26 Dec Autumn in Barcelona: 5 days in pictures
A picture often says more than words; so here are are some pictures, and a few words, to tell the tale of the rest of my trip to Barcelona this November.
WHAT WE FOUND IN CIUTAT VELLA
The speciality food store at Vila Viniteca in the old part of the city, Ciutat Vella, is “one of the best cheese shops in Europe“, said my friend in Sitges, trained as a pastry chef at the city’s Michelin-starred Via Veneto.
It sure is good. I’m a particular fan of goats’ and sheep’s cheese, for which Catalonia is renowned. You can also find amazing hand-cut Spanish ham and lots of other delicacies from Spain.
A few doors down is Vila Viniteca’s wine store, and in the other direction a good bakery. This has turned the quiet Aguilers Street, between the 14th century Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and the busy Via Laietana, into an easy-to-reach foodie destination.
Pastisseria Hofmann, on the attractive Passeig del Born, has the most amazing cakes. Nearly all the cakes had gone by the time we got there at 5pm. There’s also the Hofmann Culinary School, Michelin-starred Restaurante Hofmann, Taverna Hofmann and Arroz Hofmann.
Unfortunately, the founder, Mey Hoffman, died last year. Her daughter Silvia is reported to be taking over.
Politics was a hot topic during our time in Barcelona. Catalan independence banners and flags abounded in the city. I also spotted a few pro-Spanish banners, including one outside the house where my son was born in Gracià – my son was born on the top floor, and the flag was on the bottom floor.
We took a regular kombucha nightcap – does wonders for the digestion – at the Dr Stravinksi cocktail bar in Mirallers Streets, behind the Senyor Parellada restaurant in Argenteria.
Our drinks progressed to something stronger one night, as we got talking to some guys from Berlin about the meaning of life. It’s that kind of place, everyone talks to each other.
The political graffiti sprouted up in many places… this was for the Marxist youth movement Arran, in front of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. I thought it made a pretty picture, especially with the dog in the background.
For me, autumn is the best time in Barcelona. We were also lucky to have five days of sun. The light was beautiful.
Here is some early morning light in Dageria Street, off Jaume I Street, on our way to have coffee at Bon Mercat in San Jaume II Street, on the other side of Via Laietana from the Born district.
The coffee at Bon Mercat is good, and I love their Orangutan Coffee Project – coffee saving orangutans. It’s full of civil servants from the town hall and the regional government, whose offices are in the nearby Plaza de Sant Jaume. This makes for a warm, local feel.
Café El Magnífico in Argenteria Street is THE place to go for coffee, but it doesn’t open till 9.30 in the morning. It’s less of a café and more of a place to buy coffee.
All roads in the Born district of the Old City led to the 14th century Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar.
Japanese cakes in Eixample district
I love all things Japanese. We found Pastisseria Ochiai in the Eixample district of Barcelona, between Ciutat Vella, the Old City, and the upmarket residential areas towards the hills.
Award-winning pastry chef Takashi Ochiai opened Pastisseria Ochiai in 1983. Since then he has opened another shop, and last year the Aula Ochiai school, where you can learn how to make mochi, croissants and cakes using green tea.
Takashi is the son of rice farmers in the northeast Japan, and came to Europe to advance his skills as a pastelero, and never returned to Japan.
The mochi, made from rice flour with a creamy filling, were divine. My first one was filled with green tea. The one below is with chestnut. Also very good are the green tea croissants.
Barceloneta – the beach
La Barra was one of the places I checked out to eat good seafood. Most of the restaurants in Barceloneta, the old district between the harbour and the beach, are geared towards the undiscerning tourist. La Barra is one of the exceptions, and is part of the group run by chef Carles Abellán. This is Barcelona as a city of design.
The last time I was in Barcelona – two years ago – I had an ‘energetic’ juice at Abellán’s bar on the beach, La Guingeta.
Once you get to the beach and turn left, away from the striking sail-shaped W hotel, and walk for around 30 minutes, you will get to Xiringuito Escribà. A xiringuito was originally a shack down on the beach where you can eat seafood.
Quite a few local people pointed us in this direction for a good paella down on the beach. The Escribà family is one of Barcelona’s best known for gastronomy, and in particular for their chocolate. This was a good choice. A 30-minute walk from the Born district, along the seafront. The paella was served and eaten with wooden spoons, as it should be.
The suggested wine at Xiringuito Escribà was made from Macabeu, a local grape also found in cava. The wine was L’Écrivan from Monsant and produced by Alfredo Arribas, a friend of Joan Escribà. Friendships run deep in Catalonia. We had already tasted another Alfredo Arribas wine, which we really enjoyed, at Teoric Taverna Gastronómica.
And then we sat in the sun on the Avenida del Litoral, overlooking the beach … ☀ ☀ ☀
Day out in Sitges
The Estació de França train station is located where the Born district meets Barceloneta. It was a ten-minute walk from where I was staying in Barcelona, and here you can find a direct train to the coastal seaside town of Sitges.
The train ride follows the coast, and takes about 50 minutes. Make sure to sit on the side with the sea views. The beach at Sitges was deserted apart from a few surfers and two small groups of Chinese tourists – the young independent traveller types.
I had a bit of time on my hands so I wandered through the old town. It was impossible to escape the graffiti elicited by the Catalan election fever: ‘Freedom Political Prisoners’ at the entrance to the town hall was crossed out with a ‘Long Live Spain’.
Sitges has two parts. The old part, by the San Sebastián Beach, and then the more modern Sitges on the other side of the church. I was visiting a friend in ‘new’ Sitges. Of about 20 flats in the block, only a couple were lived in all year round. The rest only fill up in August.
More graffiti … here in the main Jesus Street, a great place for an ice cream and an evening stroll once the sun has gone down.
Arriving back in Barcelona early evening, I felt my lungs full of sea air and my mind relaxed – a holiday within a holiday.
My other posts on Barcelona
Here are my other posts on my November trip to Barcelona:
- Teoric Taverna Gastronomica – one of my favourite restaurants for 2017… natural wine, small producers, in the Dreta de l’Eixample district, near Gràcia.
- El Senyor Parellada: a Barcelona ‘fonda’ – I was given a warm welcome after an absence of 20 years in this restaurant in El Borne district!
- Estimar by Rafa Zarfa: seafood in Barcelona – the seafood at this intimate restaurant by the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar just cracked me open.
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