Northeastern Spain boasts independent soul, deep cultural roots, and is a gastronomic dream come true. With varied terrain of forests, plains, beaches and mountains, there's no question about the abundant natural beauty to explore. Northeastern Spain consists of two regions: Aragon and Catalonia.
Aragon offers a quiet getaway, as it's bountiful with small towns and less than 1.5 million people to reside in the entire region, so you won't struggle to avoid crowds here. The three provinces of Aragon are Zaragoza, Teruel, and Huesca, of which Zaragoza is the capital and most densely populated. Nonetheless, Aragon is considered a destination off-the-beaten-track and is the ideal place to explore the great outdoors, religious history, culture, and architecture.
Catalonia, though smaller in size, has a much larger population of 7.5 million and has broken the record for the most visited autonomous community in the country. Catalonia's four provinces, Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona, each have something special to offer. Within these regions, the most-visited city is Barcelona.
Climate will vary as Catalonia and Aragon both contain varied landscapes, from beaches to mountains, but you can certainly expect that the the Pyrenees Mountains will be much colder compared to the temperate beaches.
Within Catalonia, are numerous cities to see, whether you're looking for art and history, food and nightlife, or natural scenery.
Explore small villages around the Pyrenees Mountains for a real cultural experience. Depending on the season, get your snowboarding and skiing gear ready as there are a number of resorts to choose from.
To the west, Vall de Boi is a UNESCO World Heritage site and small town, located in the mountains of Lleida. The valley is famous for 9 Roman churches built between the 11th and 12th century, not to mention the highest ski resort in the Pyrenees.
Barcelona, the "City of Marvels," is the largest in the province and is also the capital. With so many restaurants, shopping on La Rambla, nightlife spots, and artwork and architecture featuring the famous Antoni Gaudi, it's no wonder it's one of the hottest destinations in Spain.
For a religious experience, not to mention breathtaking natural beauty, don't miss the Montserrat Monastery, about an hour north of Barcelona.
From Barcelona, you can take an hour-long train ride for a day trip to nearby town Girona and check out old military forts, the Jewish Quarter, and the Girona cathedral, which was used as a mosque by the Moors.
About an hour and a half west of Barcelona by car is Tarragona, also known as the City of Human Towers or Castells. The annual human tower competition takes place in early October and draws in crowds of over 200,000 visitors to spectate.
Madrid, which is 547 miles further to the west, is a cosmopolitan and bustling urban center that not only boasts hot new restaurants and nightlife, but likewise preserves its history and culture in Baroque monuments, city architecture, and art. Wander the city and visit the Prado Museum. Foodies should visit in late April for the Salon de Gourmets, essentially a 4-day foodie fest.
The region of Aragon, on the other hand, is the place to go if you're looking for smaller towns, adventures in nature and uncovering ancient history. The capital, Zaragoza, is the most densely populated and features the Cathedral of the Savior of Zaragoza, also known as La Seo, a huge cathedral built in the 12th century with both Romanesque and Baroque styles.
Check out Aljaferia, an Islamic castle which was built in the 11th century and is now the seat of Parliament. Culinary adventurers will find a plethora of bars and restaurants in the neighborhood of El Tubo, a famous site for tapas pub crawls.
Huesca is the ideal place for nature buffs, offering several ski resorts, opportunities for canyoning and rafting, not to mention Spain's oldest grocery store. Teruel, which is located in the mountains, is a history enthusiast's dream, with well-preserved medieval architecture, military forts, and Moorish cave paintings.
Food and Dining
As regional foods are always localized, Northeastern Spanish food, likewise varies with its terrain. Aragonese food originates in the mountains and specializes in ingredients such as lamb, pork, and bread. Borage and thistle are especially popular on a local level and garlic oil is the condiment of choice here. Try roast lamb, roasted pork leg, Tronchon cheese, and the famous Teruel ham.
The first Spanish cookbook was written in Catalonia and for good reason: Catalonian features seafood, mountain, and interior cuisine. Some of the most well-loved dishes include escudella, which is a Catalan stew, and tomato bread, which is just what it sounds like: toasted bread rubbed with tomato, olive oil and salt, sometimes topped with sausages, ham, cheese, fish, or vegetables, reminiscent of a local Spanish style pizza. Catalonians also love their sausages, snails, and thyme and garlic soup.
Fly into Catalonia through the El Prat Airport, located in Barcelona. To get into the city, take the train as opposed to the bus, if you're watching your budget. The train also runs more frequently, regularly and will be the faster option as it can avoid traffic.
To get to the other cities in Catalonia, RENFE, the Spanish train company, connects with Madrid, Zaragoza, Basque Country and Valencia. Other train companies serve Tarragona and the Pyrenees.
The other alternative is to take a bus to get to local destinations in Catalonia. Estacio de Sants is the main bus station in Barcelona, located near the train station and is mostly used for international routes. Otherwise, Catalonian cities normally each use one bus company, so check local listings for updated information.
Since Aragon contains only three major cities, flights may be unnecessary more than once unless you're strapped for time. Zaragoza and Huesca each have their own airports and are well-connected by rail, but to get to Teruel, fly into the Manises Airport in Valencia. Teruel is also connected by rail, but expect to take a car from the train station to get to the city center in the mountains.
If you're visiting all three major cities, you can easily fly into one city and drive or take a bus to the other two, as the cities are located all within 4 hours of one another.
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