Barcelona is one of my favorite cities on earth, yet I had never left the capital of Catalunya to discover its beautiful surroundings. It was about time I rented a car and started exploring its heritage, cuisine and beautiful landscapes. On a scenic route along the Mediterranean, the Catalonian roads brought me all the way to the Pyrenees. I drove past vineyards, olive trees and the tiniest of villages, true hidden gems. Are you ready to be my co-pilot?
At about a one-hour drive from Barcelona El Prat, you’ll find the small village of Rupit in the Spanish Pyrenees. With 277 inhabitants, the village couldn’t be more of a contrast with the bustling streets of Barcelona. The town was built on a small rocky hill around a medieval castle, the remains of which can still be seen. Walk over the wooden bridge hanging from the Church of Sant Miquel straight into the quaint center with its cobbled streets and rustic houses.
Hotel Estrella is the place to stay if you are looking for a quiet night. The hotel is located right in the center of the village of Rupit. With a family atmosphere and in a calm and welcoming setting, it’s the ideal place for resting and relaxing, as well as enjoying great walks through stunning landscapes. The restaurant has a focus on promoting Catalan culinary heritage and is reflected in a very varied menu with only local products. Quite a discovery.
Vic, Cardona and Winery Vega Aixala
Leaving the hills of Rupit behind me, I continue my road trip to Cardona passing by Vic. Vic is an ancient town located 79 kilometers from Barcelona. Vic is defined by its elegant, enormous Plaça Mayor ringed by historic buildings, which features a colorful food market twice a week (Tuesday & Saturday). If there’s one thing to buy it is Vic’s famous sausages (llonganissa or fuet). They are heralded throughout Catalunya and perfect for tossing into your suitcase to bring home.
The highlights of Cardona are the salt mines and the Castle of Cardona. The Castle of Cardona is arguably the most important medieval fortress in Catalonia with beautiful vistas over the town of Cardona and the salt mines. Centuries and centuries of history lie behind this unbreachable fortress, which is also the site of the remarkable Collegiate Church of Sant Vicenç, a jewel of Catalan Lombard Romanesque architecture.
The last stop of the day is the wine cellar of Vega Aixala. This garage winery, and you can take that quite literally, is growing grapes on the very steep hillsides of the Monsant hills. No Merlot here, but Riesling and Pinot Noir, which is somewhat atypical for the region. La Bauma (grenache-blanc en chardonnay) en Viern (cabernet sauvignon, grenache en tempranillo) were my favourite wines at the vineyard.
Siurana, olive oil and mussels
One of the highlights of this road trip was the small village of Siurana. The small winding road that brings you to the top of the mountain where the town is situated is amazing, but the views from the top are even better. The village is located in the north-east of Priorat, overlooking the valley of the river of Siurana. From the top, you have a magnificent view over the valley. If you aren’t out of breath after you’ve climbed to the top, then rest assured that the view will snatch it from you.
I probably don’t have to tell you that Catalan cuisine and wines are among the most renowned in Spain. But did you know you can visit a mussel farm in the middle of the Bay of Alfaques? The Musclarium near Rapita is a great half day trip. You can rent a kayak, and after a ten-minute paddle, you’ll find yourself at the platform where the mussels and oysters are grown. Order yourself a glass of rosé wine and enjoy a plate of oysters while soaking up some sun before heading to the olive farm of Moli Jordi Castell Pla. Before the town even had electricity, Jordi Castell Pla’s grandfather was milling oil with an earthenware press powered by a mule. As time passed, the family invested in new technologies to make high-quality olive oil. The olive oil is not widely distributed, which gives you an extra reason to jump into the car and drive out to the small town of Els Valentins.
In the city of Tarragona, Roman history collides with beautiful views of the Mediterranean, fabulous beaches and a great food scene. It is the capital of the Gold Coast and is only one hour away from Barcelona. Spend your day exploring the city’s monuments such as the Roman amphitheater or the Cathedral of Tarragona – Cathedral de Santa Maria de Tarragona. Wander around the small streets and stop for lunch at Degvsta, a quiet restaurant in a unique setting where they are proud of having a modern take on Catalan classics.
Renting a car in Spain is very easy, and it is the best way to visit the region around Barcelona. At Barcelona El Prat Airport you can conveniently rent a car with Sunny Cars. They offer an all-inclusive service, so you don’t have to bother pre-planning any extras such as insurance. Go to the airport counter and leave worry free. I have been traveling with Sunny Cars for the past few years and I’m very happy with their service and the wide range of cars on offer. The price that you’ll see online is the price you will eventually pay for your trip, with no hidden charges. Have fun!