Autonomous Community Spotlight: La Rioja

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain.

spain collageI would have been totally clueless about La Rioja unless it was for a Spain-born love of red wine and Liz Carlson’s Young Adventuress blog. And without knowing it, I may have saved some of the best of Spain for last.

Name: La Rioja 

Population: 322,000

La Rioja Collage

Provinces: Just one, with the administrative capital located in Logroño.

When: 17th of 17, December 2012

About La Rioja: Despite having the smallest population in all of Spain, this region packs a lot of punch worldwide because of its wine. Reds, whites and rosés – many of which are celebrated – are manufactured from grapes grown in the vineyards that spain La Rioja and the southern end of the Álava province in País Vasco.

This area was once part of the Roman kingdom of Hispania Tarraconensis, based in modern-day Tarragona. Given its positions between kingdom kingpins like Aragón and León, the area was hotly disputed by even smaller dukedoms, but the Moorish Invasion of 711 meant that La Rioja was soon grouped into the Al-Andalus kingdom.

wine branches in la rioja

After Sancho the Wise swooped in during the early 9th Century of the Reconquista, he claimed the land for the Kingdom of León. After a bitter feud against the Kings of Pamplona-Navarra, La Rioja was given independence as the Kingdom of Viguera before being swallowed up by Pamplona once more.

The region continued to be jockeyed between Pamplona, Aragón, and the soon-united Castilla y León as part of both Soria and Burgos before a new administrative district was formed in 1822 by the Regio reform.

La Rioja got its modern name in 1982 when the Spanish Constitution was passed into law and Autonomous Communities were given more self-governance. The province stands for more than just their cash cow, but for a place where wine is an integral part of the culture.

Oh, and dinosaur footprints have been found here, so toma.

Must-sees: It should come as no surprise that wine is the main attraction in this tiny autonomía. More than 14,000 vineyards and 150 wineries fills the 75 square miles of the Denominación de Origen, whose lifeblood is the snaking Ebro River.

spanish wine

The earliest reference to wine in La Rioja is dated in the late 9th Century, and thanks to the continental Mediterranean climate and a series of peaks and valleys that protect the vineyards from the wind, several highly rated wines have been produced here. The most common grape varieties are tempranillo and garnacha, and the technique of aging wine in oak barrels for at least one year sets wines apart from other Spanish DOs.

You can visit a number of the wineries in La Rioja, particularly in the Álava province and outside of Logroño. We stuck to just a few – Bodegas Darien on the eastern edge of the city, Marqués de Riscal in Eltziego, Laguardia and its underground medieval aging caverns (as well as trippy Bodegas Ysisos) and romantic Haro.

Marques de Riscal winery in Eltziego

Our wine tasting trips were pre-booked and included a guided tour and several tastings afterwards. There are a few bodegas within walking distance of town, as well.

Logroño has a definite small-city feel and served as an excellent home base. We skipped the old town’s few historic sites and instead focused our time on pinchos heaven: Calle Laurel (and its lesser-known counterpart, Calle San Juan). Pinchos are northern Spain’s answer to tapas: simply order a glass of wine and a single serving of food served atop bread, and within a few bars, you’ll be stumbling down the “Path of Elephants.”

tortilla at bar sebas

If you can rent a car, get out of town: Haro and Laguardia are beautifully preserved towns, and a visit to the monasteries of Yuso and Suso means you can get your Spanish nerd on: the first written records of Castillian Spanish are housed here! Apart from that, Roman ruins are scattered around the province and each of the 174 villages seem to have their own flair.

I’m all for Spanish public transportation, but La Rioja is one place to rent a car (so long as you’re not imbibing!).

The town of Assa, La Rioja

A fair number of towns in La Rioja – notably Logroño, Cenicero, Nájera and Santo Domingo de la Calzada – lie on the pilgrim route to Santiago, so expect to run into pilgrims and arrows

My take: Admittedly, my four-day trip to Rioja has a lot of speed bumps. Getting ticketed by cops! Having my cell phone robbed! SO MUCH SPILT WINE! But I loved our venture north, and my companions and I often talk about it being the last weekend hurrah before we got into the heavy adult stuff. 

Wine Tasting at Bodegas Darien

Apart from indulging on Calle Laurel and in little blips of wine towns, we had a chance to not focus on ticking off historical sites or racing to see museums before closing time.

I’ve got a preliminary plan to drive up to Madrid in May and pick up a friend so we can spend a long weekend in Logroño together. After all, eat, drink and be merry!

Have you ever been to La Rioja? What do you like (or not) about it?

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria | Castilla y León | Castilla-La Mancha | Cataluña | Extremadura | Galicia

Photo Post: the Chirigotas of the Carnavales de Cádiz

How to do the Carnavales de Cadiz

Pá qué quieren ir ha Chipiona shi aquí tenemoh Caí?

Two more beers and a plate of chicharrones were slammed down in front of us as the bar keep expressed exasperation. Why would anyone want to head to nearby Chipiona if the peninsula’s best Carnival celebration were right here in Cádiz?

We’d braved an overcast, misty day to head to San Fernando for the Novio’s wedding tuxedo the morning, and the fried fish and carnavales celebration were calling his name. 

A view of the bay of Cadiz

Entering the barrio de Santa María just north of the old city walls, there were few signs of debauchery and partygoers. I myself have been to the nighttime festivities of the Carnavales de Cádiz twice. Two booze-soaked nights where I stepped in puddles of urine and around broken glass.

Ah, youth.

When the Novio suggested making a day trip to see a friend of his and see the famed chirigotas, I was in. Not that I didn’t have fond memories of botellones and ridiculous children’s costumes, of course.

The Plaza del Ayuntamiento, one I’d seen so full of drunk people and bottles of San David, was bright in the midday sun. As we’d drank our beers, the mist had rolled off of one side of the Atlantic and over the Bahía Sur, passing Cádiz’s skinny land mass in the time it had taken to drink two cervezas

We’d met Jorge in the tangle of streets in the old town. Cádiz is one of Europe’s largest cities, and thus there is little rhyme or reason to the layout of the peninsula. Long on one side, short on the other, I was instantly turned around in the colonial-style pedestrian streets.

Streets of Cádiz old town

Lunch was at trendy La Candelaria, owned by a far-flung relative of Jorge’s. In this city of water and industry, it sees that families have been here as long as Hercules himself, and nearly everyone who walked into the bar over our long lunch knew one another.  

But we came for more than atún rojo en tempura and never-ending glasses of wine (the good stuff, not the plastic bottle stuff). We came for the chirigotas and costumes. 

The origins of carnival celebrations worldwide are rooted in Christian tradition. Celebrated each year just before Lent, believers often used this six-week period to refrain from life’s excesses. Carnaval, a play on the Latin words ‘carne’ for meat and ‘vale’ for farewell, is a last-ditch effort to eat, drink and be merry/drunk before Lent begins. I’d taken that advice to heart all of those years ago, but today would be a far lighter – I’d volunteered to drive home.

Costumes are traditionally worn, and Cádiz’s celebration – one of the largest in Spain – makes light of the humor of gaditanos. Rather than extravagant costumes, gaditanos use their costumes as social commentary. Especially popular this year were Pablo Iglesia, whatsapp icons and the Duquesa de Alba.

costumes of the carnivals de cadiz

Funny Costume Ideas Carnavales de Cadiz

Crazy costumes at Cadiz carnavales

san esteban Carnavales de Cadiz

The chirigotas themselves are the huge draw of the daytime during the two weeks that the festivities drag on. These choruses, usually made up of men in the same costume, sing satirical verses about politics, current events and everyday life while troubadoring around the streets of the Casco Antiguo.

Small clumps of people choked the skinny alleyways as chorus members drank beer until they’d deemed that enough people had gathered to watch. They’d break into song, often asking audience members to join in. We saw everyone from kids dressed as housewives to men dressed as questionable nuns with plastic butts under their habits and plastic cups of beer in their hands.

what is a chirigota

costumes for Carnival

carnival in Cadiz chirigotas

The most famous chirigotas perform for crowds in the famed Teatro Gran Falla, but those who take to the street are often illegal – illegal as in looking for a good buzz on the street!

We wound our way from the Plaza de la Catedral to the Plaza San Antonio and up Calle Cervantes to the Plaza del Mentidero. Named not for liars but the fact that this is where town criers often announced news and events, this square has transformed into the place for rumors to be born – making it a focal point of the festivities (and closer to the Carnavales I knew – littered with bottles and half-eaten food!).

What it's like at the Carnavales de Cadiz

We were back in Seville before nightfall, thoroughly exhausted and still sporting wet shoes from the morning rainfall. Jorge took us around the Alameda park on the northern tip of the island as the sun began to set, a welcome respite from the crowds and noise.

Want more Spanish fiesta? Read my posts on the Feria de Sevilla | La Tomatina de Buñol | The Feria del Caballo de Jerez 

Packing for a Trip to Spain: What to Bring and What to Leave at Home

The moment I’d announced I’d bought a house in Spain, the requests for the proverbial ‘roof-over-my-head’ while traveling through came pouring in.

Come on! It’s not like I lived in a box under the Triana bridge for seven years!

I hosted my first international visitor not six weeks after moving house, and even as a heavy traveler who works for a travel planning company, the frantic whatsapps came in about last -minute packing (never mind the time difference between us!).

packing light

As someone who can pack for a week in Eastern Europe in the same pack as an overnight trip to Granada in the middle of a cold spell, I find getting together a suitcase for a Spain trip to be a bit of a challenge. I think back to my move to Spain in 2007: I loaded my bag with extra American goodies in lieu of a winter jacket and – surprise! – it gets chilly in Southern Spain. And then there was the 7 kilo pack job for the Camino de Santiago, a feat I’m still proud of!

It you’re packing for a short trip to Spain, consider how you’re traveling (trains with virtually no baggage weight limits? Budget airline with strict rules about dimensions?) as well as where and when. Then, think about where you’ll be staying, as Spain offers a dozen different types of accommodation options.  

What to Pack for Spain

But no matter what, consider taking out that extra pair of sandals to make room for these essentials:

Tissue Packets

I am still puzzled as to why ladies bathrooms in Spain see no need to stock up on toilet paper. Throw a couple of extras in your purse for when the need arises (most likely in the airport or train station upon arrival).

Sun Protection

I once proclaimed to be thankful for sunglasses because, man, is it bright in Spain! And as someone with fair skin, I even put on sun cream to hang my laundry out to dry on the terrace, and once tried using tears to convince an Italian airport security agent to let me through with “prescription” sunblock. No matter what, sun care should trump a party dress or box of candy while you’re on the road, be it an extra hat, SPF lip balm and make up, or bottles of SPF 45 (plus, sunscreen is crazy expensive in Spain!).

A Light Jacket or Sweater

Don’t let the hot sun fool you – Spain has a Mediterranean climate, which means winters can be damp and chilly. A light sweater or jacket is an absolute must for any time of year, and canvas or nylon are good choices for durability. Cotton cardigans work nicely in warmer months and can be dressed up or down.

A voltage converter

While most electronics nowadays come with adapors, older models may burn out if you bring them on your trip. The reason is simple: American voltage works at 110 volts, and European at 220. This means that your appliance will work twice as hard, so invest in a quality converter (or, hey!, you can toss the fried straightener and lighten your load!). Remember that European plugs have two round prongs.

Extra copies of your passport and travel plans

passport U.S.

Any traveler swears by this – you should have at least one extra copy of your passport picture page and your travel plans in case of theft or destruction, and these things should be kept in a separate place than the actual documents. While you’re at it, send scans to yourself and a trusted friend back home just in case. It’s also wise to write down nearby consulates in case you do need replacements.

Small packets of laundry detergent

Laundromats are hard to come by in Spain, and they’re often expensive. If you can manage it, wash your clothes in the sink and hang them to dry using small packets of powdered detergent. They’ll not only pass through airport security, but also won’t weigh you down. Plus, they’re easy to replace at perfumerias.

Your credit card and some extra euros on hand

The Euro is falling, so maximize your tourist dollars by using your credit card (but call your bank before leaving home!). You can get extra points if you have a rewards card or earn towards goodies. Coming with 20-40 will also cut down on ATM or currency exchange fees when you need to hail a cab upon arrival, so pre-order from your bank at home for better rates.

Leave it at home:

Uncomfortable shoes (especially high heels)

Streets in Spain are often uneven and you’ll do a lot of walking, so bring sturdy, comfortable shoes. Even after seven years here, I can barely walk in Chucks without tripping, so save space (and face) by skipping the heels.

Your favorite outfit

Thankfully, all of my lost bags have been returned to me, but I’m usually careful to pack half of my favorite outfits in one bag, and the other half in the other. So what if you’re wearing the same outfit in pictures by wearing neutrals? You’re not Kim Kardashian, so the only person who probably cares is you.

cat on dubrovnik city walls

Instead, pack one bright or bold piece. I packed for a week in Dubrovnik and Montenegro in one carry on, and having a bright pink blazer served to dress up jeans and a T-shirt and helped me stand out in photos while traveling in two beautiful destinations (um, and so did that black eye…).

Expensive jewelry

Petty theft is an unfortunate reality in Spain, so you can leave expensive accessories at home. If you can’t bear it, consider taking out insurance just in case, and know how to fill out a police report just in case.

A simple, lightweight scarf will do the trick, and you won’t be bummed if you leave it in a hostel or quirky café.

The true test: Can you cart around your suitcase and personal items without the help of others? Imagine, if you will, doing it up stairs and down cobblestone roads. If you can’t do it, it’s time to repack!

Packing 101

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Need some packing inspiration? My friend and Seville expat Karen McCann is a suitcase superhero – she did months of rail travel in Eastern Europe with just one carry-on! – has just written a fun and quick read of an ebook on her packing trips, honed after years of traipsing around the world and visiting 50 countries. Pack Light is all you need to read to prepare for your trip (or at least the monumental task of deciding what to take).

When she sent me a copy, I could almost imagine every compartment in her rolling suitcase – which measures 21 x 13 x 7.5! – and I found myself laughing just as I did when reading Enjoy Living Abroad, a chronicle of expat life in Seville and one of her three published books. It’s easily digested and practical, and because it’s digital, it won’t take up space or weight. A woman who heeds her own advice!

PackLightCoverArt  low res

Karen is giving away two of her ebooks to Sunshine and Siestas readers. All you have to do it leave a comment about your biggest packing faux pas, or leave a word of advice for other travelers. Contest ends on February 28th, upon which winner will be notified via email with a download link.

If you’re looking for packing tips for long-term travel to Spain or a stint abroad, pick up a copy of COMO Consulting’s eBook “Moving to Spain” for individual packing lists and suggestions.

Ibiza’s Can’t Miss Emblematic Buildings

My only trip to the Baleares Islands has been to party mecca Ibiza, and island with seemingly more sheep than residents, more discos than churches. But there’s more to this ancient islands past the nightclubs and party offers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One can find a lot of interesting buildings and medieval constructions to visit if a decision to take a trip to the island is made. Based mostly in monuments and emblematic constructions, Ibiza’s architecture brings us some of the most impressive buildings in Spain. In fact, the historic city is one of Spain’s UNESCO World Heritage City, thanks to its medieval constructions and Phoenician origins.

There’s a wealth of information about some of these buildings on Ibiza’s Official Tourism Site, and also you can check out some of their recommendations for visiting the island.

The Dalt Vila Walls

Located in the city of Ibiza to protect it from attacks in the past, these amazing walls, built in the XVI century and declared a World Heritage area by the UNESCO, is an attraction that no tourist should ever miss. The walled area, with a heptagonal form, has a defensive bastion in every one of its angles. 

The Puig de Missa

Located in the town of Santa Eularia des Riu, this church-cum-fortress of the XVI/XVII century is located in the hill nearby the town, therefore placing it in the perfect spot to prevent pirate attacks and refuge the townsfolk from their pillages, safe in the top of the hill.

Aside from the church, the town of Santa Eularia, known for its historic district formed by white houses and pleasant streets, is quaint and full of artisan shops that will prove very interesting for those who love anything medieval.

Des Savinar Tower

Located in the Hort Cove Natural Reserve, near the town of San Antonio, this impressive tower was completed in 1756. Originally intended to be an artillery tower, it never housed cannons, so it’s use was limited to a watch tower. With views of the Es Vedra and Es Vedranell rock, and a height of 200 meters above the sea level, the tower brings us a lovely vista of the sea, and sunsets deserving to be on the best postcards.

The beaches in Ibiza

Due to the large distance between the Hort Cove and the town of San Antonio, we need to rent a car in order to move around the cove and to the natural reserve. We can also make the most of our trip and enjoy the cove, where we will find a beach with thin sand and crystalline waters.

The Ibiza Cathedral

The Ibiza cathedral, built above an old arabian temple, is the shining jewel of the old town. With a beautiful Gothic style, this cathedral finished its construction in the XVIII century, and we can find important medieval art pieces in its interior, like the Saint Gregory altarpiece, or a collection of golden silver from the XIV century. Like many other churches in Ibiza, it has an special tower built as a refuge for the townsfolk from pirates. 

Aside from these magnificent constructions, in Ibiza we can find a lot of pristine beaches and fun nightlife, but for those of us who like to enjoy medieval zones and old buildings will undoubtedly enjoy something other than foam parties.

Have you ever been to Ibiza?

Other posts of interest: A Tenerife Road Trip // Spain’s Architectural Sites // Autonomous Community Spotlight: Islas Baleares

Autonomous Community Spotlight: Galicia

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain.

spain collageOh goody! I get to talk about one of my favorite places in Spain this month!

Ever since my friend literally stood over me as I looked for fares, then forced me to buy a ticket to La Coruña that I couldn’t afford, I’ve swooned over the northwesternmost province of Spain. Galicia is acutely Spanish while not being very Spanish at all, thanks to its Celtic roots. It’s a land ruled by superstition, by an aversion to long spans of rain along the coast, by plump seafood and white wine. Where stone churches and hórreos stand guard. Where language is sung, not spoken. Where rivers and mountains and forests abound. Where I’ve had one serendipitous experience after another.

camino de santiago in galicia

I’ve spent more time in Galicia than I have in the city where I studied abroad, Valladolid. Coruña is like a second home to me after five summers teaching there. 

Name: Galicia, or Galiza in local gallego

Population: 2.7 million

Galicia Collage

Provinces: Four; A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense, Vigo

When: May 2008, 10th of 17

About Galicia: Galicia is one of those places you’d probably peg as part of Scotland because of its weather and ever-present bagpipes, and the fact that it’s rather isolated – the high-speed trains won’t reach the region until 2017 (or so hey say). I both welcome this and fear it because Galicia is so staunchly suyo, that a boom in tourism may mean losing a little bit of what makes Galicia, Galicia.

mondoñedo galicia camino de santiago

There’s a long version of the story of Galicia, but here’s the short one:

Humans first began inhabiting the northwest corner – mostly north of the Duero River – of the Iberian peninsula in the Middle Paleolithic period slowly and eventually the Iron Age and Castro period. These people were of Celtic origin and called Gallaeci. Eventually becoming part of the Roman Empire and then the Visigoth, these kingdoms have left their mark on Galicia’s history and architecture before eventually falling to the Christian Empire in Northern Spain.

The Middle Ages was a time of  prosperity in Galicia, and even though the region was still under the Crown of León, inhabitants were ruled by seven kings in seven kingdoms that were able to retain their culture and language, though there were bloody conflicts between brotherhoods and kingdoms. Like today, the area was untamed and a bit unruly. Galicia was awarded autonomous status in the 16th Century with the Audencia Nacional, and nowadays, there’s a call for becoming an independent kingdom. Old habits die hard, I guess.

Must-sees: I should really start this section off with must-eats, rather than must-sees. Galicia has a wealth of regional dishes and a thriving tapas culture in its larger cities, so I’d wholeheartedly suggest fasting before heading up there. I’m serious.

typical food in galicia

Let’s start with the seafood. Galicia’s home to 1,500km of coastline, so mussels, crabs, octopus and the much-heralded percebes, or goose barnacles, are prominent on menus. Round up some friends and split a mariscada.

Then there’s the cheese. From smoky San Simón from Lugo and the boob-shaped queso de tetilla, you’re likely to skip dessert (unless you get a slice of Tarta de Santiago, an almond-based cake). Pair it with a crisp but sweet albariño wine which also matches nicely with seafood. Don’t miss Galician-raised beef, pimientos del padrón and collared greens.

Galicia

The majority of the region’s big sites are clustered around the coastal areas, particularly Coruña, Vigo and ancient tourist hotspot, Santiago de Compostela. Inland, the population is more sparse, though there are highlights in natural spaces, sacred areas and larger capitals.

Starting with political capital Santiago de Compostela: the ancient stone streets and cathedral where the remains of Saint James are reputedly buried, many tourists come to Santiago for a taste of Galicia. This UNESCO World Heritage City boasts a number of sites, a train station and an international airport, in addition to being the end of the Pilgrim’s Route to Santiago (though many pilgrims choose to travel to Finisterre). Read my posts about Santiago here.

A Coruña, nicknamed the Crystal City is nearby and sits on the end of a peninsula. Famous for its beaches and galerías (and, uh, the flagship Zara), it’s a bustling city that merits a day. Visit its beaches, the Torre de Hercules lighthouse and Cerro de San Cristóbal for views of the bay. Read more about Coruña here.

islascies3

Vigo is another large city, situated on one of the rías, is famous for its oysters and is the gateway to the Islas Ciès and Portugal to the south. It’s nearby to the much talked about Islas Ciès and its gorgeous beaches.

Inland, Lugo boasts sweeping farmlands and humble hamlets, and the capital retains its medieval city walls, which can be visited. You can also find the Praia As Catedrais – considered one of the most beautiful in Spain – in this province, just a taxi ride away from Ribadeo. Scattered around the region are celtic ruins, great hiking trails and roadside stone churches and cruceiros. Being a near-perfect marriage of sea and land, your time in Galicia should be spent outdoors (so long as the rain holds off!).

My take: My first taste of Galicia was a milanesa from fabled tapas bar La Bombilla in La Coruña.  We ordered enormous croquetas and juicy hunks of tortilla, served to us on plastic plates by seriously rotund women who had probably spent the better part of their lives in that kitchen. Everyone seemed…happy. Maybe it’s because they were eating and drinking, because I was grinning right along with them. Because, Estrella Galicia.

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I actually credit Galicia with opening up my severely limited taste palate to seafood. I swallowed mussels and octopus at an alarming rate that weekend. The rain held off so we could wade into the frigid waters at the Playa del Orzán, and we sipped gigantic and cheap rum and Fantas at dimly lit alternative bars. I vowed to come back, and soon after, I swapped a teaching position in the islands to return to Galicia. It rained all summer. I loved it.

For five continuous summers I risked the rain for three or four weeks in Coruña, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite cities in Spain. So many of my most treasured Spain memories – watching Spain win the World Cup in 2010, staying out all night at the Saint James Feast in Santiago, walking the Camino – have taken place out here.

Doing the Camino de Santiago through Galicia

Seriously – my ideal Spain is a hybrid between vibrant Andalucia (and its weather) and offbeat Galicia. 

Have you ever been to Galicia? What do you like (or not) about it?

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria | Castilla y León | Castilla-La Mancha | Cataluña | Extremadura

Where to Eat in Barcelona and Not Be Ripped Off, Disappointed or Still Hungry

To say that Barcelona (as a city) underwhelms me is an understatement. And its food? Ugh, I don’t even want to go there. In my half a dozen previous trips to Catalonia, a place renowned for being avant garde – in food and otherwise – I’d never really had a decent food experience. From the overpriced paella on Las Ramblas to reheated pintxos in El Born, I was decebut.

tapas in barcelona

That’s where Eat Guides came in. Written by Regina Winkle-Bryan, an transplant from foodie haven Portland to the Ciudad Condal, and Adrián Benítez Martos, a born and bred barcelonés, did my homework for me. I was thrilled to have Reg send me a copy of the ebook she and Adri had penned to help tourists like me understand catalan cuisine and where to find it.

Using my hotel near La Rambla and the Boquería as a starting point, I had a few hours to kill before meeting a friend and wanted to dive headfirst into real catalan cuisine. The 123-paged book lists food joints by both neighborhood and proximity to big sites, but I was interested in seeing if there was real food amidst the tourist traps in the old city. My rules – I had to be able to reach it on foot, wouldn’t order from a menu translated into English and would try four places over the course of the day.

Granja La Pallaresa

I had already zeroed in on my first stop of the day before touching down in Barcelona. After taking the first flight out in the morning, I was starving by the time I checked into the hotel, so I quickly dropped my bags and walked into the Barri Gòtic. Granja La Pallaresa as literally 30 meters off Las Ramblas, but you would have never known.

Pastry shop in Barcelona

La pallaresa Bakery

ensaimada pastries

This is lo mío: Castillian and catalan blended into one incomprehensible buzz in the wood-paneled bar manned by a portly woman and her husband, who sported a black satin bow tie. I didn’t ask to see a menu, but ordered what Regina suggested: an ensaimada pastry and a cup of French chocolate.

I watched as the other patrons read newspapers in catalan and picked at their churros. My flaky ensaimada arrived with so much powdeed sugar that it left a ring on the table as I paid my 4,15€ and drank down the chocolate.

Carrer Petrixol, 11. Open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 9pm, and Sundays from 9am to 1pm and 5pm to 9pm.

Bodega

When Catherine and I went to Barcelona a decade ago, we stayed in El Raval. It’s gritty, it’s long been considered seedy and unsafe, and it’s full of old man bars.

I wanted to take the long way to my next stop, but the long way meant passing a whole slew of old man bars, and I always get sucked into them. Just two blocks down, I found that these so-called ‘bodegas’ are staples in working neighborhoods. Much more than just a bar, the bodegas also sell drinks and snacks, as well as canned goods, and locals have their preferred place. I ordered a vemouth at 1,85€, which came with four mussels. 

Vermouth Bodegas in Barcelona

This place was one of the good ones – there was no bar, just coolers in its place. No dishwasher. No cell service. Two adorable grandpas who called the wairess nena. Rock FM on the stereo. Everyone in the neighborhood in the time it took me to drink a vermouth and scribble down some notes on pieces of paper I’d hastily ripped out of a notebook. A woman walked in with a crumpled water bottle and contemplated the taps on the wall. “Pues, moscatel quiero hoy.”

I took Catherine back the next day.

Carrer del Pintor Fortuny, 26. Open daily, though I could never tell you when.

Cervecería Moritz

I knew Barcelona produced Estrella Damm beer, but Moritz is served on tap at many bars in the region. Its namesake was the brewery’s founder, Louis Moritz. Barcelona has long been a haven for foreigners, and Moritz left his native France for the ciudad condal in the 1850s, setting up a small brewery in El Raval.

Cerveceria Moritz

Moritz Beer Barcelona

visiting Cerveceria Moritz in Barcelona

More than 160 years later, Moritz is the only beer in the world whose marketing is done entirely in Catalan, and their swanky headquarters is part museum, part brewery and part gastrobar. Though beer is no longer mass-produced on Ronda Sant Antoni, they do serve two types of unpasteurized beer that’s been made in-house. I had two – one of each flavor – for 3,80€.

Ronda de Sant Antoni, 41 (Universitat or Sant Antoni). Open daily from noon to 2am. Accepts credit cards.

Onofre

My hunger had sometime dissipated by the time I got to Onofre, a tapas bar located just inside the Barri Gótic’s old city walls. Part restaurant, part wine shop, I was actually asked to get up from my seat when a patron wanted to snag a bottle of wine from right behind me. The place felt intimate – there was another lone diner and a group of business people chatting quietly at a table in the corner.

Provolone tapa

Without thinking much, I blindly ordered the menú del día without even checking out the tapas menu. As Adri points out in Eat Guides, quality tapas bars in the center of town are hard to come by, but Onofre does regional tapas and does them well. The menu featured three dishes: a creamy lentil purée, over-roasted provolone with red berries and a spicy carnitas burrito, followed up with a slice of cake. Overall, they were probably the best tapas I’ve had in Barcelona, but nothing terribly special. The four dishes and a beer cost 10,75€.

Carrer de Magdalen, 19 (Jaume I). Open Monday to Saturday from 10am – 5pm and 7:30pm – midnight.

The Take Away

Good food isn’t completely absent of the Barcelona cuisine scene, though you have to know where to look. Any place on the Ramblas and Barri Gòtic (as well as near a touristic monument) is more or less off-limits, though Gràcia, Poblesec and Poblenou are said to be up-and-coming gastronomic hot spots.

Using what I’d read in Eat Guides, Saturday night would be a time to venture out on our own and see if we could find something good. We headed to Sant Antoni on foot to see the neighborhood’s Correfoc, a rain of sparks and firecrackers in the street. Even after a food tour in the morning, we were stuffed. 

tapas at casa Lucio Barcelona

Casa Lucio spilled light onto the dark street. The place felt like a cave, with a small bar, seating downstairs and racks of wine on the wall. We ordered a few glass of Habla del Silencio and asked to see a menu. But there was none, so Lucio, a moody old dog with glasses and a thick white beard, listed what they had orally. The only other person who spoke English in the whole place was the waiter, Patrick.We ordered more than our fill, mainly pintxos of meats and cheeses, as well as a bottle of wine to take with us, for around 60€. 

Carrer de Vildomat, 59. Open for lunch and dinner.

Eat Guides Barcelona

Having shared a meal with Regina as part of the Spain Scoop team, I knew that eats are important to her. It’s no surprise, then, that the Eat Guides ebook is a fun read and more than just a guide on where to eat – each listing has anecdotes, recommendations on what to order and drink from both vegetarian Regina and her carnivore co-author, plus a rough estimate on price for a meal for two.

Eat-Guides-Cover-Barcelona-2014

The guide is also easy to use – there are numbered maps, guides by type of food and neighborhood, as well as a handy translation guide to catalan words that a Castillian speaker likely doesn’t know. And then, of course, there are plenty of listings for watering holes, along with tips for markets and gastro-themed side trips. If you like to eat, this book is a multi-course meal, served simply but that will leave you stuffed.

Regina and Adri are happy to give away one copy of Eat Guides to a SandS reader. If you’re planning a trip to Barcelona in the near future, this guide should be packed (digitally) in your carry-on!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And if you don’t win, the guide is $4.99 on Amazon, iBooks and Google Play – a small price to pay for a big guide!

One winner will be notified by email on or after February 6th. 

One thing you absolutely must do: tell me your favorite Spanish dish – catalan or otherwise!

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