Five Days in Catalonia with Kids
Catalonia is a region in the Northeast of Spain that really feels like it’s own unique country. It’s capital, Barcelona, can serve as a base for day trips to the surrounding area, but if you are like me and prefer less time in big cities, you may want to find another base to explore the region. After exploring Barcelona, we got a rental car and visited other parts of Catalonia from our bases of Malgrat de Mar and Banyoles. Our crew for this trip was four adults and four kids age 1, 2, 9, and 12.
I had originally planned to use this awesome castle as a home base for our crew. But by the time everyone confirmed with me that they were coming, the castle was booked. So instead we split our time between Malgrat de Mar and Banyoles which in the end worked out great. We loved both of the places we stayed and it probably cut out some driving time.
In Malgrat de Mar we stayed at Camping Del Mar which is a tiny home and camping resort across the street from the beach. We rented a mobile home which had three small bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, dining area, and a front porch. We had access to the resort amenities including a playground, pool, and activities. There is also a reasonably priced restaurant, bar, and convenience store on site which was very convenient for us.
In Banyoles, we had an incredibly family-friendly apartment in a great location. The apartment included a crib, high chair, toys, a beautiful porch with grapes growing on the arbor, and a pool. It was walking distance to swimming spots on the lake, a playground, and the historic center.
We rented a Citroen from OK Car Rental in Barcelona. We declined the GPS service, but then were given a car with a navigation system anyways which ended up being a blessing. We have cell phone coverage through Sprint in the US and so thought that we would have “slow internet” in Spain. We weren’t quite sure what that meant, but we figured we could make it work for getting around. For whatever reason it worked a lot better for driving directions than it did for walking or public transportation directions on google maps, but we were without service in about 30% of the places we visited outside of Barcelona which is when the car GPS came in handy.
Driving in this area was not difficult, however, we found parking to be a challenge. As Americans, the parking spaces seemed small. So small that we actually scraped our rental car pretty badly on a pole in a parking garage. We are still working with our credit card company to get refunded what we paid for the damages.
Day 1 - Montserrat
Once I saw photos of Montserrat, I knew we had to fit it into this trip even though it was out of the way of the other adventures I had planned. Montserrat is known for its monastery, but its really the surrounding natural beauty that attracted me and many others. We picked up two rental cars first thing in the morning from the Barcelona airport and then made the hour long drive from Barcelona to Monistrol de Montserrat (okay so actually this took all morning because I foolishly forgot my license on our first try to get the rental cars and so we had to make two trips back to our Barcelona apartment before leaving). From Monistrol de Montserrat we took a 15 minute funicular train ride up to Montserrat.
We had actually intended to drive all the way to Montserrat, but on the way there found signs indicating that the parking was full. So we made a quick detour to the train station. There is also a gondola option from Aeri de Montserrat which I am sure is also a great option for getting to the top.
Once we arrived at the top, we were quite hungry so made our way to the Montserrat Buffet. There was a really good selection including beer and desserts and we all ate a lot, so we felt like we ate our 30 Euros worth (the cost for two adults - we weren’t charged for our 1 and 2 year old). Outside of the cafeteria is the iconic stairway to heaven statue and some really beautiful views of the monastery and mountains.
The monastery is a short walk from the cafeteria area and an even shorter walk from the train station.
We did not actually spend much time in the monastery as we enjoyed taking in the sites around the monastery more. I wish we would have had more time to explore some hiking trails around Montserrat, but instead we caught the train back to Monistrol de Montserrat and then drove for about an hour and a half to our new home for the evening in Malgrat de Mar.
Day 2 - Tossa de Mar and Malgrat de Mar
We started our morning with the best loaf of bread I have ever had which we bought fresh out of the oven at the convenience store in our camping resort. After enjoying our breakfast at the playground outside our house, we drove about 35 minutes to Tossa de Mar.
Tossa de Mar is known for its castle on the beach. We parked at Parking Ancora and then wandered along the beach, up to the castle, up to the lighthouse, and then down to Villa Vella.
We stopped for lunch at La Placeta which offers a three course fixed menu for about $20. It was quite good, and I think most people would be satisfied sharing the three courses.
After a little more wandering in Villa Vella, we drove back to Malgrat de Mar to enjoy the pool, beach, and the evening activities our resort offered.
I was expecting the resort tango show to be kind of cheesy, but I was seriously impressed. Not like I know anything about Tango, but the dancers seemed really skilled and they danced for about 45 minutes with about 10 costume changes. And then my bill for two beers came and it was $3 which sealed the deal on my five star review of this place. So again - Camping Del Mar - this place is an amazing spot for families.
Day 3 - Dali Theater-Museum, Figueres
We had been blown away by our visit to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, so we knew we had to visit the one in Figueres as well. It took us about an hour to drive to Figueres from Malgrat de Mar. I definitely recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time. We did not, and so had to wait for over an hour despite visiting on a Tuesday. We made the most of it by taking turns to take the kids to walk around and get some street pizza, and by the time we were in the museum, they were both fast asleep. The only problem with this is that the Dali Theater Museum does not allow strollers inside. We took advantage of their free stroller storage and Jimmy got a good arm workout carrying sleeping Lewis around while Petra snoozed in the baby carrier.
The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg had more impressive giant paintings while the museum in Figueres is more of a work of art on its own. The Figueres museum also has a larger collection, and so gives the visitor a better appreciation of just how prolific Dali was. All in all, I would recommend a visit to both museums.
After wandering around the museum for about two hours, we walked a couple of blocks to Parc-bosc Municipal. We spotted a playground next to a cafe, and so decided to hang out there for a little while. This cafe offered a three course meal with a glass of cava for $8, and we could enjoy it while we sat on the patio and the kids played on the playground. It was at this time, that I realized that Catalonians are much better at enjoying life than Americans.
It was about a 30 minute drive to Banyoles where we checked into our new apartment and got settled in.
Half of our group decided to skip Figueres and visit Girona instead. They walked along the city walls, along the river, and visited some of the sites where Game of Thrones was filmed. A trip to Girona also requires a little less driving time than a trip to Figueres if you are driving from the Costa Brava to Banyoles, so it’s definitely something to consider.
Day 4 - Besalu and La Caseta de Fusta
Our first stop of the day was Besalu, a charming medieval town about 15 minutes from Banyoles. We spent about four hours wandering aimlessly and enjoying a lovely three course lunch here.
We were getting hungry once we got to the Placa Major, so we stopped for lunch at Restaurant Curia Reial which I can highly recommend. Jimmy and I split a three course menu which came which cost about $18 and came with a glass of cava. The staff was incredibly friendly, even when my children ripped a table cloth off a table and broke an ashtray.
With the kids tuckered out, we decided to drive around the area some more while the kids took a car nap. We drove through Castellfollit de La Roca which is a medieval village perched on a cliff and then through some other towns that I can’t really recall.
Back in Banyoles, we made our way to Caseta de Fusta which is a lake-side park with a public swimming area. The water at Lake Banyoles is incredibly clean and clear. Even though it’s a free swimming spot, there was plenty of space for everyone.
We finished the evening by meeting up with the rest of the family in the historic district of Banyoles which had a really nice plaza where lots of kids were playing soccer.
Day 5 - Banys Vells and Fageda d’en Jorda
Because we had so much fun swimming in the lake the previous afternoon, we decided to spend the next morning at the lake too. We walked from our apartment to Banys Vells, a lakeside restaurant that offers a swimming area.
Banys Vells seems to be a haven for the toddler crowd which makes sense because you can take turns wading in the shallow water with your kids while you eat and drink. We ordered a bottle of sangria and some other snacks and hung out for about three hours.
In the afternoon, we drove about 35 minutes to Fageda d’en Jorda which is a beech forest on an old lava flow in the Garrotxa Volcanic Park. We decided to take an hour-long carriage ride through the forest, but there are also lots of hiking options in this area.
After our carriage ride, we were given some passes for free pony rides at the nearby Lava Park.
Flights - I ended up paying $1,322.90 for our family of four to travel from Charlotte to Barcelona and from Barcelona to Washington, DC. We were in the Charlotte area for a wedding and so that’s why we started there. I cashed in 90,000 American Airlines Miles for three tickets from Charlotte to Barcelona. Petra was 15 months old on this trip so flew as a lap infant. Ironically, her ticket cost the most for this portion of the flight as we had to pay the full taxes on her ticket which totaled $284.20. The remaining amount was for our three return tickets to Washington DC on TAP Air Portugal. We lucked out and both of our flights were pretty empty. We effectively had 5 seats for our family of four on each flight. So I was really glad that we didn’t buy a seat for Petra.
Transportation - $293.96. This includes our car rental, tolls, and gas.
Lodging - $800.87. This includes $22 we spent on crib rental in Malgrat de Mar. A crib was included free of charge at our Banyoles apartment.
Food and Drinks - $288.49. We generally ate at one restaurant once per day and the rest we prepared in our apartment. This includes our baby supplies such as diapers and wipes.
Activities - $66.94. This includes tickets the train ride up to Montserrat, tickets to the Dali Theater Museum, and our carriage ride in Fageda d’en Jorda. At 1 and 2, our kids are generally free, but we did have to pay half price for them on the carriage ride.
Total for our Family of Four - $2773.16. Since we also visited Barcelona during this trip, subtracting half the airfare seems more accurate. So that brings it to $2111.71 or $105.59 per person per day.