27 Feb Food Travel: Barcelona, Montserrat and Tarragona
Barcelona is my favorite city for food, culture and architecture. Hugging the Mediterranean with an energy you can palpate, it is also the perfect hub for exploring surrounding villages and sights once you have enjoyed all that it has to offer. Barcelona has been the hottest destination for the last couple of years and it is easy to see why. Fortunately I have the go to place to stay in a great apartment (with recently remodeled kitchen and bathroom) rented out by former Texan, Linda Fernandez. Such a considerate person, I highly recommend her centrally located rental.
The Spanish take food very seriously and their reverence for quality is admirable. Delicious seafood abounds so you can’t go to Barcelona without enjoying their fresh seafood and you can’t forget to have Jamón. I love rubbing elbows with locals in little tapas bars and even splurging a bit with visits to some of the best known restaurants in Spain.
Each visit to Barcelona means a stop at Tapas 24, a consistent favorite. During my last visit, I enjoyed wonderful jamón and a beautiful stracciatella dish. Typically crowded with tourist and locals, my last visit there was actually very serene and I had a chance to chat with our server about places to eat. I had come prepared with my own list of restaurants, but it was great to get a local perspective. Tapas 24 is centrally located at 269 Calle Diputació.
This go round, I was able to snag reservation to Tickets and Bodega 1900, two well known concepts by Albert Adria, brother of Ferran Adria of elBulli fame. Tapas 1900 is a traditional tapas bar with exceptional service and food. From the vermouth kicking off our dinner to the tasty bites including jamon, pan con tomate, oysters and finally steak, it was all very traditional and good. The following day I headed back to the same area of town and enjoyed a chef’s tasting menu at Tickets consisting of a continuous parade of molecular gastronomy gems. Many of the dishes were first developed for elBulli, so their tweaks for Tickets give the rest of us a chance to sample that former 3-star menu, even if a bit after the fact.
Least you think dining was the only thing on my vacation plan, once I had a couple of days of Barcelona under my belt, I decided to head out of town. A couple of side trips that I would recommend include Montserrat and Tarragona.
Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey is a Benedictine abbey in the mountains of Montserrat founded in the 10th century and still functioning today. Located 30 miles west of Barcelona, the abbey sits atop the mountains (at 4,000 feet) with beautiful views. You can get to it via train or do as we did, rent a car and take the scenic drive. The cable car ride from the parking lot to the abbey is worth the trip alone. Don’t miss the basilica and museum housing works by El Greco, Dali and Picasso.
South of Barcelona, Tarragona is a bit of a port town featuring ancient ruins. The Amphitéâtre Romà is a 2nd century arena facing the Mediterranean that is the focal point of the city. The historic center is filled with small bars and restaurants. I dined at one of the highest rated restaurants, Llunanova. Seating locals at all six of their tables and with prices too low to believe, the eatery features local ingredients. My dinner there was the best meal I had on the trip. The standout was a stewed beef dish crowned with mushrooms and onions that was incredible.
One of my favorite afternoons was driving just south of Barcelona to Cavas Emendis. I met with winery owners Jordi Ventosa Abadal and Anna Valles Batlle and they were generous to take time out of their family dinner to give me a tour of their facility. We have offered their delicious rosé cava at Bistro Menil and were very pleased to sample some of their other delicous wines. They gave me a bit of background on their winery and history of their business that goes back to Anna’s family lands and their transformation from grape growers to wine producers.
Headed back to Barcelona, I already had my last stop planned. To me, no other landmark in Barcelona captures my design imagination as does the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, the basilica designed and begun by Antoni Gaudi. I always marvel that the basilica was begun in 1882 with construction continuing to this day. It had been three years since my last visit and I had been reading about how technology had really accelerated the pace of construction. To me, the inside is complete and absolutely incredible. The otherworldly appearance of the basilica is stunning. You wonder at the genius of Mr. Gaudi. This is a can’t miss site for the entire family and the perfect stop before heading out of beautiful Barcelona.
With another Barcelona trip behind me, I am waiting eagerly for my next. It is no wonder Barcelona has surpassed Paris as the city to visit with the warmer weather and always friendly locals. Great food and beautiful surrounding villages add to the attraction. Do visit when you get a chance. Cheers!