Barcelona GT Series – In the hidden heart of Catalonia

Barcelona GT Series – In the hidden heart of Catalonia 01

And as is the case with cars, sometimes the most profound beauty is hidden, tempting you to explore it. Gleaming bodywork attracts and seduces the eye more easily, but the mechanical perfection of an engine is what makes true connoisseurs fall in love. The same applies to Catalonia: the allure of Barcelona is now well-known to the world. Tourism has taken over the city as well as the coast, with millions of people crowding the beaches and teaming in the streets. Don’t get us wrong, the city of Mirò and Picasso is still a pearl worth experiencing for a weekend or even longer.  But the tenth and last stage of the Blancpain GT Series, run on the Barcelona - Catalunya circuit, can provide the perfect opportunity to explore the region's interior, which is less well-known but not less hospitable than Barcelona and where a local identity and spirit of independence (cultural rather than political) have deeper roots. Roaming far away from the glamour - from the Pyrenees to the volcanoes of the Garrotxa, from the medieval bridges to the sea of Tarragona - gives you a better understanding of the spirit of Catalonia. With an austerity far-removed from the baroque of Andalusia and Castille, it is a region that is Mediterranean but at the same time Nordic. 

A possible itinerary might begin in the area of Girona, to the north of Barcelona, not far from the circuit where the Pirelli-tyred GT cars will be racing. Just a few kilometres from the French border, this city deserves a visit to its wonderful centre, its alleyways and the banks of the river, where there is even a bridge by Gustave Eiffel. But the most distinctive feature is certainly the walk within the medieval walls, near to the cathedral, a defensive system so well preserved that it provided the set for A Game of Thrones.

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Moving further inland the Garrotxa area, like all volcanic areas, hides many alluring secrets. On the edge of the region it is well-worth stopping to see Besalú, a small town overlooked by a medieval bridge that contains traces of a Jewish ghetto as well as a Roman heritage, since the Via Annia - a branch off the famous Via Augusta - passed through here. After Besalù our route continues to Olot, the administrative capital of Garrotxa. Here we find the Museu dels Volcans, which presents the distinct geological characteristics of the area in a clearly understandable way. A few hairpin bends further on we come to Santa Pau, a Catalan medieval jewel in an oasis of peace (famous for its magnificent “fesols”, beans cooked in every way you can imagine). 

Turning towards the Pyrenees the town of Ripoll, the spiritual capital of the region, is an almost obligatory visit. In the Benedictine monastery overlooking the town’s main square, founded in 880 AD, are the remains of Wilfred the Hairy, the medieval founder of Catalan Catholicism. Our next stop on this journey in the heart of Catalonia is Reus, a hundred kilometres to the south west of the Catalan capital and a short distance from the Tarragona coast. This city is the birthplace of Antoni Gaudí, and an interactive museum recounts and celebrates the artist's genius. For anyone interested there is also an itinerary, the “Gaudí Route”, that starts from his birthplace and then explores all the all the significant places in the architect’s life. As well as Gaudí another cult has taken hold here: vermouth, the herb-based liqueur invented by Carpano in Turin at the end of the eighteenth century, which for some years now has taken the whole of Catalonia by storm and become highly fashionable. Which goes to show that even the strongest identities, like that of Catalonia, can be become infused with external elements, sometimes in a puzzling way. From Turin to the heart of Catalonia - an unexpected and therefore even more extraordinary connection. 

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