Just returned from a quick visit to Barcelona & Madrid, two fantastic Spanish cities.
MH and I have been to both numerous times – I can get lost in Barcelona and still end up the right place. MH has family connections with Madrid and used to reside there, both as a student and in a professional capacity, so she has a great affection for the place.
Barcelona & Madrid are both great in their own way. Barcelona has a real passion about it, vibrant and exciting. They seem to enjoy every day to the full, giving two fingers to those who value death more than life. It is rather proudly bohemian, and it is no coincidence that most of the artistic and innovative painters and architects resided in the city. Just walking the streets is magical – the Gaudi & Puig and probably the massively under-rated, but proficient Montaner – inspired buildings that are incredible and totally timeless.
This time we stayed with family friends who have now lived in Barcelona for 18 months. Lila is originally from Peru but totally immerses herself in every city. I thought I knew Barcelona well, but Lila opened up many new experiences and took us to places I barely knew existed. The Casa Fuster hotel on Passeig de Graci, designed by the aforementioned Montaner – stunning both in and out. The Herbaristeria del cel where they use metal rods to gauge your health and then run the rods over the various herbs to see what potions you need. Quirky, yes, but that is typical of the city. I had never sampled Peruvian food, so we went to Ceviche 103. A bright and funky restaurant serving really good food. My wonderful octopus salad being a fine example. We also experienced Flax & Kale, a vegetarian restaurant on three levels located in a small alley just off the Ramblas. It had a tremendous buzzing atmosphere and the food was again exceptional.
Barcelona does have all the international brand names, but just as interesting small independent shops. MH frequents Isabel Del Pedro boutique hidden away just off the Diagonal, unique designs. I even find the chemists (Farmacia) interesting and much less bland than their UK counterparts. We strolled the Ramblas, scene of the terrorist attack last month, and it was as busy as ever, ending on the waterfront where we watched an open-air concert. As we walked the Ramblas I thought Barcelona even seems to be able to do tacky with a certain style. It is busy and a real tourist trap with picture book menus. Many of the waiters seemed to have come from Karachi rather than Catalonia, but it has to be done at least once. Just off the side roads, you have numerous and much more authentic dining options, deliberately hidden away.
“It just proves how much is still waiting to be discovered in both Barcelona & Madrid”
The next day we went to Montserrat mountaintop Monastery. This is located just over 30 miles west of Barcelona. We drove, which took about 45 minutes, as the last part of the journey the roads were narrow and jammed. This gave us time to appreciate the stunning scenery. High mountains (you are 4000 feet above sea level) and unique rock formations. Those arriving by train can also access the final part of the journey by cable car. The Benedictine Monastery was originally built in the year 800 but was virtually destroyed during the Spanish – French war of the 1880 ‘s. It was then totally rebuilt and now houses 100 resident monks. There is a grand courtyard and museum, the Basilica, where you will find the image of the Virgin of Monserrat (Black Virgin), who is the patron saint of Catalan. Further down the hill, accessed by funicular and rather steep rocky pathway. You have the Santa Cova, a small shrine and chapel where the statue of the virgin was hidden during a Moorish invasion. Yes, the experience is religious, but it is so much more – the scenery, the scale and beauty of the buildings, the Basilica and a rather nice food market. Fantastic.
Madrid is a more conservative city, but just as elegant, and the prices in the restaurants seemed a good 15% cheaper than Barcelona.
A great three days. We packed so much into a short time, but both of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It just proves how much is still waiting to be discovered in both Barcelona & Madrid. Can’t wait to go back!
DK – Chic Locations