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Like going out for tapas, taking a trip to Spain means you'll get a taste of everything. Travelers love the warmth of the Spanish people, not to mention the warmth of the climate. From the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, in the north, to the Moorish and Catholic traditions in the south, Spain is a fantastic mix of modern and classic.
This summer, I spent a few days in Barcelona. Of course, any trip of mine is always highlighted by the many restaurants I visit. In Barcelona, I ate at these 6 outstanding tapas bars, each offering a different vibe and a different attitude. Bar Mut: Must try: The egg yolk carpaccio and the grilled octopus Tasca el Corral: Must try: Chorizo al diablo (flaming chorizo with agua ardiente), Manchego cheese and cider. Set del Born: Must try: Pata negra ham and the special way they prepare patatas bravas Segons Mercat: Must try: Beef filet with port wine and foie sauce Bubó: Must try: The desserts from Bubó pastry and chocolate shop next door! Tickets tapas bar: Must try: Everything! http://willtravelforfood.com/2011/08/17/tapas-bars-barcelona/
The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, or La Boqueria, is a must-stop for all foodies visiting Barcelona. The covered market consists of more than 200 stalls selling all sorts of seafood, meat, vegetables, and fruits. Those with weak stomachs should avoid the meat section where butchers (many of them women) hawk all sorts of exotic cuts from pig's trotters to tripe. I felt just a tinge of guilt when I ordered a few slices of jamón ibérico and looked down to see these cute piggies starting at me through the glass butcher case.
This is a beautiful sunset on the rooftop of Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera), one of the many buildings by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona. It was said that the ventilation towers inspired some designs for the movie Star Wars.
The Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid is one of the best places to go for a little of everything local, or tapas-style shopping. They are always busy. Whether you are looking for ham or oysters, fresh fruits or desserts, coffee or wine, they have it all in a beautiful setting.
Make sure to sample some hot drinking chocolate in Barcelona. I chose a mug from Cacao Sampaka, a gourmet chocolate shop where you'll find all sorts of delightful dessert concoctions. The rich, velvety drink is nothing like American hot chocolate. It's thick, a bit spicy, and not too sweet. Dunk churros or melindros, a spongy, cake-like cookie traditional to Catalonia. http://eatrepeat.blogspot.com/2012/12/barcelona-kiosko-universal-cacao-sampaka.html
Palau Güell is an early Gaudí masterpiece, designed for his longtime benefactor, Eusebi Güell. The mansion, one of Gaudí's first big projects, was recently restored and re-opened to the public. The centerpiece of the building is the amazing ceiling/skylight and a rooftop full of chimnies. Palau Güell is worth the visit if only to see some of Gaudí's early genius, especially his interest in turning something functional (a chimney!) into a magical work of art. Though less popular than Gaudí's more famous Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and Casa Mila, prepare to wait in line. When I visited, tickets were sold for entrance every fifteen minutes, seemingly based on capacity. Buy your ticket at the window before joining the queue. Audioguides are included in the price so don't forget to pick one up on your way in.
Stumbling around Madrid I came about this crypt down from the Royal Palace. I finally decided to check out this exemplary architecture haven amidst the jamon and shoe shops surrounding its vicinity. This Neo-Romanesque Crypt bears the remains of many in the walls and, if you gander at the image, beneath the elongated rectangles on the floor as well. Boasting organ music in a minor chord, this somewhat eerie chapel holds the 16th century antique portrait of the Virgin of Almudena. This is one destination I recommend putting on your bucket list for Madrid. Entry is €1 so you can't really even call it splurging into a Byzantine-influenced abyss.
Gaudí's work always amazes me. It's hard to believe and remember sometimes that most of his work was actually done in the 1800s! It looks so modern, or what I think of as modern! I was really impressed by the rooftop of La Pedrera! I felt like every and any picture I took there looked incredible. For some reason this building really reminded me of some of the architecture/dwellings in Eastern Turkey and other parts of the Middle East. These structures almost remind me of the fairy chimneys, and the walls of this building also somewhat remind me of something like the dwellings in Mardin. Gaudí uses so many different elements from different cultures/styles, and from nature. Almost everything he has done is somehow based in nature. This building itself looks incredible, but when touring the museum I was shocked to see how many models Gaudí had made. The models themselve seem impossible, and that they would take a lifetime, and yet he made so many....and he of course made the life size scale of his visions as well! I was and will be forever impressed by the work of Gaudí.
The staff of Madrid's Chocolatería San Ginés might be a bit brisk, but they more than make up for it in taste and atmosphere. Over a century old, take a few turns off the main "calle" and follow the pink neon sign to the small elegant interior. You'll be rewarded with a steaming cup of drinking/dipping chocolate and perfectly crisp-yet-delicate churros.
I've seen plenty of images of works by Spain's famous architect Antoni Gaudí, but nothing prepared me for the impact of seeing them in real life. My friend Matt surprised me and led me to Casa Museu Gaudí (the Gaudí House Museum) late at night and had me close my eyes until we arrived in front of the spectacular building. In the dark, it glows like Skeletor's castle or something out of a Tim Burton movie. The museum was the home of the trippy, modernist architect for the last 20 years of his life and was built under his direction. Inside you can still see pieces of furniture the artist designed and walls are covered with his drawings.
As food writer Jonathan Gold "warned" me before we went to San Sebastian, "the pintxos bars in the old town are among the best in Spain." Although you can't feel any sense of competition—the convivial spirit spills over from one bar to the next, and there are certainly enough customers to go around—you can see it and taste it. Every spot crafts its small-plate specialties to perfection, and a few, like Zeruko, above, take their pintxos into otherworldly realms of avant-garde food architecture. For pure satisfaction (amazing warm pintxos cooked to order) and neighborhood ambiance, we kept returning to Astelehena and La Cuchara De San Telmo, both recommended by AFAR contributor Lisa Abend. But nothing beats Zeruko for a visual spectacle and experimentation with ingredients and presentation.
This is Mark Bittman's favourite sandwich ever: a flauta d’ibéric jabugo at Cafe Viena on La Rambla in Barcelona. I can attest to the fact that it is one of the best sandwiches I've ever had! The ham is just delicious and the bread is crispy without being too hard. Just perfect! http://willtravelforfood.com/2011/08/17/tapas-bars-barcelona/
A small sampling of Montaditos at Quimet & Quimet, in the El Poble Sec neighborhood of Barcelona. One of the best spots for Tapas in the city with fine wines and incredible deserts. It can get a bit crowded and for good reason too.
When in Madrid, I highly recommend to visit Circulo de Bellas Artes. The views from the rooftop of the Fine Arts Circle is breath taking. Buy a ticket at the reception, speed up to the roof and stand by the feet of Goddess Minerva. Highly recommended during sunset with a glass of wine in hand.
Madrid's multi-level Mercado San Anton is a sight to be seen. Rows of gorgeous produce, local specialties, Italian deli favorites, briny seafood and locally-farmed meats line the perimeter of each floor, each stall more enticing than the one before it. Even better, its high tables and counters make it well-suited for a quick bite and glass of wine. For a relaxed sit-down meal, head up to the restaurant on the rooftop terrace and finish off the evening with a drink in the lounge.
Barcelona isn't a cheap city to visit, but a stroll down the Passeig de Gracia is absolutely free. Take in a wide angle view of the facades of Casa Battlo and Casa Amattler from across the street, then cross over and gawk at the crazy colors and textures up close. Just a block away Casa Mila is just as spectacular. Hotels on the avenue are pricey, so find a centrally located family run hostal (I liked Hostal Goya) and save your money for some awesome seafood feasts. Try Tapas 24, just steps away.
Great all-day dining option. This place was recommended to us by many, even the bellboy at our hotel. The food is very good and their specialty is tapas. Waiters are friendly enough and it's usually very crowded but there are plenty of seats with high turnover of patrons. This place gets busy after 9pm and for lunch (after 12.30pm), so if you don't want to wait around for a table, go early.
Our hotel was a few feet away from Bubó chocolate and pastry shop and we must've stopped there about 5 or 6 different times while staying in Barcelona. The desserts are outstanding and the chocolate covered salted macadamia nuts make a perfectly delicious souvenirs to bring back home. http://willtravelforfood.com/2011/08/17/tapas-bars-barcelona/
On any visit to Barcelona, a trip through the city's charming Gothic Quarter shouldn't be missed. You'll find everything there from historic buildings and fun shops to entertaining street performers and delicious restaurants like this one. I love how people in Barcelona linger over their meals, enjoying their food and company. Plan to spend a whole day in the Gothic Quarter, and take the time to enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the quarter's many outdoor cafes. Often the best ones are tucked away down small alleyways, so make sure not to overlook these off-the-beaten-path cafes - they're delicious.
As you enter Barcelona's famous Mercat de Sant Josep de La Boqueria from La Rambla, one of the first stalls you encounter is Tocineria Marcos, purveyors of Iberico ham (upper left in photo) and a stunning array of other cured, cooked, and fresh meats. It's just one of the dazzling displays of delicacies in this, the most famous of Barcelona's 40 or so food markets. (Another favorite, and slightly less touristed, is the beautifully remodeled Mercat de Santa Caterina, short walk away.) La Boqueria dates back to 1217; a pig market was conducted here starting in 1470; and the current metal roof was built in 1914. There's no better place to shop for a taste of Catalan culture.
It seems like just about everywhere you wander in Granada, Spain—from bustling plazas to the winding alleyways of the Albaicin—you come across murals by local legend, El Nino de Las Pinturas. Most are social commentaries depicting people in highly saturated colors, such as this mural asking "Quien juega con nuestras hijos?" or "Who's playing with our kids?"
The churros are made at a nearby churrería and delivered hot, and the chocolate is divine, but at Granja La Pallaresa, the house speciality is freshly whipped nata (thick cream). Order un suizo here. Carrer de Petritxol 11, Barcelona, 34/93-302-2036 Photo by Flickr user chrisoakley. This appeared in the June/July 2014 issue. Learn more about Spain's chocolate and churro culture.
On a warm summer afternoon my daughters and I threaded our way through the cool array of courtyards, elaborately tiled chambers and sculpted gardens of the Alcázar, the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.
We knew we’d be eating and drinking our way through Barcelona. And, with relatively brief interruptions to take in the mind-bending exhibitions at the Picasso and Miro museums, and to be equally astonished by Gaudi’s and modernisme’s stamp on the city, that’s exactly what we did for a week in October. (Our week was also broken up by a two-day jaunt to San Sebastian. But we stayed true to our modus operandi as we ate and drank our way through that beguiling Basque city as well.) We had expected to make a steady diet of tapas and vino tinto (red wine, or vi negre in Catalan), bocadillos and tinto, and, in San Sebastian, pintxos and tinto. What we didn’t expect was to discover a wine bar unlike anything we’ve encountered in northern California and to spend an evening there sipping vino (we stuck to our tinto regimen) drawn from a cellar holding more than 3,500 bottles from around the world. We were tipped to Monvínic by Jeff Koehler, a food writer (Rice, Pasta, Couscous) and occasional walking-tour guide who lives in Barcelona. Jeff had been spot-on with his recommendations, taking us to the best place to dip churros into chocolate and whipped cream (Granja La Pallaresa), as well as the tiny shop where virtually all the churros are made for the local cafés; making sure we ate lunch at the tiny Pinotxo tapas bar in the La Boqueria on La Rambla; and suggesting we immerse ourselves in the old-school atmosphere and Menorcan gin and tonics at the El Floridita–like bar called Boadas. Jeff sent me a link to writer Jay McInerney’s 2010 Wall Street Journal blog post, which asked, “The Best Wine Bar in the World?” I’m certainly not the one to give that title to Monvínic. For one thing, the service was uneven: one sommelier provided copious details about the unusual and reasonably priced Spanish reds we sampled by the half-glass; another delivered a different round with nary a word nor smile. However, Monvínic’s sleek interior, novel innovations (you browse the wine list on an iPad-like tablet; you can indulge a passion for vinology in the impressive research library), and wide range of wines and Catalan cuisine (we shared a cheese platter and an elegant cod dish from the wine bar menu; the full-scale restaurant in back seems well worth a visit) added up to another one-of-a-kind experience in a city bursting at seams with them. C/ Diputació, 249, Barcelona. +34 932 72 61 87, monvinic.com
Valencia is famous for its horchata, or tiger nut milk, and Llinares Ice Cream serves a respectable version of the drink. But the daring come for outlandish ice cream flavors, from glazed doughnut to potato omelet and fresh anchovies in vinegar. Plaza de la Reina 6, 34/96-391-7466; Calle Archiduque Carlos 17, 34/ 96-384-5592. Photo by Jassy-50.
Located a short drive out of Barcelona, Montserrat Monastery is a must see while in Barcelona. Try the honey and fig cakes. There are many tour operators that offer this day trip from Barcelona. Take your time and hike some of the trails. The views are incredible!
One of the biggest flea markets that I have ever been to is located in Madrid, Spain. El Rastro is an old neighborhood that is teeming with activity, but the place really comes alive on Sunday mornings for the weekly flea market. You can buy just about anything that you can think of here. If you're not in a shopping mood however, its great for browsing, photographing and even finding some fantastic Spanish food to enjoy while you breathe in the market's atmosphere.
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