Charming Old Towns and Picturesque Villages near Barcelona

Give yourself a break from Barcelona’s noise and traffic and travel to another time and place: life as lived in Catalonia’s smaller villages and historic old towns. Stroll medieval bridges, hike around stone houses that hang onto green hills for dear life, and enjoy a breather from the crowded streets of Barcelona. Foodies can shop in tiny artisan shops for charcuterie, cheeses and bread or eat traditional and nouvelle cuisine made from seasonal and locally sourced ingredients

17850 Besalú, Girona, Spain
A short trip from Barcelona via bus or car, explore Besalú's medieval old town. Cross its restored 11th century bridge into a picturesque village with cobblestone streets. Shop for handmade trinkets or stop off for a meal or a drink in bars and restaurants offering traditional Catalan fare. While you’re there, be sure to stop off and see Besalú's historic synagogue and Jewish ritual baths.
08569 Rupit, Barcelona, Spain
In Rupit, Stone cottages with orangey-red terracotta roofs perch around a stream, half-hidden by the mountainous green hills. An hour and a half drive from Barcelona, walk around this beautiful, if tiny village (approximately 340 residents). Pose for pictures in the dovetailed doorway of the Smithy, and carefully cross its hanging wooden bridge, but remember, it will only support the weight of 10 people at a time. For sweeping views of the village, hike to St. Joan de Fàbregues, a Romanesque building perched on a hill.
La Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
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 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.
Carrer de Querol, 21, 17520 Puigcerdà, Girona, Spain
Oriol, the chef and owner, will welcome you with a beaming smile. Your wallet will thank you because an afternoon of wine and cheese tasting will not break the bank. Close to the border of France, in the small town of Puigcerdà, Tap de Suro is a wine bar that offers more food than is normal. It’s a shop that sells wine by the bottle, by the glass, by perhaps any quantity you need to enjoy the bounty of Spain‘s grapes. But cheeses from all over the country and a variety of marmalades as well as cured meats and pan con tomate can all accompany wine tasting until it becomes hard to choose what is the best part of a visit to this small shop on a small side street. Cork walls and deep wood benches are warm and inviting, the patrons even more so -- don’t plan to be in and out quickly! After all, that would not be the Spanish or French way!
Plaça del Roser, 1, 17531 Gombrèn, Girona, Spain
Michelin-star chef, and virtually self-taught man, Francesc Rovira’s cafe and restaurant in sleepy Gombrèn is not centrally located for gastronomy enthusiasts to find. Far from Barcelona, but not too far to drive for a day, nestled in the Pyrenees - it is worth its own adventure. Rovira is one of many chefs who cooks with local ingredients and because mushrooms are so important to the region he cooks, mushrooms are one of his most well used ingredients. From the nearby forest at Montgrony he sources fungi in varying colors, shapes and sizes - only purchasing what he cannot pick himself because he is now known for the way he uses this ingredient. If mushrooms aren’t your thing, venture to Fonda Xesc anyway. The pumpkin soup with elderberry ice cream was a revelation in my mouth and the wine pairings were some of the best I’ve ever experienced. There’s no pretention in Rovira’s restaurant, only very good gastronomy.
Pl. Major, 28, 17468 Orfes, Girona, Spain
I took one bite and about fell off my chair. This was the creamiest, most flavorful onion dish I had ever tried. I found myself taking smaller and smaller bites so that I could somehow make it last longer. In a tiny little town barely found on the map in Costa Brava I had one of my best eating experiences in Spain. If Spain was a Russian stacking doll it would be Spain, Catalonia, Costa Brava, Vilademuls, Orfes as the tiny little doll stacked deep within. I looked at my piece of paper I had scribbled on – it read “La Barretina – ask for Albert”. I was staying this week at the nearby villa, Can Grau. Richard, who runs Charming Villas urged me to come to Restaurant La Barrentina in Orfes to try the hearty food this region is known for. After meeting the chef, Albert, I requested that he bring me his favorite dishes on the menu. Soon I had delicious plates of onion cake, duck with orange sauce, and a poached apple tart placed in front of me. The onion cake looked like a quiche to me. It was silky smooth in the middle (made from onion, egg, and cream) with two different types of caramelized onions on the side. All of the food was shockingly good, but the atmosphere of this small town restaurant and the kindness of Albert made it even better. The experience reminded me how important it is to visit the small villages and lesser known areas of a region. More Information:
Would-be ghost-hunters will enjoy a tour of this abandoned village in Tarragona province a little over an hour’s drive from Barcelona. Left completely deserted after the end of the Spanish Civil War, crumbling homes, a church in ruins, and empty tombs are overgrown with weeds and brush in this isolated village located a half hour hike from the nearest paved road. While there have been rumors of strange goings-on for years, after a dead body turned up on the scene in the early nineties, Marmellar became an urban legend of sorts.
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