Catalonia looks to have everything: rocky coasts, sandy beaches, verdant plains, steppe, foothills, and high sierra, all within a few hours of Barcelona, Europe's largest city. In this one autonomous community, there are ancient cities and towns, little fishing villages, mountain hamlets, 1,000 Romanesque churches, Roman bridges, centuries-old stone farmhouses, vineyards, wheat fields, orchards, trout streams, and wild boar.
Although Barcelona attracts the most visitors, it is the remainder of Catalonia that defines the region's distinct identity. Outside of the city, particularly in rural regions, you will hear Catalan spoken more frequently and enjoy superior Catalan gastronomy. Towns and villages are unexpectedly affluent, a holdover from the early industrial era when Catalunya expanded faster than the rest of Spain. Catalan pride stretches back to the fourteenth-century Golden Age when it was a monarchy that dominated the Balearics, Valencia, the French borderlands, and even Sardinia.