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Turn your city break into a microadventure

Barcelona: Hike to the Montserrat monastery

Less than an hour outside the city, via a train from Espanya station, is the Montserrat monastery. Perched fantastically high on a spectacular, rocky mountain, you can get up there either on foot or by cable car. The monastery is impressive and the hiking trails around the mountain massif are numerous. Once the sun sets you’ll be left to enjoy the mountain views only with the deer who live up there. Settle down and watch the city lights come on below.

Level of Difficulty: Medium (if you're going to bivvy, Easy if you're just going for a day hike).

What to pack: Warm clothes (check the weather forecast!), woolly hat, headtorch, raingear, sleeping bag, mat and bivvy bag.

Best time to go: late spring or early summer - the mountains are high and chillier at night than you might anticipate.

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If you're looking for a city that's got it all you couldn't do much better than choose the Catalan capital Barcelona, Spain's second city, and one that's bursting with life at every turn. Whether you’re looking for a party town, laid back beach resort, or a cultural oasis in which to lose yourself this city has activities to keep everyone happy. 

Not many European cities steeped in culture can also boast beautiful beaches literally right on their doorsteps, but Barcelona is no average city. Explore out-of-this-world buildings courtesy of famous local architect Gaudi, head down to Las Ramblas to find crazy street performers and market stalls selling everything from fruit and flowers, to birds, bunnies and snakes in cages or join the bikini set at Barceloneta Beach, a 15-minute stroll out of town and finish your day enjoying nightlife to rival Paris or London. This city has it all. 

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Shopping


To the unwary foreigner Catalonia's Christmas traditions can seem a little bizarre. Firstly, there's the peasant who likes to poop in the nativity manger (look out for celebrity versions of Obama and Messi at the Xmas markets), and then there's Tio de Nadal, a log you beat with a stick until it deposits presents.


Get the lowdown on Catalonia's best beers, whilst visiting the new wave of bars that sell them, on a Tapas & Beers craft beer tasting tour (www.tapasandbeers.com). The guide is a master brewer and connoisseur of the scene. Foodies might prefer their tapas crawl of the Gracia district.


For several years now Sala Montjuic has screened new and classic films onto the side of the castle wall up on Montjuic hill. The idea is to take your own picnic up and enjoy a concert before night falls and the projector starts to whirl. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in July. salamontjuic.org.


Starting in June and carrying on through July, the Festival Jardins Pedralbes invites artists like The Cranberries, Tom Jones and George Benson to perform in the gardens of the same name. Take the metro to Zona Universitaria to get there. (www.festivalpedralbes.com)


Is beer tasting the new wine tasting? Tapas and Beers seem to think so and they've launched a craft beer tour that takes in some of the city's finest cervecerias in the company of a Catalan brewer. (Tapasandbeers.com)


Rarely has one hill played home to quite as many cultural treasures as Montjuic, which boasts the Joan Miro Foundation, Olympic Stadium, National Art Museum of Catalonia, the Magic Fountain and it's very own castle at the summit. Set aside a day for exploring.

Sightseeing


The Barcelona Jazz Festival, currently celebrating its 48th edition, continues into December, finishing with a concert by The Black Heritage Choir on the 21st of the month in the wonderful Palau de Musica Catalana, one of the city's foremost architectural wonders. www.jazz.barcelona


Two giant music acts arrive in Barcelona in November, but one is Justin Bieber. So book yourself tickets for The Cure on the 26th and sing along to classics like Boys Don't Cry and Friday I'm in Love.... they play at Palau Sant Jordi.


The 49th edition of International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia takes place in Sitges between 7-16th of October (www.sitgesfilmfestival.com). As usual premieres of horror, sci-fi and fantasy, along with the highly entertaining "Zombie Walk", will bring cinema freaks together in Spain this autumn.


Every September Barcelona celebrates being rescued from a plague of locusts by Our Lady the Virgin of Mercy with the largest festival of the year. Between 22 and 25 September, expect parades of giants and dragons, human castles and fire-jumping to be taking place around town - as well as a series of free concerts by well-known bands For more information visit bcn.cat/merce.


If you're in town between 15 and 21 August head to the Gracia district where one of Barcelona's popular summer festivals will be taking place. Even the streets get dressed up for this shindig and ad hoc stalls and bars will be doing a roaring trade in cervezas and mojitos, while bands and DJs set up in every square.


Barcelona celebrates Diada de Sant Jordi (St George's Day) on 23 April. The Catalan equivalent of Valentine's Day, it's customary for gallant men to present womenfolk with flowers, and for ladies to buy their errant knights a good book. Ad hoc stalls selling both will spring up around town.

Key Areas


Whilst Park Guell draws the path beaters, locals will be heading to the gorgeous Parc de la Ciutadella to sunbathe, slackline, practice yoga, and sip a "cerveza beer amigo".


Join another 300,000 revellers at one of the world's biggest carnivals in Sitges, just down the road from Barcelona. The action runs from 4-10 February with parades on the 7th and 9th at 8pm. Fancy dress is a must!


Torre Bellesguard only opened to the public in 2013 and its out of the way location means it's one Gaudi creation you can enjoy in relative quiet. Beautiful inside and out, with views over Barcelona, it's well worth the journey. For more information visit bellesguardgaudi.com.

Day Trips


The preserved medieval town of Besalu barely looks a day older than it did back in its 11th century heyday, and crossing its fortified Romanesque bridge over the Fluvia river for a spot of exploring is a real pleasure. It's about 1.5 hrs by car from Barcelona. www.besalu.cat


Set on a rocky outcrop next to a beautiful reservoir where you can swim and kayak, the town of Siurana still bears the legacy of its life as an Arab stronghold - the remains of a 9th century Moorish castle. The surrounding area is popular with hikers and rock climbers. www.turismesiurana.org


Home to one of the prettiest beaches in the region, the small town of Sant Pol de Mar is also home to celebrity chef Carme Ruscalleda's three Michelin star restaurant, Sant Pau. One hour from Barcelona by train, www.ruscalleda.cat.


Not to be confused with the infamous "sun and sangria" resort of Calella, Calella de Palafrugell is a picturesque fishing village on the Costa Brava with blue flag beaches, pretty coves and a few high-end restaurants. It's around two hours away from Barcelona by car.


A romantic medieval village perched on a rocky promontory in the Collsacabra region, Rupit's terracotta tiles and flower-laden balconies make for a worthy day trip. Look around for tour providers, or hire a car.


Caldes de Malavella is a picturesque spa town just over an hour away from Barcelona by train. Visit the well-preserved Roman baths from nigh on two millennia ago, or book yourself in for a treatment at one of the beautiful 19th century neoclassical spas.

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