Costa Barcelona: beyond the big city
Stretching over a hundred kilometres from Vilanova to Malgrat de Mar, the coastline encircling Barcelona was once the playground of Modernists like Gaudí. Now, the region is seducing a new generation of in-the-know travellers with its world-renowned vineyards, handsome Modernist architecture and bewitchingly beautiful Mediterranean beaches. Here are our favourite reasons to venture beyond the big city to the smaller villages of the Costa Barcelona.
Have a golden-sand beach to yourself
The coast is easily accessible by train from Barcelona, but it feels a world away from the city. Discover secret coves known only to circling sea birds, hike secret trails first trodden by ancient smugglers, explore villages frozen in time -- like Calella or Santa Susanna -- barter for cuttlefish at a quayside seafood auction or simply relax on a quiet sandy beach in Mataró or Vilanova. We love exploring the winding streets of Sitges, a characterful fishing village that boasts 26 beaches and 320 days of sun per year. With an eclectic array of art galleries, gourmet restaurants and legendary nightlife, it's easy to see why it's been a favourite with tourists for over 100 years.
Join the locals for some authentic tapas
Catalan cuisine takes "del mar a la taula" -- from the sea to the table -- very seriously. Locally sourced food is plentiful and bursting with flavour, and simple groceries are so mouthwatering that they are barely recognisable. In spring, foodies must seek out the impossibly sweet strawberries from Maresme, or if you're visiting during the winter months, grab a colourful bowl of xato, a typical dish in the Garraf region. This much-feted salad dish combines endive, anchovies, salt cod and tuna with a distinctive dressing made of nuts, garlic breadcrumbs and olive oil, and is the subject of much friendly rivalry between the villages of the coast. Other local dishes include artichokes, cuttlefish rice blackened by squid ink, cured jamón made from pigs fed on foraged acorns, and delicious honey and goat's cheese desserts sourced from the surrounding mountains of Montserrat.
See Modernist treasures without the crowds
The culture of Costa Barcelona is so unique that much of it is protected by UNESCO. Many villages hold human-tower-building competitions, often with hundreds of brave "castellers", and local legends tell of witches, bandits and mermaids. Art lovers must visit Gaudí's Crypt, a hidden treasure far less crowded than the Sagrada Família. Originally built as part of an ambitious industrial colony in Santa Coloma de Cervello and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this church was designed to harmonise with the surrounding landscape -- twisted columns act as an extension of the nearby pine forest, artful shadows create the ambiance of a natural grotto and unexpected shapes mimic spontaneous organic growth. Gaudí was given total freedom and unlimited budget to build the church and his original plans can be seen in the nearby visitor's centre.
Try some of the world's best wine and cava
Rich, heady and flamboyant, the wines of this region are a landscape in a bottle. The area's viticultural pedigree dates back to Roman times, and many celebrated estates host vineyard tours, cellar-door tastings and more. The wine bars of Sitges are the perfect place to watch the sun go down with a glass of the local vintage -- we recommend Malvasía sweet wine, or sparkling wine from the Penedés region. Don't miss the annual harvest festival, where connoisseurs can learn the art of crushing grapes barefoot and enjoy the best wines from local vineyards. September and October is the best time to catch the Grape Festivals in Sitges, Alella, Artés and Font-Rubi.
There's something for every season
Costa Barcelona hosts a calendar of events so diverse that there's bound to be something to pique your interest. Families can attend fun-filled carnivals, foodies can indulge at festivals dedicated to local produce like cherries, wine and chestnuts, sophisticates can watch up-and-coming jazz acts, and Formula One fans can cheer breathtaking races at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
To stay up to date with the latest information, see Costa Barcelona Tourism Board's Facebook page.