Experience A Taste of Spain, Unique Catalonia in September 2018 starting in Barcelona
Here is an insight into where we go and a bucket-list of the top places we visit in each city, what to look out for on your free days, the best bites we will be trying along the way and tastes not to be missed. Let’s start with Barcelona as it is our first destination.
Where we go
Barcelona, the capital and largest city of Catalonia, with a population of about 6 million including the city and outer suburban regions sits as one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. Barcelona was founded as a Roman city, in the Middle Ages where it became the capital of the County of Barcelona. After merging with the Kingdom of Aragon, Barcelona continued to be an important city in the Crown of Aragon as an economic and administrative centre of this Crown and the capital of the Principality of Catalonia. Barcelona has a rich cultural heritage and is today not only an important cultural centre but also renowned architecturally with the works of Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner, which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Places we visit
Like many of Barcelona’s architectural feats, La Sagrada Família was and continues to be, controversial. For years scholars have debated whether engineers strayed too far from architect Antoni Gaudí’s original vision (he died when just a quarter of the project had been realized). And while many citizens deem La Sagrada Família the greatest achievement of Catalan building, others view the structure as a glaring, expensive parody of it. Academic bickering aside, it’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of this place, which, pending completion in 2026 after 150 years of construction, will be the tallest religious building in Europe. Fusing Gothic and Art Nouveau styles in unprecedented ways, the basilica also draws on nature as a central inspiration. The hyperboloids, bright colours, and unconventional animal representations (e.g., chameleons, turtles, pelicans) epitomize Gaudí’s belief that nature and the divine were inextricably linked. Insider tip: Lines here are notoriously long, so it’s advisable to purchase tickets in advance.
No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a stroll through Las Ramblas, the wide, shady boulevard that runs through the heart of the city from Plaça de Catalunya down to Port Vell. Whether you’re taking in a street performance, ambling beneath the trees, or people-watching from a terrace, there’s never a dull moment here. To get a bird’s-eye view of all the action, finish your Ramblas route at the 18th-story mirador at Columbus Monument for panoramic views of the city and sea. Just be sure to watch your wallet around these parts: this is pickpocket central.
**Cava and Vermouth
Prosecco and other budget sparklers rely on industrial carbonization to make their wines bubble. But Catalan cava, like fine champagne, gets its effervescence and complexity from bottle fermentation. You can taste some of the region’s best bubblies at La Vinya del Senyor, a cozy, understated restaurant with several by-the-glass boutique cavas to choose from. If you’re lucky enough to snag a table on the plaça, you’ll be rewarded with views of Santa María del Mar’s 14th-century façade.
On sunny weekend afternoons, neighborhood bars fill up with locals out to fer el vermut, the Catalan ritual of catching up with friends over a few dainty glasses of this aromatic, garnet-red aperitif, customarily garnished with an orange slice and an olive. Barcelona’s best vermouth bars, like Morro Fi, blend their own vermouths by infusing fortified wine with any range of botanicals, but in a pinch, the bottled stuff is perfectly passable, too (just ask the bartender for a quality Catalan brand such as Vermut Yzaguirre).
Pablo Picasso may have hailed from Málaga in the south of Spain, but he chose Barcelona, the city where he apprenticed as a young artist, as the location for his namesake museum. Housing 4,251 of Picasso’s early works in sculpture, paint, and engraving, it’s a virtually complete representation of his portfolio all the way up to the Blue Period. Picasso’s art isn’t the only draw at Museu Picasso, though; the five adjoining 13th and 14th century residences that comprise the museum are precious in their own right.
A gastronomic mecca that attracts more than 45,000 visitors a day, La Boqueria may be the most famous food market in the world, and for good reason. Its endless stalls entice shoppers with abundant displays of the region’s finest cheeses, charcuterie, seafood, and produce. Some vendors have adapted over time to tourists’ demands, but for a taste of how things were at La Boqueria way back when, sidle up to the bar at Pinotxo, where quick-witted 75-year-old Joan Bayén (“Juanito” for the locals) has been churning out hearty country fare like cigrons amb botifarra negre (stewed chickpeas with black pudding) and calamarcets amb mongetes (tender baby squid and white beans) for a half a century.
No place on earth can hold a candle to Barri Gòtic when it comes to concentration and breadth of Gothic architecture. This is the most ancient part of the city, where labyrinthine streets empty into medieval plaças. Yet amid all the antiquity, Barri Gòtic boasts some of the city’s best shopping. Handmade espadrilles, or alpargatas as they’re known in Spain, make cheery, affordable souvenirs; find them at La Manual Alpagatera, worth a visit if only to marvel at the floor-to-ceiling stacks of sandals available in every hue and style. For rarer finds, wake up early on a Sunday morning to explore the Mercat Gòtic, where you can treasure hunt for antiques and, if luck strikes, witness a traditional Catalan dance on the plaça called the “Sardana.”
**Castle of Muntjuic and El Mirador del Alcalde
The Mirador de l’Alcalde is a belvedere overlooking the sea and the city which boasts spectacular 180º panoramic views. Dotted here and there, the tallest, best-known landmarks rise up among the densely built-up city, while the sea, the harbour and beaches can be viewed with admiration and respect. The Mirador was designed by Joan Josep Tharrats, and opened in 1969 it comprises of a series of terraces set out on different levels which feature a series of attractive gardens and ornamental fountains. A curious mosaic made from shards of recycled glass demarcates the different levels of the belvedere. At the top, there is a cooling fountain designed by Carles Buigas. There are also two noteworthy sculptures: L’Homenatge a Barcelona (Tribute to Barcelona) by the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs, and the popular Sardana, by Josep Cañas.