Literally millions of tourists visit Spain each year, and many make Barcelona their preferred destination. Unfortunately, a lot of them don’t realize that the region that is home to Barcelona, Catalunya (known as Cataluña in Spanish and Catalonia in English), is a hidden haven for culture, tradition and culinary delicacies that aren’t found anywhere else in Europe or in the world. Catalunya has a culture all its own which draws from the rich influences of its varied history.
Catalunya is one of 19 autonomous communities located in the Northeast of the Iberian peninsula. The Catalan region reaches north to the French and Andorran borders, and is bordered on its south side by Valencia and the west by the region of Aragón. The Mediterranean ocean bathes its famous coasts: the Costa Brava in the north and and Costa Daurada (Gold Coast) further south.
Catalunya is home to more than 7 million people, of which two-thirds live in Barcelona and its metropolitan area. Barcelona, one of the world’s most visited cities, is known as the capital of Catalunya in both the official and cultural sense.
The geography of the Catalunya region is marked by the Mediterranean coast (which extends for 360 miles) and the Pyrenees mountains (see at left), which mark the border between Spain and France. The climate is totally Mediterranean: overall mild, temperate in winter and hot on the coast, with a continental climate inland with cold winters and hot summers.
Catalunya is a linguistically rich place where, in addition to Catalan and Spanish, other languages are spoken. Aranés is spoken in the Vall d’ Aran in the Pyrenees mountain range. Aranés is a dialect of the ancient occitana language which is a variant of romance languages that appeared at the beginning of the Middle Ages south of the Loira river.
Catalunya is politically divided into three types of divisions: Comarques (comarcas in Spanish, similar to American counties), municipis (municipalities) and provincies (provinces). Catalunya’s four main provinces are Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. Catalunya has 41 comarques, and 946 municipis, of which only 59 have more than 20,000 inhabitants.
Traditionally, Catalunya’s main economic force was industry, but now it is tourism: Catalunya is Spain’s most powerful tourist destination with close to 14 million tourists visiting the region between the months of January and November of 2005.
Even with the economic crisis shaking Spain’s tourism industry to its core, Barcelona is still overrun with tourists year after year. And, thanks to the increased popularity of Catalan chefs in the U.S. and other parts of the world, more and more tourists are visiting Catalunya to experience its culinary traditions and culture. Culinary travel in Catalunya is on the rise, and is contributing economic growth in the region.