Monday, 31 August 2015

Barcelona & Sitges. Spain. Travel feature

Barcelona is Spain's second largest city after Madrid, an enclave of Catalan Culture and a world apart from the rest of Spain, here both Spanish and Catalan are widely spoken. This is a city where Culture, Architecture and Gastronomy makes it one of the most attractive cities in the world; A city that is always on the move and ever changing, so there is always new things to discover. Barcelona has certainly reinvented itself since hosting the 1992 Olympics, it is now a cultural mecca and gastronomic capital.
For me apart from the obvious touristic attractions , there are no better ways in getting to know a city and it's people than through it's Cuisine and markets and Barcelona has plenty to offer on both fronts.
Probably best known for the fantastic architecture of Antonio Gaudi, the genius of Catalan modernism, so we started our trip in doing just that; Discovering the works of Gaudi, whose imprints  are scattered all around the city, leaving the rest of our trip for exploring and immersing ourselves into the life of the city through food.

We booked an Open top Bus tour, with hop on- hop off options, hence we were at liberty to spend whatever time that suited us, in any of the locations we chose.
Our first port of call was The Sagrada Familia ; A curiously and absolutely unique church in the most extraordinary interpretation of Spanish late Gothic architecture. You cannot but be amazed by the sheer size of it's Spires along with it's staggering and imposing details. It will leave you dizzy. The basilica is an unfinished masterpiece and is due to be completed in 2026. While Gaudi started it, most of the sculptures you see today were completed by Josep Maria Subirachs.

Our next stop was Park Guell ; No other park will amaze you quite as much, it is a complete fairy tale. Take a stroll thru this modernist park and discover the multicoloured mosaic salamander, the unique shapes of the serpentine bench, the organic shapes of the alcoves and it's terraced areas with wonderful views of the city below. An enchanting garden.

Returning towards the city centre, just off the Passeig de Garcia is Casa Mila also known as la Perdera . Check out the wrought ironwork of the balconies . On Passeig de Garcia, you will also be spoiled for elegant shopping, from designer boutiques, Santa Eulalia department store and the avant garde Vincon.
Just a stone throw away is Casa Batllo ; This modernist and surreal building is entirely made of curves and irregularities, all flowing and moulded in stone-work brightly decorated with a mosaic of broken tiles and it's dragon skin like roof top. It is home to the Gaudi Museum.

Just walking around, you will come across various surrealistic examples of Gaudi's work throughout the city including amazing stained glass, ceramics, wrought iron works and carpentry .
We left the Picasso museum and the Fundacion Joan Miro for another visit and as an excuse to return very soon.

While not my favourite place,I would recommend having a look at La Boqueria market.It is always buzzing anytime of the day. Explore the market at your leisure, take a walk to La Rambla de Catalunya and come back here for lunch.The stalls at la Boqueria dazzle with colour, variety and life, from the freshest seafood, meats and Catalan produce. Two places comes to mind , if there is any free space that is, El Quim , located right in the middle of the market, here Chef Quim Marquez serves Tapas to guests around the bar, Favourites here were Caramelised foie gras, Mezcla de Setas (wild mushrooms), Chipirones (baby squid) & Boquerones (marinated anchovies).
The other is Bar Pinotxo, here, members of the Bayen family have been preparing tapas for their faithful clientele for over 60 years. Today Chef Albert Asin is at the helm and continues in the tradition. Favourites here are Garbanzos con butifarra negra (chickpeas with black pudding), Sardinas en escabecheCuttlefish in garlic.
But of course if you eat in the city centre or tourist places, you will pay the price for it as in everywhere else, so for traditional tapas and local specialities, head for Poble Sec, an old neighbourhood of narrow streets , filled with bars and cafés, an area that is up and coming. Here, visit and discover traditional Tapas at Bar Seco or at Quimet y Quimet.

For a treat, head to the more exclusive Tickets and 41degrees, the Michelin *restaurants ran by Albert Adria, the brother of the famous Chef Ferran Adria of El Bulli. At Tickets, tapas are innovative and thought provoking. It is restrained, minimalist, playful but most of all, it is focused on pure clean flavours. This is just not a meal, it is a show. Presentation of each dish is spectacular, service is exceptional, knowledgeable, slick and enthusiastic. In fact, some of the dishes are actually assembled in front of you at your table.Everything was superb; Get ready to taste the Liquid olives, Home salted tuna belly painted with Iberico cured ham fat, Razor calms with ginger oilPescaito fritoOysters and it's pearl, the deconstructed Peach Melba and so many more .

It was rather late when we concluded this most amazing culinary experience and we were invited to visit the very sophisticated cocktail bar next door 41 c degrees, Wow,the place was shimmering and glamorous and this is Mixology at it's finest. Needless to say , we were one of the last ones to leave the place.

Other restaurants we visited  were Tragaluz , Passeig de la Conception, just off the Diagonal. The restaurant is upstairs from the Sushi/Japanese bar. The cuisine here is more traditional yet modern , Here do try the Roast suckling pig, Beef carpaccio & Tuna steaks. Boasting a huge skylight as it's focus point, the ambiance was very pleasant and service was excellent. It was buzzy and seems to be a hot favourite with locals and tourists alike.

Miguelitos, close to the refined Rambla de Catalunya is perfect for a romantic tete a tete. Food is served here in either a spacious tapas bar or a contemporary restaurant setting. Do dress up as this place is very stylish. Dishes to try here are The Oxtail in red wine, the House Gazpacho,& Grilled octopus in red pepper oil. Each dish is served with panache and the service is impeccable.

With so many things to do and on offer, it is quite easy to forget that Barcelona has a fantastic beach as well,  but alas it gets very crowded so head out to Sitges, a small coastal town southwest of Barcelona, renowned worldwide for its film festival and often referred to as the Saint Tropez of Spain.

A remarkably attractive town with lots of historic buildings and very interesting people sharing a cultured ambiance & great stretches of sandy beaches.

Should you be in Sitges, restaurants not to be missed are Al Fresco, on carrer de Pau, by far one of the best.
Do try the Salad of Summer roasted vegetables with  miso dressing

Baked summer fruits & yoghurt icecream.

Set in a small terraced garden, Patrizia the manager is enchanting and very knowledgeable while providing a professional & impeccable service.

La Fragata, nestled beside the church on the seafront is very popular both with visitors and locals alike and offers a more sophisticated and refined menu. Here you must try the Scallops and sweet potato

and the Hake with baby squid &crispy leeks.

Donosteria on Calle Mayor, for your fix of Tapas.

But one of my all time favourite is Costa Dorada, a family run fish restaurant on Playa San Sebastian where the very talented Chef Joan Vidal is happy to cook you the freshest seafood on this side of the Catalan coast.

 Maria, the manager is a gem, ask for the Carpaccio de Atun with japanese dressing

Clams sautee in wine, garlic & herbes or the Turbina.

Not to be missed is the house speciality of Espuma de Crema de Catalan. To say that this dessert
was good is an understatement, it was insanely divine. So light, we were tempted to go back for more every single day. Well, we did return a few times !

If you are looking for a place to stay ; I would give the Award winning Avenida Sofia Boutique Hotel & Spa a miss. It is mutton dressed as lamb. While the decor is contemporary chic & the rooms elegantly decorated, it offers no privacy at all for the occupants as the bathroom is encased in glass. The windows only open on the inside,as none of the rooms have balconies, so, should you wish to open them, as you would in a hot climate, the curtains would need to drawn, leaving you exposed to the buildings opposite as the windows are made of  glass from floor to ceiling.
The Sky bar & pool area, Well it is far from what I would call a pool, rather a large bath tub or lit up pond !!!
The breakfast buffet was another travesty and by far the worst I have ever had. Dreary bits of meat, gellified scrambled eggs and fried eggs floundered about like the aftermath you would see on a beach after a hurricane. Slivers of cold meat & cheeses were left exposed to the elements and wilted in the morning sun and heat.
Thank God,for fresh fruits , a Nespresso machine and great views.

For half the price , try the 3 ***Hotel Capri across the road, it is very private,comfortable and there are rooms with balconies and a proper swimming pool.

Or for something more upmarket, the 4 ****Hotel Estella del Arte on the Sitges Marina would be my choice, offering rooms with a seaview , pool and a breakfast buffet fit for a king. Furthermore , here you can see the works of great Spanish artist on display from Josep Maria Subirachs , Puigmartin & Dali

Barcelona is a fabulous and great city and Stiges a lovely spot and I must say two of my favourites.

If you haven't been , GO because you are missing on something very special.

©2012-2015;Robert Jacob;jacob'scrackers;jacobscrackers9; All rights reserved.

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