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Closer to home
Think of Catalunya and you may well think of Barcelona, but there’s much more to this region of Spain than just its capital. The area is filled with a strong sense of identity, thanks to its rich history, culture and language. And yet so diverse is the landscape, and so different the towns, you would be forgiven for thinking it must be a whole country in its own right.
Barcelona has a heap of attractions that warrant up to a week’s visit on their own, from Gaudi’s Sagrada Família and Parc Güell, to the famous boulevard of Las Ramblas and the Olympic Village: but head out into the countryside or to the coast, and you’ll find a more relaxed side of life.
Lloret de Mar, early in the season, is home to a beautiful beach and numerous coves, which can be explored by sea kayak. It’s a popular destination in peak season, but the surrounding cliffs and the Santa Clotilde Gardens offer quiet seclusion and are well worth exploring. As is the countryside around the new marina town of Empuriabrava. The low-lying land makes for excellent cycling, and birdwatchers can enjoy spotting wildlife from the hides dotted along popular routes.
But if you’d like to have your own bird’s eye view, head for the nearby sky-dive centre, where staff will be happy to drop you out of a aeroplane door at 12,000 feet, providing a tremendous thrill as you fall from the sky, taking in views of the marina, the coastline and even as far as the Pyrenees, as you descend.
Inland lies Banyoles, a quiet town dominated by its lake, which, when it isn’t hosting international rowing competitions, provides a wonderful meditative alternative to swimming in the sea or pools, and a focus for many walks and cycle rides.
Local lowdown: Girona
The ancient city of Girona dates back more than 2,000 years and the old part of the city is well worth a look. Inside its thick walls, narrow alleys wind their way to the awe inspiring cathedral, set above 86 steps and an old Jewish quarter.
It is thought that the first Jews arrived in 70 AD. It was here that the mystical Kabbalah philosophy flourished. Initially the community lived near the cathedral. But in the late fifteenth century a municipal decree forced all Jews to move into what became a ghetto.
In 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain. Few changes to the neighbourhood have happened since, due to the narrowness of streets and the stone construction, leaving this quarter the best preserved of its kind in Western Europe.
Sky diving The intense rush of falling is soon abated by the calm of appearing to float – and with views as far as the Pyrenees, there’s a lot to take in. Children are also eligible to take part.
Horse riding As well as walks and cycle rides, Catalunya is fantastic for exploring on horseback and kicking up a canter in its wide-open spaces.
Sea kayaking An easy way to explore the region’s coastline, and another way to enjoy the Mediterranean waves.