuisine. Barcelona is also rapidly becoming a Muslim-friendly halal destination. Furthermore, not only does the region boast incredibly colourful and tasty produce, it boasts 67 Michelin stars and 11 Designations of Origin for wine and cava. It makes for a foodie’s dream trip and with many of the hotels housing incredible restaurants (officially labelled as Gastronomic Hotels by the government of Catalonia), a multitude of culinary-based itineraries can be planned. And if you want to tackle the cooking yourself, you will be mesmerised by the markets of Catalonia, particularly LA BOQUERIA MARKET in Barcelona, which must be considered one of, if not the very best, food markets in the world.
Top 10 Catalonian gastronomic experiences:
• Fideuà – thin noodle paella-style dish
• Canalons – the Catalonian take on cannelloni
• Bacallà with samfaina – codfi sh with the Catalonian version of ratatouille.
• Arròs negre – Rice cooked with seafood and squid ink.
• Escudella amb carn d’olla – a rich broth served over two courses
• Paamb tomàquet and embotits – bread with tomato, olive oil and diferent kinds of Catalonian cured meats
• Botifarra amb mongetes – this hearty white bean and sausage dish is a perfect winter warmer
• Calçots – a giant chargrilled spring onion that has its own festival.
• Tapas – small bites that work perfectly with a glass of wine or beer.
• Crema catalana – the delicious Creamy and delicious, the Catalonian crème brûlée.
The region even boasts the 2015 Best Restaurant in the World, the exceptional El Celler de Can Roca in Girona
Of course all the food works up a thirst and there is no better way to complement the incredible cuisine than with a fine wine. Catalonia has them in abundance and a trip to the CODORNÍU winery, near Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, designed in Art Nouveau style by Josep Puigi Cadafalch, is not to be missed. Established in 1551, it produces 60 million bottles annually and is the world’s oldest and second-largest producer of bottle-fermented sparkling wine, known as cava, made by the traditional champagne method.
The famous Torres brand can also be experienced in various ways. Take a bike ride around their vineyards, or discover different intense aromas and senses on a blind dinner accompanied by their wines
TOP TOWNS AND AMAZING ACTIVITIES
It is clear that Catalonia’s diversity is one of its major charms. It’s ability to off er something for everyone is also notable in the towns and villages. With everything from charming old towns to cosmopolitan cities and beachside villas to ski resorts, the Catalonian experience is one of many forms. But the beauty of this wonderful mix is the fact it’s fitted into such a small area. Only in Catalonia is it possible to spend your morning sunbathing by the beach, and then drive three hours inland for an afternoon of skiing fun. Indeed the most remote of villages is still only three hours from Barcelona.
Adventurers and explorers will fi nd an inexhaustible list of activities in store for them. Head south to the Ebro Delta Natural Park in the Province of Tarragona to watch flocks of
flamingos in their natural habitat. Th e fascinating blend of land, sea and sky attracts not just visitors, but also almost 300 species of birds. Whether skiing in the Pyrenees, exploring the abundance of wildlife, or embarking on a pilgrimage trail, there is always an incredible activity waiting.
Top 10 reasons for choosing Barcelona-Catalonia:
• Barcelona: a colourful and modern metropolis full of history and culture, where you can experience a Mediterranean lifestyle and passion for life.
• One of the best shopping experiences in Europe.
• High concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
• A must for wine lovers: 11 designations of origin and cava, Catalonian champagne.
• Europe’s best cruise experience (4th busiest cruise port in the world), perfectly combinable with pre- and post-cruise itineraries.
• Great diversity in a small territory: from the Mediterranean to the Pyrenees, passing through the fl atlands of central Catalonia and the Ebro Delta.
• World class cuisine and 67 Michelin Stars; healthy Mediterranean diet.
• Perfect weather to do outdoor activities such as golf, ski, skydiving, hiking, rafting, cycling, trekking or bird-watching, among many others.
• Top class sports events: FC Barcelona, MotoGP and Formula 1.
• Your gateway to the rest of Spain and Europe.
Melbourne. It’s cold wet and dreary this week. What a perfect time to plan a winter break next year! Here’s a deal we found that will put you in the sunny Mediterranean on a boutique, luxury small cruise ship. The Azamara Quest.
Here’s what you get …
Nights: 16 night Cruise/Stay package
Region: Europe, Mediterranean
Cruise Departs: 29th May 2017
- 4 nights pre-cruise accommodation in Nice staying at the Mercure Nice Grimaldi in a Standard room (or similar hotel)
- Full day Nice Provence tour
- 11 night cruise onboard AZAMARA QUEST from Nice return in a Club Interior Stateroom+
- Main meals~, entertainment and gratuities onboard
- Select standard spirits, international beers and wines, bottled water, soft drinks, specialty coffees and teas onboard◊
- An AzAmazing evening shore excursion
- 1 night post-cruise accommodation in Nice staying at The Ellington in a Standard room (or similar hotel)
- Private car transfers throughout
- Port charges and government fees
- BONUS: Reduced rates
- EXCLUSIVE BONUS: Receive US$400 onboard credit per stateroom^
- PLUS: 50% Reduced Deposit
DAY 7 SAT 21 June 2014 SEA DAY – (Last day of cruise)
Another 25 degree day and a chance to briefly unwind – before the final celebrations began. We spent a few hours in the steam room and sauna (Seaview Bar at the AFT end of the ship) before a little sun-bathing. It was a very relaxing setting as we cruised along, surrounded only by deep blue seas as far as the eye could see!
Departure preparation: Main suitcases to be placed in the corridor between 5.00 pm and 8.00 pm (it seemed very early, but the crew’s aim was to move the bags whilst people were at dinner so that it wouldn’t disturb passengers). Very thoughtful indeed!
6.30 pm. Craig Andrews 45-minute piano recital (Vista Lounge)
7.45 pm Dinner – Including farewells to our fantastic dining room stewards
10.15 pm. A packed Princess Theatre watched the Farewell concert put on by the Crew.
What amazing talent. Asst. Cruise Director Simon’s amazing vocals was surely the highlight.
DAY 8 Sun 22 June 2014 Disembarkation Day
We were given our disembarkation instructions the previous evening and the whole procedure went very smoothly. Rooms were to be vacated by 8.00 am as staff prepared staterooms for the next influx of passengers arriving in just 4 hours time! The Restaurants were open for breakfast as well as various lounges – where ample tea and coffee and pastries were offered.
We arrived back into Melbourne at 3.40 pm with Virgin Australia.
SEA PRINCESS was set to depart Brisbane at 4.00 pm heading north on a 16-day round Australia voyage to Perth (Fremantle).
= Our 8-day cruise was filled with action and we’ve all come away with some wonderful memories. So successful was it that a number of the Hoppers Club Social Travel Club group have already booked for future cruises, including 1 couple on the GK Travel & Cruise’s 16th January 2016 sailing to New Zealand on the GOLDEN PRINCESS