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g youth hostel, with four-bedded ensuite dorms and anoutdoor climbing wall.
BAQUEIRA-BERET Baqueira, 3km east of Salard¨2, and Beret, 8km north of Baqueira, form Catalonia?ˉspremier ski resort (www.baquiera.es; day lift pass €45) , favoured by the Spanishroyal family, no less! Its good lift system gives access to 72 varied pistes totalling104km (larger than most other Spanish resorts), amid fine scenery at between 1500m and 2510m.
There?ˉs nowhere cheap to stay in Baqueira, and nowhere at all in Beret.
Many skiers stay down the valley in Salard¨2, Arties or Vielha.
Out of season everything isclosed.
CENTRAL CATALONIA Away from the beaches and mountains is a host of little-visited gems splashed across the Catalan hinterland.
About halfway between Barcelona and the Pyreneeslies the graceful town of Vic, with its grand Pla?a Major.
Northwest of the capitalyou can strike out for Montserrat, with its mountain shrine, Cardona, with its windycastle complex, and Solsona, en route to Lleida.
An alternative route to Lleida takesyou further south through the Conca de Barber¨¤, which is dotted with majesticmedieval monasteries.
Vic POP 38,960 With its enchanting old quarter crammed with Roman remnants, medieval leftovers,a grand Gothic cloister, an excellent art museum, some hectic markets and a glut ofsuperb restaurants, Vic is one of Catalonia?ˉs gems.
Despite its resolutely Catalanpolitical outlook, the town is very multicultural.
Vic makes for a great day trip fromBarcelona, but it?ˉs better to stay a little longer and wallow in the town?ˉs atmosphere.
Sights Old Town OLD TOWNPla?a Major , the largest of Catalonia?ˉs central squares, is lined with medieval,baroque and Modernista mansions.
It?ˉs still the site of the huge twice-weekly market (Tuesday and Saturday mornings) flogging fresh local fruit, veg and thetown?ˉs famous llonganisa sausages.
This market has provided the square with analternative name, Pla?a del Mercadal.
Around it swirl the narrow serpentine streetsof medieval Vic, lined by mansions, churches, chapels and an undeniably sunnysouthern atmosphere.
Catedral de Sant Pere CATHEDRAL(Pla?a de la Catedral; adult/child €2/free; 10am-1pm & 4-7pm) The Catedral deSant Pere is a neoclassical Goliath with a rather gloomy interior, flanked by a Romanesque bell tower.
Inside, the dark, square-based pillars are lightened by murals depicting biblical scenes by Josep Maria Sert (he had to do them twice because the first set was destroyed by fire in 1936).
The highlights of a visit are theRomanesque crypt, the treasury rooms and a wander through the stone laceworksplendour of the Gothic cloister.
Entrance to the cathedral itself is free ¨C the listedprices and times apply to the cloisters, treasury room and crypt.
Museu Episcopal MUSEUM(www.museuepiscopalvic.com; Pla?a del Bisbe Oliba 3; adult/child over 10yr€7/3.
50; 10am-7pm Tue-Sat, 10am-2pm Sun Apr-Sep, shorter hours rest ofyear) This museum holds a marvellous collection of Romanesque and Gothic art,second only to the Museu Nacional d?ˉArt de Catalunya collection in Barcelona.
TheRomanesque collection depicts some wonderfully gory images ¨C from saints beingbeheaded or tortured to the Archangel Michael spearing a devil through his jaw, aswell as the vivid Davallament, a scene depicting the taking down of Christ from thecross.
The Gothic collection contains works by such key figures as Llu¨as Borrass¨¢and Jaume Huguet.
Festivals & Events Vic has a packed festival calendar.
Mercat de Ram EASTER MARKETIn the week running up to Palm Sunday, Pla?a Major hosts the Mercat del Ram(Palm Market, a tradition that goes back to AD 875), selling palms and laurels.
TheMercat del Ram is also the excuse for a major gastronomic fiesta, with the Rambladel Carme and Rambla de Passeig along the northern border of the old town fillingwith stalls selling cured meats, cheeses, coca (Easter cake) and other fantastic regional produce.
Fira d?ˉAntiguitats de Vic ANTIQUE FAIR(www.fav.
cat) The trade fair grounds host one of Spain?ˉs biggest annual antiquesmarkets for a week over mid- to late August.
Mercat de M¨2sica Viva MUSIC(www.mmvv.net) The town hosts the Mercat de M¨2sica Viva, a big if somewhatchaotic event, over several days in September in which Catalan, national and foreignacts of various schools of Latin rock and pop and jazz get together to jam.
Sleeping & Eating The town is known for its disproportionate density of high-quality restaurants.
Estadi¨? del Nord € HOTEL( 93 516 62 92; www.estaciodelnord.com; Pla?a del Estadi¨? 4; s/d €50/60; ) The 14 refurbished rooms of this little boutique hotel, well located on the 1stfloor of the 1910 train station, are decked out in soothing creams and whites andoverseen by a friendly family.
CATALAN La Taula €€ ( 93 886 32 29; Pla?a de Don Miguel de Clariana 4; menus from €18; dailyJul & Aug, Tue-Sat & lunch only Sun Oct-Jun, closed Feb) In a town that bristleswith superlative eateries, this one stands out as a bright star of traditional cooking,with fair prices and no pretensions (and considered by locals as one of the best intown).
El Jardinet €€ CATALAN( 93 886 28 77; www.eljardinetdevic.com; Carrer de Corretgers 8; menus from€16; lunch & dinner Tue-Sat) Within a spare interior, livened up with the oddmodern art piece and made larger with mirrors, you can expect classic Catalan cooking such as botifarra with peas.
Gets very busy at lunchtime.
Information Tourist office ( 93 886 20 91; www.victurisme.
cat; Carrer de la Ciutat 4; 10am-2pm & 4-8pm Mon-Sat, 10.
30pm Sun) Getting There & Away Regular rodalies (line R3) run from Barcelona (€5.
80, up to 1? hours).
Montserrat Montserrat (Serrated Mountain), 50km northwest of Barcelona, is a 1236m-highmountain of strangely rounded rock pillars, shaped by wind, rain and frost from aconglomeration of limestone, pebbles and sand that once lay under the sea (or elseby baby angels, depending on whom you talk to).
With the historic BenedictineMonestir de Montserrat, one of Catalonia?ˉs most important shrines, cradled at 725mon its side, it?ˉs the most popular outing from Barcelona.
From the mountain, on aclear day, you can see as far as the Pyrenees.
Its caves and many mountain pathsmake for spectacular rambles, reachable by funiculars.
The cremallera chugs up the mountainside, arriving just below the monastery,next to the cable-car station.
From there, the main road curves (past a snack bar,cafeteria, information office and the Espai Audiovisual) up to the right, passing theblocks of Cel?¤les Abat Marcel, to enter Pla?a de Santa Maria, at the centre of themonastery complex.
The monastery throngs with day trippers, so it?ˉs well worth staying overnight toenjoy the stillness and the silence of this remarkable place and to commune in peacewith La Moreneta before the first tour buses pull up.
Sights & Activities Monestir de Montserrat MONASTERY(www.abadiamontserrat.net; 9am-6pm) The monastery ¨C the second-most-important pilgrimage centre in Spain after Santiago de Compostela ¨C was founded in1025 to commemorate a vision of the Virgin on the mountain, seen by ¨C you?ˉveguessed it ¨C shepherds, after which the Black Virgin icon, allegedly carved by StLuke and hidden by St Peter in the mountains, was discovered thanks to said vision.
Wrecked by Napoleon?ˉs troops in 1811, then abandoned as a result of anticleri
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