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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


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.


Barcelona's rich cultural scene often gets overlooked in the rush to sample the city's more epicurean pleasures, however few will be regret catching a classical concert at the the modern L'Auditori (www.auditori.cat), or the Palace of Catalan Music (www.palaumusica.cat) this March.


Loved La Sagrada Familia? From there take a walk up the pedestrianised Avinguda de Gaudi to the stunning Hospital de Sant Pau, one of the city's unsung architectural gems from the same period and also UNESCO listed. For more information visit santpaubarcelona.org.


If you only take home one seasonal souvenir from Barcelona make sure it's a Caganer, a squatting statuette of a peasant (traditionally) or a celebrity (21st century) doing a number two for good luck. Available at all good Christmas markets.

Sightseeing


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.


Thought Christmas was over? Here in Catalonia locals exchange festive gifts on 6 January (Epiphany). The night before The Three Wise Men arrive in Barcelona by boat and lead a parade around the city. Head to Port Vell around 4pm on 5 Jan to witness the fun.


November sees a glut of international superstars jetting in to BCN to pack out the city's biggest concert venues. There's Madonna (on 24th and 25th), Foo Fighters (19th), Belle & Sebastian (11th) and, your dad's favourite, Supertramp (7th).


The International Fantastic Film Festival takes place in Sitges from 9 to 18 October, giving you the chance to see indie films like Coin Locker Girl, Experimenter and Turbo Kid before they go global. For more information visit www.sitgesfilmfestival.com.


Every district in Barcelona celebrates its own "Festa Major" (Grand Festival) during summer but La Merce is the Festa Major of the entire city. On 18-24 September noisy parades, correfoc (fire runs), live music, street theatre, castellers (human castles) and much more create Europe's biggest street party. merce.bcn.cat


During summer every barrio in Barcelona celebrates its own district festival or "festa major", but it's Gracia's that draws the biggest crowds year after year. Live music, street parties, human castles and insane correfoc (fire runs) are all part of the fun. Catch it on 15-21 August. festamajordegracia.cat

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.


Barcelona has a love affair with chocolate and even has a own chocolate museum. For something authentic track down a traditional granja and order churros to dip in your hot chocolate.

Day Trips


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.


If you're not into low budget horror, sci fi and fantasy you could still sidle over to Sitges, a beautiful coastal town which manages to be bohemian, family friendly and gay friendly all at once. Just 35 minutes by train from Barcelona, it's a great place to unwind.


Around a two-hour drive from Barcelona, Pals is a quiet medieval town perched on a wooded hill, under which plains of crops and sunflowers spread out north towards the Pyrenees and a two-mile stretch of golden sands unravels before the Mediterranean sea. One of Costa Brava's most scenic spots. palsturisme.com


There are few places in the world that live up to their holiday brochure alter ego, but Cadaques seems to exist in HDR. Set your camera to panorama mode and get ready to enjoy cobalt blue bays of bobbing fishing boats backed by white-washed houses and their signature terracotta-tiled roofs.

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