12 Mar Catalonia
Occupying the north-eastern corner of the Iberian Peninsula, the region of Catalonia is highly varied, from the craggy Costa Brava to the mountains of the Pyrenees, and with cities as different as Barcelona, Tarragona, Lerida and Gerona. The mountains aside, in general Catalonia has a milder climate and a lusher flora than its neighbouring regions. Historically, it has been and is an important maritime region, though subordinate to the Crown of Aragón when it was at the height of its influence. Nowadays, it is one of the more prosperous regions of Spain and has far greater influence in Spanish and European affairs than you would expect for its size or its population, a mere 7 million.
Administration and Political Divisions
Catalonia borders Andorra and France to the north, the Mediterranean to the east, the Valencia region to the south and Aragón to the west. It is one of what are called the “historic” autonomous regions of Spain, together with the Basque Country. Its government is the Generalitat. It covers four provinces: Gerona (Girona in Catalan), Lerida (or Lleida), Barcelona and Tarragona. These provinces are in turn divided into comarques.
Because of its different geographical features and climatic influences, Catalonia is one one of the most varied regions in Spain. The Pyrenees dominate the north of the region, while the south of the region runs from mountainous to hilly to flat, the Ebro Delta in the very south, one of the most important wetlands in Spain, and the fertile plain behind it being the most notable features. Girona is a coastal province, where the influence of the Mediterranean on its climate and nature is evident . Lerida (Lleida in Catalan) is the only wholly inland province of Catalonia, its capital sitting on its very own plain (the Plana de Lleida), south of its Pyrenean foothills which rise up into the mountains proper, east of Andorra. Agriculturally prosperous Tarragona is the flattest, most southerly Catalan province, though the Central System runs into it from the west creating extremely rugged terrains. Barcelona, the most urban of the four provinces with a population of around five million (though less than a third of them live in the municipality of Barcelona itself) is extremely hilly rather than mountainous, but the sheer verticality of Montserrat Mountain is probably its most interesting point. All told, it would be difficult to find a region anywhere with scenery as varied as Catalonia’s. The region of Catalonia has seven national parks and a big number of protected areas of other kinds.
Music: The sardana is the Catalan national folk dance and music, though originally only from the north of the region. It is a circle dance, popular since at least the 16th century. Its music is bouncy, played at jolly andante tempo usually by a sardana band called a cobla.
Correfocs: Firework processions with monstrous figures, particularly devils.
Castells: Castles, spectacular human towers. Six tiers is considered child’s play, nine is not uncommon. Competitions are held, and the real fun comes when they have to get down.
Catalan and Spanish.
Eating and Drinking.
Catalan cuisine becomes quite popular these days, with the top Catalan restaurants such as Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli are right up there with the best in the world. For obvious reasons, Catalan cuisine differs according to whether the area in question is near the sea or up in the mountains, but in general it is essentially Mediterranean, based on fresh vegetables, fish, poultry, olive oil, wine and wheat products – bread and pasta (beef and veal are less common than in Castile, at least traditionally). Butifarra is a Catalan cured pork sausage. Escalivada is sliced, barbecued peppers and aubergines. You will find ali-oli sauce everywhere in Spain, particularly in the form of patatas ali-oli, a budget traveller’s staple, but it is Catalan in origin. Pa amb tomàquet, also called pan tomaca, is lightly toasted bread, rubbed with fresh tomato and sprinkled with olive oil and salt and served with, for example, slices of cured ham. It has become popular everywhere in Spain.
In terms of wine, Catalonia has five denominaciones de origen, including the champagne-method cava, and a number of other wine producing areas. The most notable D.O. is Penedés, which makes worthy reds and excellent, fruity white wines.