By Dan Blystone, Last Updated November 24th 2019
If you feel like you need a break from the city, in just an hour or two from Barcelona you can find yourself in a gorgeous natural setting, whether by the coast or inland. The rich history of region can be seen in numerous small towns, with many being well preserved from the medieval period.
Cadaqués is a former fishing village set on a bay in the middle of the Cap de Creus peninsula on Spain’s Costa Brava. With a population of around 3,000 the economy of the town is now primarily driven by tourism. The drive to Cadaqués from Barcelona is only about two and a half hours, making it a popular weekend destination.
Castellfollit de la Roca
Castellfollit de la Roca is a town of about 1,000 residents in the province of Girona, Catalonia. The Medieval old town, perched dramatically on a narrow basalt cliff ledge, is bordered by the confluence of the Fluvià and Toronell rivers. The town sits at the edge of the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa, a spectacularly beautiful and green area, great for hiking.
Tossa de Mar
Tossa de Mar is located on the Girona coast, about half way between the city of Barcelona and the French border. Only about 100 kilometers from Barcelona, the drive to Tossa de Mar takes less than two hours, making it a popular weekend escape.
Less than two hours drive from Barcelona, Montblanc is the capital of the Catalan comarca Conca de Barberà, in the province of Tarragona. The 14th century Gothic church of Santa Maria is pictured above. Montblanc is famous for its week-long Medieval festival (La Setmana Medieval) which takes place yearly in late April to early May. The nearby Monestir de Poblet dates back to 1150 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many kings and queens of Aragon are buried at the Poblet Monastery.
The medieval village of Santa Pau is situated beside the Baixa Garrotxa Volcanic Nature Reserve in the Girona region of Catalonia. It was the seat of the barony of Santa Pau and a striking 13th century castle marks the center of town. A 16th century Gothic church dedicated to Santa Maria also stands on the main square. Santa Pau was granted protected heritage and artistic status in 1971.
Horta de Sant Joan
Horta de Sant Joan is the birthplace of Manuel Pallares, friend and companion of Pablo Picasso who he met at the art school in Barcelona. After dropping out of the art school in Madrid, Picasso spent some time in Horta during his teens (1897–98) with Manuel. He is quoted as having said, “Everything I know I learned in Horta”. Picasso later returned to develop his Proto-Cubist style of painting in 1909. (See also: Picasso’s Barcelona)
Calella de Palafrugell
Calella de Palafrugell is a charming old fishing village set on several rocky coves. The unspoiled town has whitewashed fishermen’s houses, narrow streets and restaurants overlooking the sea. The beaches are Blue Flag certified for their clean water and safety. The stretch of coast between Calella de Palafrugell and Palamos is widely recognized as among the most beautiful in the entire Mediterranean.
Besalú is a medieval village in La Garrotxa region. The town is most famous for its 12th-century Romanesque bridge over the Fluvià river, which has a towering gateway in the middle. A trip to Besalú is often combined with a visit to the beautiful nearby Lake of Banyoles, the largest natural lake in Catalonia.
Rupit is about 100km north east of Barcelona, in between the towns of Vic and Girona. The town is famous for its medieval atmosphere, with winding cobblestone streets. The church of Sant Joan de Fàbregues and its castle date back to the 10th century. Some of the most spectacular hiking routes in Catalonia are near the town. See also: Hike from Tavertet to Rupit.