Trip Report: Barcelona, Costa Brava, & Northern Catalonia (OR Tapas, Sangria, Gelato & Spanish Olives)
We just returned from a fabulous trip to Barcelona, Costa Brava, Girona & northern Catalonia. We left for Spain on October 8 & returned on October 18. I received a lot of great advice from Fodorites, so I hope that my trip report will help other travelers. First, a little background about us. My youngest daughter, Ashley, is doing graduate study work in Barcelona for the fall semester, so we wanted to visit her & see some of Spain. Our oldest daughter, Courtney, also joined us on this trip, & a friend of hers also joined us in Barcelona for 4 days. This is my first trip to Spain, my husband has been to Madrid, & Courtney was in Barcelona 10 years ago.
Overall, we LOVE Barcelona. It is a beautiful city with palm trees, beautiful and unique architecture, and with its location on the Mediterranean Sea, the mixture of city & sea is breathtaking. We drank a lot of Sangria (the best I’ve ever had, of course), & ate a lot of tapas, gelato and Spanish Olives. I’ve never been a big fan of olives, but I love the Spanish Olives. If they didn’t come with our meal, we would order a plate.
DAY ONE & TWO: Depart Boston & Arrive in Barcelona
My husband & I flew from Boston to Montreal, then to Barcelona. We arrived at the airport at 7:30AM, & took a cab to our hotel & arrived there at 8:45am & Ashley met us shortly after we arrived. We didn´t want to see any major sights without Courtney & Richard, so we had breakfast at a sidewalk cafe, then walked through many of the neighborhoods, such as Eixample, Born, the Gothic Quarter, La Rambla & down to the port. We had lunch in the Boqueria at a fish counter. We picked the fish/seafood we wanted, & they prepared it right there for us. We had sangria sitting outside on the beach overlooking the Mediterranean!!! It was heaven!!!! It was about 80 degrees today.
Courtney & Richard arrived at 4pm. We had a late dinner down by the sea again, at an outdoor restaurant. I didn’t write down the name of the restaurant but it faces the sea. Ashley had paella there when she first arrived & liked it, so she wanted to go back there. The location is great. it was dark but we could hear the pounding waves. The food was mediocre, though. She thought it was better the first time but maybe that´s because she was newly arrived & the location is great so maybe her memory aboutt the food wasn´t so great. Or perhaps there was a different chef but that´s ok. We all had fun together & that´s the most important.
HOTEL IN BARCELONA:
Gran Via Corts Catalanes 642
The hotel is located in Eixample & the location was very convenient. The lobby is beautiful with a grand staircase, & our room was very spacious with a 2-room bathroom: the sink in one room & toilet & tub in another room, which I like. However, we had an issue with this hotel, which is too bad. Because we arrived at 9AM, our room wasn’t ready, so the desk clerk let us store our luggage right next to the desk so we could go out for the day. When we returned around 4PM, our room was ready & they had brought our luggage to our room. We soon realized that my husband’s black backpack was missing so we called the desk clerk. It was nowhere to be found. I really thought a guest took it by mistake because it looks like everyone else’s backpack. Well, it never materialized. We had medication in it so I had to call our clinic in the States to get the correct dosage & we were able to get the same medication at a nearby pharmacy. The hotel reimbursed us for the cost. But we also had a laptop, GPS, battery charger & prescription sunglasses in the backpack. We asked the manager if there was anything else they could do for us & we would accept whatever they thought was fair. At first the manager told us she had no proof we even had a black backpack; then we found out from an employee they have a security camera so we told her to go check the security camera. I don’t know if she did, but in the end, they did reimburse us for 5 out of our 6 night stay. Unfortunately, because of this incident, I wouldn’t stay there again. Just want to let other Fodorites know about our experience. Perhaps if you arrive later in the day when you know rooms will be ready, this won’t happen, but I would be leery about staying here. I can only assume an employee took our backpack because I assume if a guest mistakenly took it, he/she would return it. Unless the guest deliberately stole it.
DAY THREE: Casa Battlo, Citadel Park & Gothic Cathedrals
Sunday morning it was raining when we woke up. We took a cab to Ashley´s apartment & had breakfast in her neighborhood. Then we went to Sagrada Familia, but the line was all the way around the church!!! It was 10:30AM so the lesson is to be there by 9AM when it opens. So we decided to go to CASA BATLLO instead & return early the next morning to Sagrada Familia. Casa Batllo is FASCINATING!!! Gaudi was such a genius!!! What an inventive, creative & whacky mind!!! Everything is curvy & represents the sea! When you look through the glass into the blue light well, it’s as if you are looking at objects underwater. The attic reminded me of a whale’s backbone. And I love the outside façade. The balconies are odd-shaped & give the exterior of the house a spooky look especially at night. The cost is 15 – 17 euros & includes audioguides.
The sun came out when we finished the Batllo tour, so Ashley suggested taking the subway to the Arc of Triumph & Citadel Park. After you walk thru the Arc, you walk down this lovely promenade lined with pretty trees and unique & beautiful lampposts, & that brings us to CITADEL PARK, where we saw the most MAGNIFICENT water fountain I have ever seen!!! It is called LA CASCADA & was designed for an 1888 exposition. Gaudi designed the waterfall’s rocks. There are trees & other plantings in & around the waterfall, with statues of men, women, & winged creatures!!! There is a huge wide staircase that wraps around the back of the waterfall, that leads to a huge GOLDEN CHARIOT!!! I´ve never seen anything like it before!!!
TIP: If you have the time, I recommend visiting Citadel Park & La Cascada. Get off the beaten path, if you can. My guidebook didn’t make a big deal about Citadel Park & La Cascada so if it wasn’t for my daughter, we wouldn’t have gone here.
After leaving the park, we walked through the Gothic Quarter again & visited 2 beautiful gothic cathedrals: SANTA MARIA DEL MAR and CATEDRAL DE LA SEU. Catedral de la Seu has a lovely courtyard attached with HUGE GEESE running around. That certainly added a comedic touch.
For lunch, we had delicious tapas & sangria at TALLER DE TAPAS, located near Santa Maria del Mar at Carrer Argenteria 51.
For dinner, we ate at CERVESERIA LA CATALANA at Mallorca 236 in Eixample. We had a feast of unusual tapas with unique ingredients with a variety of seafood, ham, sausages, vegetables, hot peppers, cheese, olives, etc.. They were perfectly prepared & the prices are very reasonable. We also drank a delicious pitcher of Sangria!! It was mobbed so we didn´t get to eat until 11pm. When in Spain, do what the Spanish do!!! We like this restaurant so much that we ate there on our last night in Barcelona.
DAY FOUR: Sagrada Familia, Hospital de Sant Pau, Gracia & Parc Guell
The line was already forming when we arrived at SAGRADA FAMILIA at 8:45AM (it opens at 9AM). We purchased the audio guides which I found to be very helpful and informative. What an amazing place! Gaudi designed it & construction began in the 1880´s & is still ongoing. His work is gaudy, (is this where the term came from?) but it´s still amazing & unusual & unforgettable. We entered through the Passion Façade, which is very dramatic & stark & illustrates the pain of the crucifixion. Inside, you see amazing stained glass windows and huge columns that represent trees. There was an hour long wait at the elevator to the top so luckily we decided not to take this elevator. After going through the museum on the lower level, we walked outside to the opposite side from where we entered & saw the Nativity Façade, which is very different from the Passion Façade. It represents joy & nature & scenes from Jesus youth & is very curvy & cluttered. We then went inside & saw to our surprise another elevator with only a 10-minute wait!!! We took the elevator to the top but had to walk back down through a very narrow spiral staircase. There were balcony-style viewing areas where you can take photos.
TIP: If the line is long at the Passion side elevator, go to the Nativity side elevator.
About a 10-minute walk from Sagrada Familia is HOSPITAL DE SANT PAUL. We just missed a tour & couldn’t wait for the next tour but we did see the inside of the main building, which is gorgeous. The designer/architect is Domenech I Montaner, who designed Palau de la Musica.
Then Ashley took us to the GRACIA neighborhood, which is beautiful with narrow streets, where locals live & eat. It´s exactly what I think of when I think of SPain. And it’s quieter than the other more touristy neighborhoods. We had lunch in a small square, Placa de la Virrenia, next to a cute church, dining outside again. The restaurant is Café Virrenia. We had sandwiches, plate of Spanish olives, potato chips & drinks.
So, after our very tasty lunch, we walked to PARC GUELL, another Gaudi masterpiece. The parc is located up on a hill with gorgeous views of Barcelona, you can see all the way to the Mediterranean!!! It took us about 45 minutes to walk but I think we took the roundabout route because we followed the signs which would be the route for cars. When we left the parc, we realized we could have taken a shorter route down one-way streets. Anyways, we love Parc Guell. There are aqueduct type structures, pillars, & then this amazing area with serpentine benches covered in colorful mosaics!!! We took tons of photos there, & the views were awesome!!!! It was getting late in the day so we took a taxi back to our hotel. We didn’t have the time to see the whole park.
We had dinner tonight at a Thai restaurant because we felt we needed a change for one night. I forgot to write down the name of the restaurant but it is excellent!
DAY FIVE: Palau de Musica & Casa Mila
We had another great day in Barcelona. We had a tour of the Palau de Musica. We were able to buy tickets that morning for an 11AM tour. Palau is the most magnificent theater I have ever seen, even nicer than the theaters in Prague. The architectural style is Moderniste & the palace is considered the flagship of Barcelona’s Moderniste architecture. It is exquisite with chandeliers, stained glass, & mosaics. The theater is painted in different shades of pinks, reds & roses.
We ate lunch in Born again at Sagardi, a pinxtos tapas restaurant, located at Carrer Argenteria 62. These are basque style tapas, different from the other kind of tapas we´ve been eating. They are lined up on platters on the counter, with toothpicks in them. You take a plate & walk around & choose the ones you want. There are dessert ones too. Then we brought our plates outside to eat. The waiter calculates your bill by counting the number of toothpicks on your plates. Both Ashley & I loved them but Courtney, Richard & my husband prefer the other kind.
After lunch, we had to return to our hotel so Richard could get his luggage because he had to return home. After we said our good-byes, the rest of us had a tour of CASA MILA. The rooftop chimney park is mindblowing!! There are chimneys grouped together in 3´s & 4´s that look like space men!! There are rollercoaster type stairs that curve all over the rooftop. The rooftop is the best part of the house. The other floors were interesting (one floor is a restored apartment & the other one is the attic with excellent displays of Gaudi’s work) but overall we like Casa Batllo & Sagrada Familia the best of the Gaudi architecture.
We had dinner at a vegetarian tapas restaurant that also served meat & fish. The restaurant is called Origens & it’s in Born. We liked some of the food but were disappointed in some of the dishes. The salad, duck with peaches & desserts were all good.
DAY SIX: Montjuic, Las Pedrables & Sarria
We had a fabulous last day in Barcelona on wednesday. We spent the morning at Montjuic, where the 92 olympics were held. Montjuic is a huge park on a hill & you really need all day to see it. We took the funicular to the top to visit the fortress which also had spectacular views of the city and Mediterranean. We walked through some of the park, through gardens & pretty landscaping. There is also a huge art museum in a palatial building but we decided not to go in because the weather was beautiful. So we took a cab to the Las Pedrables neighborhood where we had a delicious lunch at el Mato de Pedrables, Bisbe Catala, 10, across the street from a monastery. I had asparagus & ham with a light cheese sauce, my husband had rabbit & potatoes & Courtney had sausage & white beans. (Too bad for Ashley, she was at school & missed this great restaurant.)
Then we walked through the Sarria neighborhood where families lives. We saw school children getting out of school wearing uniforms and families playing with their kids in the squares. We had a drink in Gracia again by the church where we were the other day. it was a perfect day & we saw just about everything we wanted to see in Barcelona.
TIP: If you have the time, I highly recommend visiting Las Pedrables, Gracia & Sarria. You won’t be disappointed.
We had dinner at night at Rosalert, Avgda. Diagonal 301, a seafood restaurant near our hotel. All the waiters were so nice & enjoyed helping us choose our dishes. We went to the counter & picked what we wanted for fish & seafood. My husband and daughters tried goose barnicles (I wasn’t brave enough), hake, anglerfish, razor clams, Norwegian lobster, sausages, & for dessert, almond cake and sweet cream cheese.
Everyone is so nice in Barcelona, from the waiters to the cab drivers. I am very surprised though that many people do not speak English. Ashley studied Spanish in high school & is studying Spanish again, so it definitely helped when she was with us.
We had a full five days in Barcelona which we thought was sufficient & we saw almost everything we wanted to see, except for the Picasso Museum. It would have been nice to spend more time at Parc Guell & Montjuic, but we were happy with everything we did & saw.
I’m still jetlagged, so hopefully can continue tomorrow with Costa Brava, Girona & northern Catalonia.
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Trip Report: Barcelona, Costa Brava, & Northern Catalonia
Trip Report: Barcelona, Costa Brava, & Northern Catalonia (OR Tapas, Sangria, Gelato & Spanish Olives)