Aside from food and wine, one of the great things about Europe is CHEAP FLIGHTS within Europe. These are not luxury flights, these are CHEAP FLIGHTS where any resemblance to comfort is purely accidental. But, hey the flight isn’t long, and for about 50 bucks you can fly round trip from Pisa to Barcelona, so hell yeah, we went to Barcelona for a long weekend.
This isn’t a “ Best of Barcelona” list, it’s a boy, did we have fun list...enjoy!
1) Gran Hotel La Florida
Our 30th anniversary celebration in August didn’t go as originally planned (teeming rain at the beach isn’t so much fun), so we decided to make amends and treat ourselves to a night at the Gran Hotel La Florida. It’s way up in the hills, high above Barcelona, with sweeping views of the ocean, the mountains, and the bizarre amusement Parc del Tibidabo. The Tibidabo has these crazy, old fashioned rides, and shares it’s space with a lovely old cathedral. Fancy seeing heavenly mosaics and then ride in a vintage WWII bomber over the city?
Our room faced the sea, and from our rain swept balcony (you’re picking up on the wet anniversary theme here, right? ) you could see forever, whenever the fog lifted.
We had originally planned to eat at the hotel’s signature restaurant, L’Orangerie, but since I’d forgotten to make reservations and it was fully booked, we wound up having cocktails and tapas by the hotel pool bar, which turned out to be a perfect meal. We started with excellent Manhattans...and caught on to the fact that Barcelona is a great cocktail town. This led to a plate of Iberico ham, which is ham crack. I was convinced they had elevated the unctuous oiliness of the ham with olive oil, but no, that divine oil slick was all from the ham itself. Salty, soft, yielding, moist...best of all worlds: ham AND sex on a plate. The crunchy, slightly acidic pan con tomat was the perfect foil for the rich Iberico. The flavor adventure that is Barcelona had begun!
Word of warning: Gran Hotel La Florida is a lovely get-away hotel. If you want to be in the city of Barcelona, this is not a great choice. There are no other restaurants, and other than the Parc and Cathedral, not much else to do.
The next day we descended from our glam hotel to the big city rumble of Barcelona.
We had some time to kill waiting for my sister and her husband to meet us, so what would you do? We went for some tapas at a little joint around the corner. By now we were tuning in to Barcelona hospitality and I was getting into the whole “Hola’!” thing..such a lovely word, so full of smiles and welcome. Lots of little fishy things, stuffed olives, some cheeses and salumi, then when Peter and Nanci arrived the waitress treated us to a bottle of Cava because...well, just because!
The rest of the day we spent gawking at Gaudi’s, because that’s what you do when you are in Barcelona. Of course, all of that walking, leads to...hunger. And there are no shortage of places to tempt you.
2) Xarcuteria La Pineda
We stumbled into “Xarcuteria La Pineda”. It is a veritable palace of salumi and cheese in the old medieval section, off La Rambla.
Our plan was a little wine, a little Iberico, but one thing led to another, which led to another plate of ham, which led to another bottle of wine. You know how those things go when you are falling in love...and we were falling in love with Spanish salumi.
La Pineda closes around dinner time in Barcelona, so we were ejected from the place around 9:00pm and took to wandering the streets again.
Eventually coffee and a little something dolce seemed like a good idea and we stumbled upon this gem of a dessert temple where art and food happily co-exist. Tiny, perfect, jewel sized desserts nestled in their cases, just begging to be tasted. How could we resist? After a sampling of their splendors, we wandered home, satiated by a day of culinary and cultural adventures.
Sunday morning, it was time to get serious about a breakfast place. Choosing a morning coffee bar is very serious business. Our first attempt, close to where we were staying was a disaster...bad coffee and really untouchable pastries. Our second try was a little better. The coffee was decent, and the ‘tortilla’ was hot and good. Tortilla is like a dense egg, potato, onion frittata that I could learn to love. Our third try was golden..we’d found our bar! Great coffee, superb breads, delicious pastries...why hadn’t we found you sooner? Yes, we had three breakfasts. I told you this was serious.
4) Castell de Xativa
Equally important, we were on a mission to find great, not good, paella. We googled around and came across the “Spotted by Locals” website that talked up a paella place called “Castell de Xativa”.
After a fair bit of GPS googling, and a few multi lingual phone calls, we finally found this modest restaurant. It is definitively an old school paella destination. You knew it was good by the smells, by the people coming in with empty pans they were returning and walking out with filled paella pans. Must be a Sunday ritual to have take-out paella. I could get into that.
We opted for three different paellas: seafood, rabbit and one that used vermicelli instead of rice. All different, all delicious, although the vermicelli variation is probably something you need to get used to.
5) Cocktails & Friends
After lots more walking and Gaudi-ing, it was very late afternoon and time for a little somethin-somethin’. I wanted to experience the local ‘vermut’ culture, so we thought we’d give “Cocktails & Friends” a try. They offered a white and red vermouth martini: lots of vermouth, a splash of gin and a slice of fruit. We tried a red, and a white, and couldn’t pick a favorite, as both were light and refreshing. The key seems to be the locally made vermouth, which we found very pleasant. Although some upscale barkeeps we later encountered turned their noses up at the local product.
Part 2....coming up tomorrow!
And a pretty picture to keep you happy until then.