Sure, Spain sounds lovely in the summer, but have you considered visiting Catalonia in December? OK. SO maybe you won’t be able to go swimming in the Balearic Sea (thought you can still dip your toes!). But there is another level of charm to taking in the late fall foliage and Christmas themed events.
And we did just that on this custom, week long road trip! We flew into Barcelona December 4th, picked up our rental car and spent 8 days exploring the Northeastern part of the country. Over the course of the week, we visited Figueres, Olot, Andorra, Sant Sadurni d’Anoia and Barcelona. We explored Salvador Dali’s hometown, climbed into an extinct volcano, sampled Spain’s sparkling wine region and marveled at Antoni Gaudí’s works.
How’s The Weather?
Given the latitude of the region, you’ll likely encounter rain this time of year. We had a couple days of rain, but otherwise cool to mild weather. Of course, if you really want to see snow, it isn’t far off. Snow capped mountains provided the backdrop for most of our drive in the Northern part of the country. We made a quick run to Andorra which is one of the European playgrounds. None the less, there’s plenty of exploring to do on foot and to keep your blood flowing.
Side note on Andorra – we thought it would be fun to jump into another country and get a passport stamp on this road trip. Unfortunately, the border booths aren’t manned and there are no stamps to be had It’s also worth noting that Andorra is a ‘tax free’ country that many Europeans visit to stock up on those duty loaded items (perfume, booze, cigarettes etc.). There is a voluntary customs line leaving the country where you can claim your purchases and pay appropriate taxes. That said, don’t get caught evading this process as there is potential to be caught by authorities many miles down the road. We were actually pulled over by the “Guardia Civil” (National Police) an hour into our drive to check out trunk for unclaimed purchases. Luckily, we didn’t have anything to hide and were sent on our merry way! Others were not so lucky.
Take advantage of the “Off Season”
Alot of European restaurants keep their patios open well into the cooler months. Most of them have space heaters and many put out blankets for patrons to use while they are enjoying a pint and some fresh, crisp air.
In general, tourists are flocking to this region in the warmer months, so you’ll notice less bodies about when taking in the sigths. You’re more likely to get those solo selfies and pictures of entire monuments without a soul in sight. Kinda cool right? Your also more likely to find ‘off peak’ deals with flights, hotels and rental cars if you’re planning to visit Catalonia in December. Win win!
Get in the Festive Spirit
Spain as a whole mostly comprises Catholic Christianity, so Christmas is widely celebrated here. You’ll see plenty of decorations as you stroll the streets during the day and the cities are all lit up with hundreds of Christmas lights at night.
Christmas Markets Aren’t Just for Germans!
And they are everywhere! We explored one in Figueres, one in Olot, and one in Barcelona. We missed and EPIC one in Andorra (due to arriving in town too late) and at least two others in Barelona proper. Guess we’ll have to re-visit Catalonia in December!
Similar to the Christmas markets you see elsewhere, these markets have all the treats and trinkets you’d expect. Locally made candies and fire roasted chestnuts, ornaments and nativity scene figurines, as well as the local version of a mulled wine (Vi Calent). But Catalonia has their own [special] versions of annual holiday traditions…
Curious Catalan Traditions
Caga Tio – the local “Santa” is a log with a face, wearing a hat . This log comes out every December 8th and sets up shop underneath your Christmas tree. Over the coming weeks, the children present it with offerings (ex. dried fruit and nuts) and keep it warm under a blanket until Christmas morning. The hope is that it will deposit (ie. poop out) presents under the tree as a reward for having taken care of it.
Caganer – thisnativity scene character is a curious one. He/she is generally found lurking in a corner of the stable, sort of a ‘Where’s Waldo’ if you will. This individual can generally be found in a squatting position, pooping on the ground. Caganer actually translates to ‘defecator’ – bet you didn’t see that coming! While the history of this shady character is somewhat unknown, it is thought to represent prosperity and fertility of the earth in the New Year…sure!
What to Pack
You’ll want to pack some warm layers as well as a scarf (or two), a tuque (aka knitted hat or beanie) and a rain layer. The first day of our trip was quite rainy, and the rest of the trip was mostly cool, ranging from the high 40Fs to low 60Fs (low teens in Celsius). Of course, this may vary depending on what kind of temperatures you are used no, but this is how we packed for Catalonia in December.
What’s your favourite destination in December?