Walking tour of Catalonia – 105 km in the Catalan countryside

February 27, 2024

I recently spent six days walking around Catalonia.

Maybe if I see more of the area, I’ll learn to love it. At least that’s the theory.

Funny thing, though: I’ve been living in Barcelona for about 7 years now.

That’s a fact which depresses me slightly. Barcelona’s still barely on my top 20 list of favorite places in Spain.

And unlike when I moved to Madrid back in 2004, I never went through a “tourist phase” up here. I didn’t make a big effort to see all the sights because I didn’t much care, I’m unimpressed by modernist architecture, and I figured I’d be back in Madrid soon enough anyway.

Years later, I own a home in Clot, and apparently I’m not going anywhere. At the same time, I realize that I still haven’t seen most of the sights. I’ve never been to the Picasso Museum, for example, or seen the inside of the Sagrada Familia. I have no idea what Barça is doing, or where.

So I’m making more of an effort. Starting now!

All this to say, I’m back from a dusty ramble along the back roads of Catalonia, and here’s the story…

Day 1 – Montcada to Vallromanes

I take a train to Montcada, two stops from home.

This is the edge of Barcelona. Across the Besòs river I find a few chabolas that people have built with scraps from construction sites. A couple old guys are puttering around in their little shanties. Who they are and how they got here I don’t know. The outskirts of European cities tend to be a bit dystopian.

In a minute, though, I’m surrounded by pine trees. The GPS shows a pretty tough-looking hill to start the walk. It looks like it just goes straight up… and it does.

By 10 AM I’m dripping with sweat, and I’ve taken off my coat and my hoodie. No room in my backpack for everything. Looks like I may have overpacked.

For a bit, I’m following GR 92 – a route that goes all the way along the Catalan coast from the French border down to Valencia. There’s a hilltop ruin from the ancient Iberians. A hospital, a funeral home, and a big leukemia research center. The leukemia foundation has a cafeteria with outdoor seating that looks pretty nice, but not nice enough to add 400 meters onto my route. Also, can I just drop into a leukemia foundation looking all sweaty and dusty? I have no idea.

I walk on. Pines, oaks, scrub.

I catch ocassional views of Barcelona receding behind me in its brown cloud. Then I crest a hill and the landscape changes. There are terraced vineyards, and the air seems cleaner. Finally I drag myself into Vallromanes. It’s lunchtime.

The first restaurant I come to is open and full of people. It’s a bit disorienting to go from forest to crowded restaurant in the space of two minutes. The waitress spends some time ignoring me – only seating me once I’ve almost decided to leave. I have a menú del día. I can’t for the life of me remember what I had for the first course, and it didn’t seem important enough to make a note. The second course I have noted: it’s churrasco, and it’s bony and tough.

I spend the afternoon resting my legs at the hotel. At sunset I go for a walk around town. Vallromanes has nothing going on this Thursday night – just a skeezy bar with a couple of slot machines and a café that closes at 7pm. I have an alcohol-free beer outside the café, thinking about dinner.

All the restaurants are closed – apparently they only do lunches and weekends – so I end up having canned tuna and empanadas in the hotel room. I fall asleep at 9.

Day 2 – Vallromanes to Granollers

Up in the dark and mostly alone at the hotel buffet, I realize I’m still hungry from the exertion yesterday.

I load up a plate with an embarrassing number of chocolate mini-croissants and a pile of Spanish ham. I really only eat breakfast twice a year or so – usually at hotel buffets – and when I do I like to go all in.

Soon I’m checked out of the hotel, and walking across newly-planted farmland. My legs feel fine. Presumably, the people who needed five days to recover from a tough walk didn’t pass down their genes. My strong Viking ancestors did harder stuff than this. I could go all day here.

A few kilometers later, I’m in a town called Vilanova del Vallès. I stop for a coffee. The waiter who brings it out has a mullet and 7 facial piercings. Don’t see that much anymore.

Vilanova is really only a few blocks wide. Walking out of town, there’s more farmland and an oddly drab landscape laid out under a grey sky. The only splash of color comes from occasional mimosa and almond trees in full bloom.

The path takes me around the edge of a juvenile detention center. I briefly consider going some other way, but at my age, the police are hardly going to confuse me for an escaped juvenile delinquent.

Soon, I’m approaching Granollers. It’s a decent-sized city. It’s got a train yard, with long lines of tanker cars stacked three deep with cylindrical tanks.

Walking towards the center, I follow the signs for Plaça Porxada, which turns out to be an old grain market. There’s a museum (closed for renovation) and lots of shops.

I find an Argentinian restaurant and have steak and potatoes for lunch.

At check-in, the lady at the hotel wants me to pay a 66 cent tourist tax. I give her a euro. She’s training some kid – he looks pretty good in his black suit, until I notice the tattoo across his throat.

It says IN MY BLOOD, just like that, in all caps.

The lady gives me my 34 cents in change, telling me that this hotel has been in the same family for eight generations. Apparently Granollers has some history.

There’s not much going on in any case. People walking up and down the shopping street. Some nice architecture. A dark, empty church with a replica of the Virgin of Montserrat inside.

Plaça de la Porxada in Granollers.

Not wanting to wait for real restaurants to open at 8 PM, I get a kebab for dinner. Then back to the hotel. There seems to be a street party outside my window, but I sleep through most of it. Finally it starts raining.

The rain drives everyone home.

Day 3 – Granollers to Llinars del Vallès

I get a giant coffee at a place near the hotel. The streets are wet from the overnight rain.

The walk out of town is through the polígono. A lot of Catalonia is just one big industrial park, especially the parts along rivers or train tracks – and that’s about half of the region. The industry is what makes it one of the wealthier areas in Spain, but it’s not great for aesthetics.

After plodding through a couple of kilometers of regular polígono, I come to the abandoned polígono. This is just depressing. Consulting the map on Wikiloc, I hop off the highway and do a few extra kilomotrrs through fields planted with wheat and artichoke plants. It’s not exactly a breathtaking landscape, but at least I’m not walking past warehouses all day.

abandoned warehouse on my walking tour of catalonia
Outside Granollers, Catalonia, Spain.

I have coffee on the town square in Cardedeu, a town with a population of around 20,000. Families are out and about. I enjoy the small town vibe when I’m in places like this, I’m just not sure I’d be excited about living in one full-time.

A few kilometers down the road, Llinars del Vallès is bigger. Tons of people are out having drinks at the cafés on the main drag. I stop for picanha at an Argentinian restaurant. God bless Argentinian people, opening up reasonably-priced steak places in every town in Catalonia. Really helps me stay fed in random places.

My plan for the night is to stay at Can Felip, an old farmhouse a few kilometers out of Llinars, now converted to a Bed and Breakfast. Turns out the walk is along the train tracks and then through yet another polígono.

I arrive early at the BnB – it’s on a hilltop with a nice view, but the gate is still closed. There’s a little church next door, so I sit on a bench next to some old graves and kick my shoes off.

Eventually, someone at Can Felip opens the gate. I watch the sunset on their terraza, reading a Catalan copy of a book I like a lot: Closely Watched Trains. (Don’t tell the Catalans, but a lot of their language looks just like Spanish, and with a limited amount of extra vocabulary, I find I can get through it, slowly.)

Dinner is butifarra and eggs and a big salad from the farm. Again I’m asleep at 9.

Day 4 – Llinars del Vallès to Sant Celoni

There’s some real forest out here, and it’s a bit colder.

The trail follows the train tracks. Then there’s a pedestrian and bicycle lane along the highway. Looks like the government is promoting ecotourism on Montseny, the giant mountain looming over this area – the cycle path is new, and they’re renting bikes right out of the Palautordera train station.

farmland and catalan countryside

A bit later, walking into a small town called Santa Maria de Palautordera, I find they’re celebrating something.

I ask the waiter who brings me coffee and water. He says it’s Baile Gitana.

“It’s a typical Catalan thing at carnaval”, he says.

They’re setting up a stage on the town square. Lots of young girls are walking around wearing mantillas (a sort of shawl) and flowers in their hair. The guys have bells on their ankles and round red hats decorated with long feathers. The local orchestra is doing their soundcheck, but I’ve got to get going if I want to be in Sant Celoni for lunch.

A couple of kilometers and a small polígono later, there I am, in Sant Celoni.

Here it looks like they’ve just finished their own Baile Gitana when I arrive. Now there’s a very bad rock band playing in the town square for an audience of several dozen.

All the good restaurants are full, so I end up at the local sushi restaurant. How did sushi become such a global thing? It is, after all, cold rice with raw fish.

I figured I might have a better time here, because it’s a bigger town. But I may have miscalculated. Most things are closed – it’s Sunday. I spend a boring afternoon in a charmless city, and have kebab for dinner, again.

Day 5 – Sant Celoni to Arenys del Mar

Hotel Sant Celoni is a bit seedy, on the edge of the polígono next to the train tracks.

It’s still fully dark when a very loud alarm goes off in the next room. Ok, so I guess we’re awake now. I look at my watch. Six o’clock. Happy Monday.

There’s no breakfast at this place – at any rate, not this early. The front desk is dark and the whole town seems empty. I head back to the town center in search of a café – a bakery with a few little tables is the only place open early. I have coffee with the local cops and city hall functionaries on their way to work.

After that I check out of the hotel and walk straight towards the Mediterranean. It’s uphill, but not too steep, for several kilometers. About fourteen, I guess. First up, there’s a development with detached houses out in the woods. Only the richest of Spaniards can afford to live like middle-class Americans: a house outside town, no upstairs neighbors, two cars per family.

Today’s a big day. The last day of my hike, and I’ve got a long one planned. I’m headed all the way across the Montnegre mountains down to the sea at Arenys del Mar. It’s 28 kilometers, according to the GPS. And I’ve started before sunrise, so I should be able to make it with time to spare.

Up in the hills, there are actually whole panoramas without a single building in sight. Apart from the sound of a distant chainsaw, I can’t hear any human noise. That’s a bit unusual for this area – there always seems to be a highway or a sprawling town somewhere nearby.

sunrise in montnegre mountains catalonia
Early morning in the Montnegre mountains outside Sant Celoni.

I ramble through the forest for about 5 hours, finally coming out on a paved road in Arenys del Munt. There’s a restaurant here, and it’s open, and they have steak. The dining room is mostly empty, but the people who have turned up seem to be very wealthy.

I play linguistic chicken with the waitress: she speaks to me in Catalan, I answer in Spanish, she responds in Catalan. We’re able to keep this up for several minutes. Finally, she sees my dusty backpack and the GPS I’ve set down on the table. “¿Vienes andando?” She seems impressed… enough to switch to Spanish.

The steak is great, if a bit undercooked. After this, it’s all downhill, just 8 more kilometers to the sea.

I end up taking a route that’s a bit dangerous, down a dry riverbed with a very eroded path along one edge. At one point, I find a toothless old guy who’s making his way slowly up the path, using a long broomstick for balance. I ask if I’m going the right way, and he says yes, but there’s an easier path further up the riverbank.

He scrambles up and then holds down the broomstick so I can grab it and pull myself up the bank after him. The other path isn’t really a path, but there’s less immediate risk of falling. After a while I pop out on a highway and see that I’m only a couple kilometers from the beach.

Day 6 – Arenys del Mar to Mataró

Yesterday was supposed to be the last day, but I’ve tallied up the kilometers I’ve done and it looks like I’m just under 100. That’s a bit embarrassing. I decide to spend the morning walking back towards Mataró.

path from arenys to mataro in catalonia
The path from Arenys del Mar to Mataró.

It’s sunny, and a lot of today’s route is just a narrow strip of gravel between the train tracks and the beach. There are several Civil War bunkers down on the sand. Seems like an odd place for a line of bunkers – no view but the open water and a bit of beach.

I try to imagine being a soldier spending a cold day in a tiny concrete box – the slit window looking out over the sea. What was the purpose? Was he a lookout? Was he supposed to shoot his rifle at any warships that appeared?

This article suggests that some of the bunkers had anti-aircraft guns. Apparently, there was some Civil War action on this strip of coast – the battleship Canarias was in the area, shooting up the towns from time to time. Interesting.

But for some reason, this easy walk along the beach is annoying me. Mentally, I was done with my adventure yesterday. But today I got up and decided to tack on another 10 kilometers.

My lack of conviction makes the walk seem longer than it is. Oh well. Eventually I get back to the seaside promenade, and I’m done. Mataró is a big town, with an active center. I find a restaurant for lunch, then catch the train home.

And thus ends my walking tour of Catalonia…

I guess I haven’t exactly entranced you with my breathless descriptions of the Catalan countryside in this article – rereading it, it sounds like I’m mostly talking about food. But I enjoy this kind of thing. Making life as simple as walking to the next town and finding something to eat once you get there.

It’s a refreshing change of routine from my normal laptop job.

Next time I’ll look into more scenic areas in Catalonia (or elsewhere in Spain)… but one of the reasons for the route I chose was because I wanted to make sure I had a place to sleep and something to eat every night – tough to do that in the middle of nowhere.

Also, I was working with the fact that it’s February, so I had limited daylight and most of the more exciting places nearby are probably buried in snow. I wanted to pick something that’d be doable at this time of year, and I did.

In fact, my biggest problem this time was not being able to find good food at the time I wanted to eat – after a long day walking, I’m ready for a guiri dinner at 6 or 7 PM, so I can be in bed early. Not easy to do around here.

In any case, I now have proof of concept for future walking adventures. My body held up fine, I got a total of one blister, and I was able to carry a 10kg pack as far as I needed to.

That’s about all I’ve got.

Have a good one. (And don’t forget to eat your protein.)

Yours,

Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.

P.S. I’ve got some other walking articles around here: Vielha (up in the Pyrenees), Puigcerdà, Llivia, and the French border and Cercedilla to name just a few. Enjoy!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. Again, thank you for your ramblings about, in this case, your rambling.

    When we travel, sadly due to age and fitness, we take a car. It is encouraging that you have discovered and shown how hard it is to find interesting, pretty, lively and "out of the way" places to stop and enjoy.

    It really is the same most places, I expect. Back in the UK, the best part was the walk between, when you got to the remote place the pub was often the only open port of call. It would be dark, quiet and the air full of coal smoke in the winter; in the summer, well, we went abroad, :).

    Yes, we can stop at big sea side towns where, in season of course, they cater for the typical Spanish lifestyle!! (hehe) but we live really close to the coast and can make this in a few minutes.

    The number of time we have sat down with a destination in mind, a map (google) and tried to find somewhere we could make a break, wander a bit, have a relaxing evening, eat and to bed and in the end, we went to the nearest hotel of from the AP.

    We still had a good trip, we got to where we wanted to be quicker but always feel we missed out.

    Now you have tested the water, so to speak, I look forward to more ramblings, thanks for sharing.

  2. Love your articles. I fell in love with Spain the first time I visited. I’ve since sworn I’m moving there now that I’m mostly retired at at least gainfully unemployed. I’ve never been a fan of Barcelona so I’m curious why you’d buy a house there if you’re not thrilled about living there?

    1. Hey Jay! I kind of exaggerate about my disliking Barcelona because I’m naturally a contrarian and because generally I prefer Madrid. These days I don’t have any specific problem with Barcelona, except for the silliness with the independence movement. Also, my wife’s career is here, and owning seems like a better option than renting in the medium to long term. Thanks for reading!

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