Spain’s Catalonia region is famous for its centuries of history and is home to some of the best-preserved Medieval towns and villages in the world. If you’re interested in delving back even further into the region’s history to learn more about the Greek and Roman eras during your holiday in Spain, check out some of Catalonia’s ancient ruins. From historic walled remains to first-century racecourses, the Catalonia region has plenty to uncover. Here are three of the region’s best-preserved ancient ruins that are open to the public.
The old town of Empúries was founded in 575 BC by the Greeks, although the town was eventually taken over by the Romans. Excavations on the town began in the 1900s, and today it’s possible to see old homes, temples, walls, and mosaics, and there’s even the Museum of MAC-Empúries which provides stories behind the ruins. However, the highlights are the gardens, where you can learn more about traditional Roman medicine, and the underground crypt, which has only recently opened to the public. Book a Costa Brava vacation rental to stay near to Empúries. If you enjoy pleasant strolls, then stay in L’Escala and take the pedestrianized coastal path right along the water to the town.
Built in the second century, the Tarragona Amphitheatre is one of the main attractions in this old town, which was once a thriving Roman colony known as Tarraco. Taking on a traditional Colosseum appearance, it is believed that the amphitheatre could once hold up to 15,000 spectators at a time, making it one of the largest in Europe. When Islam arrived and Catholicism dwindled as the primary religion in Spain, the amphitheatre was abandoned, and over the years it has housed a church and has been used as a prison. Luckily for those taking a vacation in Spain, the theatre was somewhat recovered in recent years, and today is a remarkably well-preserved site.
Another great location in Tarragona is Circ Roma, or the Roman Circus. Built in the first century, this was the place to see and be seen, and played a major role in the world of leisure during Roman rule. Somewhat of an ancient alternative to the modern Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the Roman Circus was the best place in Catalonia to watch fast-action chariot races. Perhaps one of Catalonia’s best preserved ruins, remaining inscriptions have led experts to believe that the racetrack remained in use until the fifth century, when it was abandoned. A part of the track is still very much intact, making it an amazing place to explore. Tarragona is easy to reach from most villas on the Costa Dorada, but it’s also just a one-hour drive from Barcelona, too, making it a top choice for a day trip during your Barcelona holiday.
During a holiday in Spain, it is common to be curious about the best way of get around the region. The answer may vary depending on the specific area that travelers are visiting. Getting from a vacation villa in Barcelona to the city’s top sights and attractions is generally very easy using public transport as many parts of Catalonia benefit from excellent rail links and bus routes. However, for those planning to visit some of the more quiet and isolated parts of the country, a car may be the best choice.
Age: While the minimum driving age in Spain is 18, you’ll need to be a little older to rent a car. Most Spanish rental agencies set their minimum age limit at either 21 or 22, although others may restrict rentals to those who are 25 years old or older. In most cases, renters under age 25 will need to pay an additional ‘young driver fee’, which usually amounts to around 20 EUR per day.
License: Whether you rent from a location in Barcelona or somewhere else in Spain, you will need to present a valid driving license from your home country. Although an International Driving License is not a legal requirement if you have a license from an EU country, it is still recommended as it can make things easier if you require assistance during the rental period.
Locations: Although most rental cars can be driven across European borders without hassle, it’s worth double checking with your rental agency if you plan to cross over the French Pyrenees or visit Andorra. If you do decide to visit more places in Europe during your trip, beware that you may be charged extra if you return your car to a different country.
Driving in Spain
The good news is that driving in Spain is actually very simple. Although things can be a little hectic if you rent a car from a central location in Barcelona, driving Barcelona’s roads is not particularly stressful. In Spain, they drive on the right, which is simple for Americans but a little trickier for Brits! Remember that speed limits are posted in km/h, rather than m/h, and that standard speed limits are 50km/h for urban areas, 90km/h for rural areas, and 120km/h when driving on Spanish motorways.
If you’re thinking about taking a vacation in Barcelona, will you visit the city itself, or will you see what else the province of Barcelona has to offer? Contrary to popular belief, Barcelona isn’t just a city; it’s also one of Catalonia’s four provinces, and there’s much more to the area than simply the city. In fact, the province is bursting with culture, history, and plenty of scenery.
Along with Barcelona, there’s also a number of other busy, bustling cities within Barcelona province that demonstrate just how lively and active things can be in Catalonia. If you love the full, hectic atmosphere of major cities, then book a villa in Barcelona province in the city of Hospitalet de Llobregat, or “L’Hospitalet” for short, which is actually one of the most densely packed cities in all of Europe! While there’s not quite as much to do here as there is in the city of Barcelona, L’Hospitalet certainly has one mightily impressive skyline with some of the tallest skyscrapers in all of Catalonia.
For a completely different side to city life, try another city location in Barcelona province: Mataró. This is a quieter, compact city that’s very easy to navigate on foot, and is a little more laidback than L’Hospitalet or Barcelona. The main sights are the Roman ruins and the Puig i Cadafalch architecture. It’s located south of the Costa Brava, so you can easily visit Mataró from your Costa Brava vacation rental.
Of course, many people who take a holiday in Spain want sun, sea, and sand, and Barcelona province has plenty! As well as the fascinating and historic cities, there’s also a number of smaller coastal resorts that scream “Mediterranean!”. Sitges is one of these areas, and it’s one of the most popular holiday destinations in Catalonia. It offers plenty for visitors, including sandy beaches, cultural museums, seafront restaurants, and luxury Costa Dorada holiday rentals overlooking the famous golden coast.
Want to see something completely unique and a little bit off-the-wall during your holiday in Spain? Make it a point to check out the famous Catalan Castells: the human towers that have become a true spectacle. Translating into ‘castle’ in English, which refers to the overall structure of the tower, the Castells are a common display at many festivals and at other major community events in Catalonia. Believed to have been a Catalan tradition since 1712, the Castells have become a big part of the local culture, and were even given UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity status.
Castell History & Evolution
If you were staying in a villa in Barcelona back in the 1980s, the type of Castells you will have witnessed would be totally different from the Castells you would see in the city today. Understood to have a religious meaning, this has become somewhat lost over the years. Today the displays are mostly for show, with towers getting taller and taller every year and including more and more acrobatics. There is a bigger performance aspect to modern Castells, and some towers can even reach up to 10 levels!
Where to See Castells
It is pretty easy to plan your vacation in Spain to coincide with the Casteller season as the season runs from February to November. The Castells regularly appear at festivals in the area, but perhaps the very best place to see them is in Valls, which is where they originated. Be sure to stop by the museum, Món Casteller: The Human Towers Experience, to learn more about this unusual Catalan sport.
The Costa Brava is located in the Province of Girona, and runs from the beautiful Catalan town of Blanes all the way up to the French border. The towns along the Costa Brava were once mostly sleepy fishing towns, but things are very different today. Starting in the 1950s, many luxury resorts and Costa Brava vacation rentals were built in the region, especially around the seaside towns of Tossa de Mar and Lloret de Mar, making the Costa Brava a top tourist destination for those looking for a trio of sun, sea, and sand.
The “Rough Coast”
‘Costa Brava’ translates as ‘Rough Coast’, and gets its name from Catalan journalist Ferran Agulló who remarked on the coast’s raw, rugged scenery and jagged shoreline. Unlike the Costa Dorada, which boasts a fairly neat, clean coast, the Costa Brava is made up of steep, rocky cliffs and natural features which result in its bays, inlets, coves, islands, and peninsulas. Photographers are often known to rent a villa on the Costa Brava to capture this stunning and unusual look.
Sights & Scenery
The scenery on the Costa Brava is quite the mix. From your villa on the Costa Brava you may see white sand beaches or wild marshland; lakes or tropical gardens; historic castles and fortresses or protected nature reserves with all sorts of flora and fauna. Blankets of beaches cover Platja d’Aro, fascinating rock formations rise at Palamós, and a beautiful harbour cuts into Llafranc. There are even three separate and distinct lush green natural parks; Cap de Creus Natural Park, Montseny Natural Park, and Aiguamolls de l’Empordà.
Choosing a villa with pool on the Costa Brava is an excellent choice for those who love nature and spending time in the great outdoors. The town of Blanes is also just an hour’s drive from Barcelona, so it’s ideal for a multi-centre holiday, blending city life with more rural, back-to-nature living.