Catalonia: Wind of change (National Geographic)
The intensification of a long-held appetite for independence means these are interesting times for Catalonia. A journey through this proud corner of Spain, from snowy peaks to sandy shores, reveals a defiant, charismatic spirit.
Gavin Haines.- Tramuntana sighs softly, before planting an icy kiss on my cheek. She’s playing coy today, but her mood is unpredictable. Sometimes she’s powerful and persistent, other times she’s conspicuous only by her absence. She comes from France and has a hard-earned reputation across Catalonia for her tumultuous temperament. And she’s as old as the hills. In fact, in some ways, she is the hills; her enduring strength has helped sculpt the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees for millennia. Suffice to say few winds carry with them such romanticism.
Catalonia’s appetite for independence is almost as old as the legend of Tramuntana, the north wind. Annexed by Spain in 1714, during the War of Succession, this forced marriage has been rocky ever since and the desire for divorce has never been stronger. In 2014, in fact, Catalonia held a de facto referendum on independence, in which 80% of voters chose to leave this unhappy union. Miffed Madrid is having none of it, as it did when the Basque Country tried to break free from Spain. But the Catalan government says it will push through independence next year. How they’ll do this nobody knows, but the prospect of a potentially messy breakup hangs in the air.
As with all breakups, it’s important to get some perspective — and what better place to do that than at the Boí Taüll Resort in the Spanish Pyrenees. You can get a lot of perspective up here, in this sky-scraping ski resort, where I watch snowy massifs glisten in the morning sun and dark clouds linger ominously on the horizon.
The Catalans are famously proud of their little corner of northeast Spain, which many of them actually wish wasn’t in Spain. And they’ll remind anyone who listens that in Catalonia you can ski down snowy slopes in the morning and scorch on sandy shores in the afternoon. But what really appeals about the journey from the Pyrenees to the Costa Brava is the opportunity it offers me to decipher as much as I can about the Catalan character along the way.
My trip begins in a chairlift, which glides silently above Boí Taüll’s powdery slopes. Below me, colourful figures carve through fresh snow, while above dark clouds surrender more of the white stuff. Topping out at 9,025ft, Boí Taüll remains largely overlooked by foreign skiers. And the Catalans (and Spanish) are probably keen to keep it that way, as they currently have the undulating slopes of this bijou resort to themselves.
“It’s not busy and the snow is perfect,” coos Luis Arnedo, my ski guide. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about this place — I love it here.”
Luis is from (whisper it) Rioja and admits to feeling, well, like a bit of foreigner in Catalonia. “It’s like a different country,” he says. “They have their own language, Catalan, which I’ve had to learn.”
Luis hopes Spain and Catalonia bury the hatchet and stay together, but understands why their relationship has become strained. “It’s more expensive to live here than the rest of Spain because the taxes are higher,” he sighs, hopping off the chairlift.
Luis is right, and some Catalans are aggrieved, complaining that their region, the powerhouse of the country’s economy, is subsidising the rest of Spain. Fair or not, it’s clear that, as with many relationships, money is helping to break this one apart.
Full original article: http://www.natgeotraveller.co.uk/destinations/europe/spain/catalonia-wind-change/