Pyrenees Mountains Spain

Flickr Creative Commons by Magnus Von Koeller

Within a few metro stops from most hotels in Barcelona you can find hundreds of great ways to spend your time. You’ve got great bars and beaches, or interesting museums and Gaudi churches. Then you’ve had enough of the city sidewalks though, there is plenty of beautiful countryside to explore outside this urban magnet.

The most popular attractions are easy to get to on Spain’s excellent train system, which continues to keep improving despite the economic troubles in the country. In Western Europe, “popular” is another word for “insanely crowded” however, so this is an area where it can definitely pay to go exploring with your own set of wheels. Here are four areas that are difficult to cover properly by public transportation, so with a rental car from Barcelona you can see what you want, at your own pace.

The Penedès Wine Region

This part of Spain is not as well-known for wine as other more northerly regions, but that can be a good thing when it comes to both crowds and prices. You’re probably familiar with the black Freixenet sparkling wine bottles that come from here. You can also visit Cava Ludens in a 1570 house, starkly modern Mas Rodó, or hilltop St. Joannes Winery pictured below. There are inns with personality to stay in and this is a good place to sample Catalan cuisine paired with the right hearty wines.

wineries penedes

For more info on the area, see the excellent Enoturisme Penedes website in English. There you can even pin wineries to your own custom road map so you’ll know where you’re going when you set out. You’ll pay a tasting fee of six to ten euros at each winery, so choose carefully and keep one person as the designated driver.

The Other Salvador Dali Houses

Dali home

© Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dalí

One must-visit excursion for many visitors to Barcelona is the Dali Museum in Figueres, his birthplace. Far fewer people visit his other two museum-homes as they are difficult to get to without a car. If you have your own vehicle though, you can make your way to Portligat and the Castle in Púbol, the places he actually lived after he became famous. You can visit the rooms where he lived and slept and see the workshops where some of the world’s most recognized paintings sprang forth from his imagination.

See links with more info on this page at Salvador-Dali.org.

Exploring the Pyrenees Mountains

The stunning scenery of the Pyrenees Mountains extends into Andorra and France, but a big chunk of it is in Spain, starting just a couple hours from Barcelona. You can take an organized tour of the Pyrenees Mountains from the city and hit a lot of highlights from the region. You’ll start at the Renaissance and Baroque buildings of Vic and finish with a ride up the 1930s Rack Railway from Queralbs to a mountain valley. This is a great day of memorable stops, but if you go at your own pace you can enjoy these areas after the tour buses and vans are gone. Plus you can get to more remote towns and parks where the tourists don’t outnumber visitors.

If you’re on a budget, this is one of the best regions of Spain for camping or finding inexpensive mountain cabins to rent. You can park the car and go for a hike on trails that aren’t crowded and eat at restaurants that were “slow food” places before there was such a term. This is a large geographic area with lots to see and do, so make it easy on yourself and pack a well-researched guidebook. The information you can find online is often spotty or outdated.

You don’t have to read many consumer ombudsman articles to find horror stories about what happened after people rented a car in Europe from some unknown operator. Enterprise Rent-A-Car (one of Perceptive Travel’s advertisers) has offices in Spain that are owned by the company, not as a franchise or partner. So you get a familiar name with a home country office. Follow this link to get 10% off your car rental in Spain.

This post was done in partnership with Perceptive Travel advertiser Enterprise Rent-a-Car but they had no input on the content. All opinions are my own.

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Tim Leffel is author of five travel books, including Travel Writing 2.0, and A Better Life for Half the Price, on living abroad. He is editor of Perceptive Travel webzine and this blog. He splits his time between Guanajuato, Mexico and Tampa Bay. See his writing portfolio, awards, and links to his books at TimLeffel.com.