Traveling with my husband and foodie friend, Allison, we planned this 10 day trip to Barcelona and San Sebastian around food and architecture.  Allison fortunately has a friend, Vivian, who recently moved to Barcelona, so we had a Spanish (with a little Catalan) speaking guide to help us with reservations and translations.  But her greatest achievement was finding us Miquel Hudin, our guide to Priorat!  His day tour was the highlight of our trip.  You can reach him at www.wine-tours.eu.

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Wines

Priorat is one of my favorite wines but I found out very quickly that this part of world is not used to doing vineyard tours.  They are small producers with only recent fame for their wonderful wines (made front page of Wine Spectator Summer or Fall 2015).  But Miquel performed miracles and got us into two of the top producers, Vall Llach and Clos Mogador.  He also introduced us to Joan Asens who walked us through the hills of his vineyard and his process of winemaking.  Charming man (below), amazing wine.

Joan Asens_Orto Vins

Orto Vins (D.O. Montsant) is a project by Joan Asens, along with 3 partners and friends from the town of Masroig, who are following the footsteps of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents in traditional vine growing. They all come from the coop tradition, which dates back more than 70 years. And they have now returned to their winemaking origins, to a time in which each grower made his/her own wine at home. They make their wines in keeping with biodynamic agricultural methods, with total respect for the vineyard and the land. The project began in 2008, and after just a few years, their wines are beginning to amass acclaim and prizes.  When we asked to buy some of his wines, he just stared at us, shrugged his shoulders, and sent us to his warehouse, hoping his manager could figure it out…

Cava – all Cava is not created equal and the varieties, and quality/price varies as much as French Champagne.  Tried a few and saw why the Cava we had been drinking in the US is a sorry substitute.  When we got back home, we did some research, and you can find these amazing bottles with a little work.

Restaurants

A local gem, La Pubilla – Vivian booked us for a late lunch our first day at this “market restaurant”, kept a secret and loved by locals since it opened.  The small restaurant was packed at 3:15 with a solid line of people waiting. The lunch menu is €15 and gets you 3 courses including a glass of wine (if you want a second, you shell up €1) – what a steal!  Chuck started off with a tender chickpea stew while I had a couple of fingers of mackerel interlaced with diced peeled tomato, perfect segments of bright and juicy orange on some well dressed ruffled leaves (it makes sense that there are Thomas Keller books displayed).

Michelin Star Restaurants (This part of Spain has the more Michelin Star restaurants of anywhere in the world.  We researched the more casual of the long list and went to two of them)

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Cinc Sentits – located in one of the hipster parts of town, you would easily walk past this unassuming door, never knowing what treasures lay inside.  Once you step inside you are hit with the minimalist environment but the food will soon change this illusion. The chef Jordi Artal wants you to use your five senses (hence the name) and creates far from traditional flavors, but with incredible tastes, smells, textures…  We had the tasting menu with the wine paring and begged to purchase the Vermouth (one of the parings) and the olive oil (part of the bread + course), they agreed and enjoying them both in NYC!

ABaC  – this was by far our favorite, I cannot imagine we could surpass this dining experience anywhere in the world.  Located in an quiet, upscale part of the city, inside a beautiful hotel/spa, you begin your meal with a cocktail in the garden. This Michelin-2 starred restaurant is known to be one of the best in the city, and Chef Xavier Pellicer produces food not only photo worthy, but mighty tasty!  The atmosphere is so soothing you may want to linger after dinner and have that digestif back out in the garden.

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Five others that we will try next visit:

  • Enoteca
  • Rocaoo
  • Angle (most casual)
  • Comerc 24 (urban sexy)
  • Hofmann

Tapas Bars – * indicates my favorites

  • * Paco Meralgo (quality of Cal Pep, less hype and tourists) – Carrer de Muntaner, 171

We ate here twice so it says a lot about the quality and atmosphere.  Sit at the large bar area, ensure Rosa is serving you, and enjoy the food and personalities of this fun tapas bar.  Rosa will only speak to you in Catalan but understands, and I would bet, speaks perfect English.  To say she is a character is an understatement.  And the food – Barcelona tapas at it’s best.

  • 42 Parallel (cocktail bar)
  • Tapac24 (Comerc 24’s Tapas Bar)
  • *Elsa y Fred (cocktail bar, tapas) – Carrer del Rec Comtal, 11
  • * Roca Moo (Michelin star restaurant’s tapas bar) Carrer del Rosselló, 265
  • * Tickets – (from Michelin 3 star rest) Avinguda del Paral.lel, 164
  • Cal Pep – (great tapas, long lines, tourists)
  • Bar Velodromo – Carrer de Muntaner, 213
  • El Xampanyet – (family run, drink cava of the house)
  • Ciudad Condal Rambla de Catalunya, 18
  • Cerveceria Catalana (same family as Ciudad Condal, locals)
  • La Cova Fumada Carrer Baluard 56
  • Roure Carrer de Luís Antúnez 
  • MorryssomCarrer de Girona 
  • TossaCarrer de Nàpols 291
  • MaiteaPixos (one of the best in city) Carrer de Casanova 157
  • Casa Jacinta(tiny local bar, excellent Rioja reserve) – Carrer de Tamarit 154
  • El Rincon del Cava Carrer de Blasco de Garay 
  • Irati Traverna Basca – Carrer del Cardenal Casañas, 17
  • Pintxos Attack – 7PM till they run out
  • Txirrimiri – 12:30 & 8:30 bar fills up with tapas

Gaudi – I thought I knew his architecture prior to the trip, but nothing prepares you for seeing it first hand.  Yes it does have a tacky theme park quality until you look beyond the size and colors.   We explored Park Guell, the Cathedral, his house and Casa Batllo.

The Cathedral took our breath away.  The expected completion is 2026, and the construction is financed solely from donations and ticket money. Currently, 8 out of 12  bell towers are completed. The higher towers of the facade, of the glory and the central dome with a height of over 170 meters are still to be built. The inside of the church will make the unbeliever rethink their spirituality.   Take your time visiting, sit and take in the genius of Gaudi.

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One sight most people miss is Sant Pau, the world’s largest Art Nouveau Site.  Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s most important work and the outcome of one of the most significant restoration projects in recent years (transforming the medical pavilions into functional work spaces with the application of sustainability and energy saving parameters).  Built between 1902 and 1930, the Hospital de la Santa Crue i Sant Pau was a highly significant part of the evolution of medicine as it was built as a luxury compound to support the health needs of the common people.  It is a city within a city with amazing landscaped grounds, some of which far surpassed that of the best European hospitals.

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San Sebastian

Gastronomy is an art and feature that sets San Sebastian apart.  Below are my favorite pintxo-bars and Michelin restaruants.

Restaurants

Pintxo-Bars – similar to tapas, pintxo is a small snack, eaten in a bar, usually on top of crusty bread (served in individual portions and usually ordered and paid for independently from drinks). They have a strong socializing component and are regarded as a cornerstone of local culture.

The normal rule for pintxo dining is to make multiple stops, sampling the item each bar is famous for.  Sometimes you will find a bar that you want to stay and continue to eat till you can’t eat one more bit – just do it!

  • Antonio Bar – Calle Bergara 3, antoniobar.com – far from the mobs on Parte Fieja (the main Pintxo bar street) is a local bar where every bite will make you aware why it is so popular.  Plates of delicious seafood line the bar ready to be piled on top of toasted bread.  Order the racion of carpaccio de atun rojo (thin slices of tuna sprinkled with red & green peppers)  hongos foie y yema racion (sauteed mushrooms, seared foie gras, and egg yolk).
  • Bar Zabaleta – Calle Zabelata 51) – no frills pintxo bar known for their tortilla.  A great breakfast after you get your coffee at Sakona Coffee Roasters (Paseo de Ramon Maria Lili2).
  • Bar Paco Bueno – Calle Mayor 6 –  specialty is gambas a la gabardina (battered shrimp with out a bit of grease)
  • Bar Txepetxa – Calle Pesadera 5, http://bartxepetxa.com – specialty boquerones (vinegar-cured anchovies) on crusty bread, topped with diced peppers & onions
  • Borda Berri – Calle Fermin Calbeton 12 – specialty are regulars on blackboard, all delicious such as crisp roasted octopus, creamy risotto, and tender beef cheeks.

San Sebastian has more Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere in the world.   My favorites.

  • Akelarre – Padre Orkolaga 56, http://www.akelarre.net,  has one of the best views set on the hills overlooking the Bay of Biscay.   Chef Pedro Subijana produces some of the best food you will ever have the pleasure of eating.
  • Arzak – Avda, del Alcalde Jose Elosegi, 273, www.arzak.es  – ranked among the 10 best restuarants in the world.  Elena Arzak, the fourth generation in the family, was named the world’s best female chef.
  • Martin Berasategui – Calle de Loidi 4, http://martinberasateui.com – Chef / owner Martin Berasategui holds eight stars intotal, more than any other Spanish chef.  Imaginative, fresh cuisine deeply rooted in it’s environment yet warm, comfortable atmosphere.
  • Mugaritz – Aldura Adea 20, http://mugaritz.com –  chef Andoni Luis Aduriz is one of the best in the world since 2006 and the third best since 2011.
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