By Amy Lively Jensen
If you ask many well-traveled people about their favorite city in the world, chances are that you will hear “Barcelona” from several. Those of us whose faces light up just thinking about this captivating place describe “vitality” as Barcelona’s vibe that calls to them. My favorite experiences were being enthralled by the Gaudi architecture, whizzing around on a Segway, trying such a variety of tapas and of course, drinking incredible wine.
Co-Editor Don Clemens of Chicago Wine Press is a tremendous fan of Barcelona. He describes the excitement at Barcelona’s La Boqueria Market, an open-air market that is a half of a city block long. “I joined the rest of the crowd who were all having fun. The seemingly unending, colorful stalls and tapas choices delighted me. The excellent restaurants by the wharf with freshly caught seafood just sealed the deal for my love of Barcelona!”
Being a foodie, I was also thrilled by La Boqueria Market. Voted the best food market in the world by CNN, this covered market originally dates back to 1217. It is located in Las Ramblas, the world-known promenade. This market is jammed with vendors selling fresh and seasonal foods. I had to stop at vibrantly colored displays of freshly squeezed juices and ponder which of the dozens of special blends I had to try. Wandering through the artistically arranged display cases, the amazing variety was almost overwhelming. Some of the irresistible foods I enjoyed were amazing calamari, Jamon (add accent on o) Iberico (accent on e) (cured ham) and freshly baked empanadas with unusual stuffings. I just had to drink great wine, too. Well-balanced Riojas brimming with deep cherry flavors and Priorat wines with dark fruit and fine tannins were tremendous.
Although many people did communicate in English, speaking with the locals wasn’t always the easiest. Not only did I have to admit no hablo espanol (sqiggle over n) (I don’t speak Spanish very well) there is actually another language being spoken here. Catalan is the dominant language spoken by most locals, so I had to learn a few phrases. “Quant costa aixo” (how much is this?) came in handy when relishing shopping in Barcelona.
I admit to being a true Gaudi lover. The Works of Antoni Gaudi are noteworthy and creative contributions to the architecture of the late 19th and early 20th century. To me, Gaudi’s mosaics, whimsical buildings and imaginative art feel hypnotic and magical. It makes my spirits soar.
Antoni Gaudi took part in the design and construction of 11 projects in Barcelona, which forever changed its skyline. They were inspired by his greatest passions in life: architecture, nature and religion.
A most magical day was spent exploring Gaudi’s Park Güell. It is one of the most majestic parks in the world. You are greeted at the gates designed in the shape of palm leaves, by a mosaic salamander statue, which acts as the symbol of Barcelona. At the top of Güell Park is a seating area where you get a splendid view of the park and Barcelona City. The vibrant colors of the tiles are truly breathtaking. There is also a small house in the park in which Gaudi lived for some years that has been converted into a museum; it showcases enchanting furniture designed by Gaudi.
The most famous monument in Barcelona is Sagrada Familia, a massive cathedral designed by Gaudi. In 1883, the 31-year-old architect began his life’s work here until his death in 1926. It remains unfinished. It is a true work of art, both inside and out. The intricate stone carvings, 18 towers and vibrant stained-glass windows of this glorious church was dazzling.
Strolling around Las Ramblas offered endless possibilities. On this three-quarter mile pedestrian street lined with trees, you’ll find it lively and bustling. The playful street artists who pose like living statues, flower and plant shops, the opera house, chocolaterias (try Café de l’Opera), the market, fountains, museums, bars and outdoor cafes are a few of the sites. The poet Federico Garcia Lorca once described the iconic avenue as “the one street in the world I didn’t want to end.” It does end by the port at the impressive statue of Christopher Columbus.
You can’t forget to take time out from sightseeing to relax at the beach. Barcelona has a long coastline with many pleasurable beaches. Playa de La Barceloneta beach has won awards as one of Europe’s best city beaches. There is lovely scenery along the boardwalk, along with a multitude of restaurants, bars and water activities. We took a Segway tour along the waterfront, which was a highlight of our trip. Gliding past Barcelona treasures, we appreciated our amusing tour guide who told us little-known lore and knew the best spots for photos.
Perry Miroballi of Chicago Wine Press is another Barcelona-lover, who claims Barcelona is “one of the most beautiful cities ever. It has a cool vibe. Some of my favorite memories were the extraordinary dining, Gothic Quarter shops, the Olympic Village and unique doors and knobs that I had to photograph.”
Perry recommends The Serras Hotel, a 5-star boutique hotel with only 28 rooms. It boasts of a famous tenant: on the top floor was Pablo Picasso’s first studio. They have a stylish rooftop terrace that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.
Perry raves about two restaurants he enjoyed. In the Gothic Quarter is hip place to have brunch, or just an espresso, called Milk. There is usually a long line in front vying for one of the 10 tables, but the mouthwatering food is worth the wait. Turkish eggs are an unusual, but delicious breakfast choice. For fine dining, Perry was enamored with the super fresh seafood at Restaurante Barceloneta. “I believe it is the best paella in the city,” he says. The tables on the terrace overlook the astonishingly elite yachts parked in the harbor.
His final recommendation is “a must-do for wine lovers.” Vila Viniteca is a third-generation, family-run wine store with floor to ceiling wines. They are recognized among the most prestigious wine merchants in Europe. Their wines are standing up along every wall in cubicles and you will need a ladder to reach the top ones at 15 feet.
One thing that amazed me about ordering a glass of wine in restaurants and bars in Barcelona is that they were only a few Euros for well made Rioja or wine from Ribera del Duero. In some places, the wine costs less than the water.
It is evident that Barcelona is adored by many…and for good reason.