The Catalan people understand the importance of tradition more than most, having battled to keep their customs and language alive under Franco and Catalunya today wears her autonomy with tremendous pride. On most Sundays in summer you can witness the dancing of the sardana, not unlike typical Greek dancing, if a little slower and more controlled! The Catalan language is widely used and a resurgence of interest in traditional cooking provides a feast of authentic flavours which rely on sound ingredients rather than upmarket techniques.
Yet those in search of a little sophistication will not be disappointed, for in addition to its traditional heritage, this region has long been at the forefront of contemporary art and design. Picasso, Dali, Gaudi and Miro all painted, designed or sculpted here, and Barcelona today is a fantastic artistic melting point of styles from sombre Romanesque and graceful Gothic right through to the truly avant garde.
Catalunya is Spain's most diverse and exciting region. Contained by the high peaks of the Pyrenees to the north and by some of the loveliest beaches in the Med to the east, there are no fewer than 13 Natural Parks here, chosen for their outstanding natural beauty or their importance for conserving local flora and fauna. Setting out through the countryside on an early summer morning you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole landscape was subject to a conservation order, preserving for all time the magnificent mediaeval villages - small but perfectly formed - set against a backdrop of scarlet poppy fields, rice paddies and distant snowy peaks. Buzzards soar overhead, butterflies flit from hedgerow to meadow, and life ambles along at a very civilized pace where lunches are long and a siesta is essential.