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There are many interesting places that make an easy day trip from Barcelona. Most are accessible by train (Renfe or FGC), from Sants or Passeig de Gràcia stations.
Sitges is probably the most popular day trip for beachlovers. Forty kilometres down the coast, Sitges is a fishing village that became popular with wealthy Barcelonans as a summer retreat in the 1900s. These days, it also attracts a large gay clientele and is home to a growing expatriate community. Villas, low-rise apartment blocks and hotels line the promenade which is dotted with palm trees and bars. In the Old Town, near the church is Cau Ferrat -- home of the painter Santiago Rusiñol -- and Palau Maricel, which houses the municipal art collection.
Sitges celebrates Carnival in high style and also the Feast of Corpus Christi, when the streets are covered in carpets of flowers. In the autumn, the highlight is the Sitges International Film Festival, inaugurated in 1968 and dedicated to Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror films. The municipal website is in Catalan with reduced Spanish and English versions (March 2011). www.sitges.cat
The next town south along the coast and only a few kilometres away is Vilanova i la Geltrú. It is a working port but also boasts a promenade, sandy beach and some tourist facilities. A large quantity of fish sold in Barcelona is caught in Vilanova and there are several good fish restaurants near the port. Some interesting attractions include:
- the Biblioteca-Museu Victor Balaguer, founded in 1884 by Víctor Balaguer, a Catalan politician and writer, the Biblioteca Museu Víctor Balaguer is one of Catalonia’s oldest and most singular museums. Its galleries include works of some of the main Catalan painters which show an exceptional trajectory through the different artistic movements of the beginning of the 20th century, from Romanticism to Noucentisme. The important legacy in 20th-century painting and sculpture also stands out, with a relevant section of Informalist art. The painting section is completed with a permanent exhibition of approximately 30 oil paintings of the Spanish and European Baroque period, which come from the historical collection of the Museo del Prado. This section includes works from El Greco, Ribera, Goya, Rubens or Van Dyck. For more information: www.victorbalaguer.cat
- the Museu del Ferrocarril, a branch of the national railway museum in Madrid. It's located in the old shunting yard next to the station.
Vilanova has a history of lively carnival celebrations, of a more traditional nature than Sitges. The "Battle of the Sweets" is observed on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday in the Plaça de la Vila.
Tarragona is 100km south of Barcelona. In Roman times, it was known as "Tarraco" and served as the capital of the Roman province of Hispania. It is still possible to see many Roman remains in the town, including the Forum, circus and theatre as well as archaeological discoveries preserved in the museum. Tarragona also has a medieval cathedral and cloister.
For history and more: www.museutgn.com
Municipal website: www.tarragona.cat
A few miles south of Tarragona, near Salou, is Port Aventura theme park, with Costa Caribe water park. Port Aventura has its own railway station and a few on-site hotels. www.portaventura.co.uk
Inland from Barcelona is Sant Sadurní d’Anoia , the centre of Penedès wine and cava production. It is possible to go on guided tours of some of the bodegas. The most convenient one to visit is Freixenet. It is next to the railway station and offers an interesting free guided tour (with tasting). Codorniu also offers tours but you need to take a taxi to reach the bodega. The building was designed by Puig i Cadafalch, one of the giants of Catalan modernisme, and is particularly attractive.
The capital of the Penedès Wine and Sparkling wine region is Vilafranca del Penedès, just 15 minutes further south of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia. In the historic city center you´ll find a basilica which dates back to 1285 and the Palau Reial which today hosts the Wine Museum of Vilafranca. The tradition of human tower building (castellers) is continued here with great passion and you can watch practices on Fridays from 10 pm. Around Vilafranca, there is a good number of Winecellars (bodegas) which offer tours. One of the culinary hot spots with 7 restaurants to choose from is Sant Martí Sarroca. If you want to spend more days in this area, there are some romantic B&Bs. For more information on winecellars and accomodation: www.enoturismepenedes.cat
Girona is a provincial capital and university town approximately 90km from Barcelona. It lies on the banks of the River Ter and the old town (climbing the hill on one side of the river) is very attractive with many interesting monuments and museums. Girona was an important intellectual centre in medieval times, with major Jewish thinkers living there. The Bonastruc Jewish centre in the medieval call (ghetto) reflects this history. The cathedral museum includes the medieval tapestry of the creation amongst its treasures. In mid-May every year the city celebrates a major flower festival: Girona, temps de flors.
Figueres is the birthplace of Salvador Dalí and the Teatre-Museu Dalí is among Catalonia’s most-visited museums. Figueres is a busy market town and has several other local museums. See: www.figueresciutat.com
There are two other Dalí houses in Girona province which are open to the public, at Port Lligat (near Cadaqués) and Púbol (near La Bisbal del Empordà) but they are difficult to get to without a car.
Details of all three Dalí sites on: www.salvador-dali.org
Montserrat is the Catalan sacred mountain, the site of the shrine of the Virgin of Montserrat and the home of the Montserrat Monastery. Tthe name means “serrated mountain” and the mountain is indeed very striking, with strange rock formations that seem to have inspired artists including Gaudí and Dalí . The mountain is popular with nature-lovers, religious pilgrims and visitors interested in the monastery, the Escolania boys' choir and the art museum (including some of the only French Impressionist paintings in Spanish collections).
The monastery is iconic of Catalan cultural tradition. Its publishing house (PAMSA Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat) continued to produce in Catalan during the Franco dictatorship and issued the first post-Franco Catalan course, “Digui, digui”.
Montserrat is accessible by FGC (Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya ) train from Plaça Espanya. There are connections from Monistrol station in the valley up to the monastery (by rack-railway or by cable-car) and there are two funiculars which takes visitors higher up the mountain. There is a restaurant and hotel near the monastery.
www.fgc.cat for all transport options
Two other interesting destinations very near Barcelona worth exploring are the textile towns of Sabadell and Terrassa. Both have interesting museums and many examples of Moderniste architecture, civic and industrial. They are accessible by FGC train lines from Plaça Catalunya (additional stops at Provença, Gràcia, Muntaner and Sarrià)
Terrassa is in fact one of the towns included in the European network of art nouveau cities (photos on: www.artnouveau-net.com .) Terrassa also has an impressive complex of three Romanesque churches; these are among the medieval and Moderniste buildings and museums which are listed on www.terrassa.org (under informació turistica: museus, monuments). Here you will also find links to individual websites. Museums include the Technical and Science Museum in the Vapor Aymerich, Amat and Jover factory, the Textile Museum (with documentation centre) and Moderniste Casa Alegre de Sagrera .
Sabadell also has an important Moderniste heritage, as well as interesting buildings from medieval times onwards. Look at itineraries and photos on the municipal website: www.sabadell.net . Sabadell is home to the Institut Palaeontologic Dr Miquel Crusafont which has the largest collection of fossil mammals in Spain and the most complete collection of primate fossils in Europe. Only a very small part of the collection (total over 100,000 pieces) is on display in the museum. Many of the fossils on display were found in Catalonia. www.diba.es/museus/inspal.asp . The municipal website mentioned above offers information on the municipal museums but unfortunately currently only in Catalan .
Trips by Renfe : timetables and prices on www.renfe.es
Trips by FGC (Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya) : timetables and prices on www.fgc.cat/eng/index.asp