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CATALONIA & VALENCIA ROAD TRIP: BARCELONA TO ALICANTE BY CAR
Over 60 million tourists travel to Spain each year, but many of them never stretch beyond the city limits to experience all this Iberian country has to offer. The Catalan countryside is home to Roman ruins, charming villages, and world-class wineries, all of which you might miss on a package tour. View Spain's eastern coast in all its Mediterranean glory on a leisurely road trip with your own private car rental from Auto Europe.
Your Spain self-drive begins in the cultural center of Barcelona, famed for its Catalan cuisine, pulsating art and architecture scene. This sprawling, avant-garde city could take a lifetime to explore, but when the urban landscape becomes a bit overwhelming, hop in a private rental car and make your escape into the beautiful Spanish countryside. The rolling hills of Tarragona, anchored by a port city with the same name, are home to a variety of medieval jewels and picturesque vineyards. You'd never be able to explore these provincial villages on a group tour, so make the most of your wheels and don't miss a thing! Continue on to vibrant Valencia, whose own culinary traditions have found its place in history and on the itineraries for more than a few Spain trips, before ending your journey in lively Alicante.
CATALONIA & VALENCIA ROAD TRIP DAY 1: BARCELONA
BARCELONA EVENTS AND ATTRACTIONS:
Catalonia's cultural hub is perhaps most famous for its Modernist architecture, championed by the adventurous and experimental Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí's best-known masterpiece is the famously unfinished Basilica de la Sagrada Família, featured on innumerable packaged Barcelona tours, but the turn-of-the-century architect's works are liberally peppered throughout the city and can easily fill an entire day's itinerary. The serpentine walls of La Pedrera (or Casa Milà), the technicolor façade of Casa Batlló, and the brilliant mosaics of Park Güell all reflect Gaudí's playful mark on Barcelona's urban landscape. Serious fans might also seek out the Casa Amatller or Casa Lleó Morera. Art lovers can also find a great deal of work by another Spanish artistic hero - cubism pioneer Pablo Picasso. An extensive collection of the 20th-century painter's works are on display at the Museu Picasso, housed in the palaces of La Ribera, and the TI at Plaça de Catalunya offers guided walking tours through the streets of Picasso's youth.
Other great city-wandering opportunities lie in pedestrian boulevard La Rambla, anchored by the Mercat de la Boqueria and the Gran Teatre opera house, and the Barri Gòtic, where you'll find the Museu d'Història de Barcelona among the neighborhood's Gothic labyrinth. Sports fans won't want to miss a jaunt up to Montjuïc, a hilltop neighborhood just outside the city center, which is home to the 1992 Summer Olympic Village. While you're in the area, you may also want to check out the Renaissance fortress Castell de Montjuïc, or one of the many nearby art museums, like the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, the Fundació Joan Miró, or the CaixaForum. On any given day, Barcelona is a vibrant city, but if you want to let it all hang out, schedule your visit around festival time. The midsummer Dia de Sant Joan and the Festes de la Mercè in late September are both particularly colorful.
Oenophiles looking for a fun and easy day trip will love diving into cava culture in Sant Sadurní or Vilafranca del Penedès, where Spain's bubbly answer to champagne is king. Most Barcelona tours won't take you to these viticultural outposts of Catalonia, so get behind the wheel of your Barcelona rental car and boldly break the typical tourist mindset. If you're looking for tips to help you choose the best road trip car - we've thought of that too.
BARCELONA RESTAURANTS, BARS, AND NIGHTLIFE:
Catalan cuisine is lauded far and wide for its diverse and varied use of fresh ingredients and, thanks to Barcelona's coastal location, you'll find especially scrumptious seafood offerings. You and your wallet will be best off straying from the heavily touristed areas like La Rambla, but if you need to work in a quick lunchtime pit stop, try the fixed price menu at Restaurant Elisabets or the perennially popular tapas at Bar Pinotxo. True gourmands should find their way to La Ribera - you won't be able to turn your head without finding an enticing tapas bar. Sagardi and Taller de Tapas are good places to start. Indulge in the great Spanish tradition of paella at the waterfront eatery Xiringuito d'Escribà or at El Suquet de l'Almirall.
BARCELONA HOTELS & LODGING:
Shopaholics wanting to stick close to the Avinguda Diagonal should bed down in one of the plush rooms at the elegantly appointed Rey Juan Carlos I in its secluded garden setting. For a central location and a laundry list of amenities, check into the massive Princesa Sofia Gran Hotel. If your luxurious side has a more contemporary bent, try the ultra-modern Hesperia Tower. Budget travelers will find better value at the boutique beauty Hotel Banys Orientals.
CATALONIA & VALENCIA ROAD TRIP DAY 2: TARRAGONA
TARRAGONA EVENTS AND ATTRACTIONS:
You might travel to Spain for the urban delights of Barcelona, but you'll stay for the idyllic country villages. Between Barcelona and Valencia lie the Gothic and medieval treasures of Tarragona, an ancient port city surrounded by an eponymous province, which blends the charms of ancient history with the best of Mediterranean modernity. Stretch your legs along the city walls of 14th century Montblanc, where according to popular European legend St. George slew the dragon. For more religious history, venture out to one of the area's medieval monasteries, like the well-preserved Monestir de Santes Creus or the grandiose Monestir de Poblet. Take an even bigger blast to the past in Tarragona's city center where you'll find incredible Roman ruins at the Museu d'Història de Tarragona and the Museu Nacional Arqueològic da Tarragona. Wine lovers will be happy to find the rugged, vine-clad landscape of the Priorat within striking distance. The Moorish fortress village of Siurana and the Baroque ruins of Escaladei both make picturesque headquarters for exploring the Garnacha-based blends of this celebrated wine region. If you happen to be visiting during the October of an even-numbered year, you're in luck - Tarragona is particularly renowned for its castellers festivals, in which locals compete to build the tallest human tower.
TARRAGONA RESTAURANTS, BARS, AND NIGHTLIFE:
Inside the city limits, chow down on creative tapas, like a black sausage with stewed apples or deer hamburger with caramelized onions, at El Cau, near the Roman amphitheater. Get modern at the super-stylish joint AQ, where the sleek design is just a precursor to its experimental plates. Further, in the countryside, El Call de Montblanc serves up a blend of Catalan and Basque cuisine in a historic setting. Find inexpensive seasonal snacks at Cal Mosso near Santes Creues (see above). When in Siurana, take advantage of the local wine trade with excellent pairings at El Balcó del Priorat.
TARRAGONA HOTELS & LODGING:
The time-tested, family-run Hostal Fonoll sits opposite the Monestir de Poblet (see above), making it a simple and convenient choice for accommodations. If you're willing to shell out a little extra dough, catch stunning views from the balconies of La Siuranella in Siurana, or bed down in style at the renovated 18th-century mansion Cal Compte near Escalade. Those opting to stick to the city can find inexpensive lodging at Forum Tarragona, whose small, but colorful rooms offer lovely views of the town square.
CATALONIA & VALENCIA ROAD TRIP DAY 3: VALENCIA
VALENCIA EVENTS AND ATTRACTIONS:
Valencia tours can take any number of approaches, from art and architecture to family vacation. There's no shortage of activity in the sprawling Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. This particularly kid-friendly attraction includes an aquarium, planetarium, interactive science museum, and concert hall in its 350,000 square meter complex. For postcard-worthy photographs, take a stroll through the Barrio del Carmen. The neighborhood's architecture shows marks of Roman, Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance styles, all of which you'll find in the stunning Catedral, which is also rumored to be home to the legendary Holy Grail. As an added bonus, its Micalet bell tower provides great panoramic views of the city. If the cluster of collections on Montjuïc in Barcelona didn't quench your artistic thirst, view works by all the Spanish masters, including El Greco, Goya, Velázquez, Murillo, and Ribalta, at the Museo de Bellas Artes. Springtime visitors will be rewarded with a raucously good time at Las Fallas de San José, a buck wild week of bonfires and late-night music culminating in the burning of politicians' and celebrities' effigies. The wreckage from past years of revelry is on display at the Museo Fallero, a must-see for all Valencia tours.
VALENCIA RESTAURANTS, BARS, AND NIGHTLIFE:
"Ernest Hemingway ate here" is a well-worn advertisement in European restaurants, so the pricey seafood spot La Pepica is not without competition. Still, its renowned paella keeps tourists and luminaries alike trotting through its doors. If you'd rather enjoy Valencia's beloved rice-and-seafood stew in a less crowded locale, head to the rustic, waterfront Casa Navarro. Your Spain travel plans wouldn't be complete without at least one hearty meal of this traditional Valencian dish. Once a seasonal hotspot, now a permanent fixture, the beachfront La Alegria de la Huerta dishes out traditional, local cuisine with a wide selection of tapas, rice dishes, and fresh fish. For a serious splurge, treat yourself to the degustation menu at the imaginative Ca Sento.
VALENCIA HOTELS & LODGING:
Add some extra charm and splendor to your nighttime setting without the extra cost at Ad Hoc. Value seekers will be equally happy with the centrally located Vincci Lys, or the intimate Pensión París. For slightly more luxurious lodgings, head to the stylish SH Inglés Boutique, housed in the former palace of the Dukes of Cardona, or snag incredible ocean views from the Hotel Las Arenas Balneario Resort. Conveniently located, yet serene, the Westin Valencia will meet any luxury traveler's needs
CATALONIA & VALENCIA ROAD TRIP DAY 4: ALICANTE
ALICANTE EVENTS AND ATTRACTIONS:
Your Spain self-drive has been no small feat as you travel along the winding roads of Catalonia and Valencia. Celebrate the end of your Spanish road trip with a little sun and surf on one of Alicante's wonderful beaches. Playa del Postiguet is a popular choice, but for a less crowded coastline, head to Playa de San Juan. Relax on a seaside promenade at the Explanada de España, the perfect spot to enjoy the beauty of Spain's Costa Blanca. The Castillo de Santa Bárbara is a must-see with its excellent views of the city. The new MUSA - Museo de la Ciudad de Alicante - is also part of the 16th-century castle complex and is sure to delight history buffs. Art fiends, in the meantime, will likely prefer visiting the MACA - Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Alicante. Nature-lovers shouldn't be too quick to discard their rental car - the Guadalest Valley is within easy day trip distance and showcases breathtaking mountain views.