Barcelona late nights
I think it is probably illegal to go to bed early with a good book in Barcelona. Something about an early night is just wrong in the land of flamenco, fiestas and nights out starting at midnight. But no fear, a little bit of sun and some Gypsy King music and I am back in my 20’s – flinging caution to the wind, staying up all hours and quaffing too much red wine.
My unravelling began in the Placa Reial, one of Barcelona’s largest and most beautiful traffic free squares. Something about the scale and architecture of this sqaure with its huge palm trees and squawking parakeets brings Latin America and long distance travel to mind. With an other world feeling we check out the bars and restaurants that spill out onto a square with it’s chequered history. Until recently it was a centre of vice with pickpockets and prostitution. Today it is all cleaned up but not too neatly, even Guadi’s first commission – the lights in the centre of the square – still carry some artful graffiti.
Eventually we settle ourselves into a corner of the Placa Reial at the Ocana Bar where the drinking and people watching is all too easy. It is always at this point that someone whispers ‘CLUBBING’?! I have been reading COLM TOIBIN’S – ‘A HOMAGE TO BARCELONA’ and he writes vividly about the heady days of the Zeleste Nou and Martin’s Gay Emporium in the 1970’s while Barcelona moved from a dictatorship to a democracy. Today the nightclubbing scene is all probably a lot tamer but there is lots of CHOICE.
The morning after finds me trailing around the PICASSO MUSEUM in dark glasses, moving slowly through the great man’s different periods from blue to cubist. A 12th century Catalan Palace is the showcase for his treasures, which reflect his life in Malaga, Barcelona, Madrid and Paris. My all time favourite Picasso is the huge wall painting, GUERNICA which shows the brutality of the bombing of a Basque town in northern Spain. Sadly for me it was on loan to the REINA SOFIA in Madrid but maybe its absence helped me notice other things more, and this time I was drawn to the simple Malaga landscapes painted on small bits of card when he was boy. Simple but sophisticated. I had also forgotten that Picasso could throw a good pot, his ceramic collection is not to be missed.
Loving the culture but now that insatiable appetite that follows a ‘night on the tiles begins to kick in.’ Just around the corner from the Picasso Museum is a very affordable authentic tapas restaurant, BAR DEL PLA, which comes highly recommended by some local insiders and it dosn’t disappoint.
Time now for a post lunch blast of sea air. It’s easy to forget that Barcelona is a city on the coast. Barcelonetta beach starts at the end of the Ramblas and thanks to a recent clean up your afternoon dip no longer requires a drive out of town or a tetanus shot. Like a lot of city beaches it can be a bit ‘bucket and spade’ but there is usually some ‘easy on the eye’ beach volley ball activity to gawp at and we found the beach cafes not too over priced for some tapas and ‘hair of the dog’ beers. But if do you need to escape the madding crowd, you can HIRE A BIKE and explore the 4.5 mile coastline to find your own quiet slice of beach. Normally, I would be on that bike in a flash but today I am happy to maintain control of my own steady walking motion.
Before the day is out I want to explore an area that I have read about where many of the locals live. Gracia is just a few stops north from the centre on Barcelona on line 5 of the metro. It has it own market L’ABACERNIA and a lively shopping and café scene. It’s the perfect place to pick up gifts at half the price of anywhere downtown and while there are some tourists you feel that you are with a local crowd.
Early evening now and it must now be time to head back to base at HOTEL DO REIAL for a freshen up. We are staying at a new boutique hotel, owned and managed by a local family with a passion for local seasonal food. This is their first hotel venture and the first hotel in Barcelona with a focus on Catalan gastronomy. The location is unbeatable – off the beaten track but near the beaten track if that makes sense. Just 18 rooms, all different and luxurious. The Catalans really know how to introduce contemporary ‘wow’ architecture to traditional buildings. Hotel DoReial is no exception and in the central stairwell there is an amazing piece of lighting architecture running from top to bottom that takes your breath away.
Tonight we are indulging in the HOTEL DO REIAL’S 10 course tasting menu in their romantic basement restaurant. I have never eaten so many babies in one night – squid, kid, suckling pig and elvers (that’s baby eel) and all washed down with all colours of fine hand-picked regional wines to suit. Each course is explained, beautifully presented and truly delicious. And while I like to think I am a person with my own mind, I was very happy to have no decisions to make other than being asked is to confirm that there is nothing we don’t eat.
With plans to get up early to get to the central market – LA BOQUERIA – I feel very happy to do one quick last turn of the square (Placa Reial) before retiring to commit the early to bed with a book offence. I feel I will get away with it tonight having earned my stripes the night before.
It would be easy to dismiss and avoid the LA BOQUERIA MARKET because it is right on the Ramblas which is tourist hell but don’t because none of the other markets can touch it. It has the best and most varied produce, and the seafood stalls are a spectacle not to be missed. Get there early and have a glass of red wine with your breakfast like the locals do. I won’t because I am not drinking… today!
The airport at El Prat is 15 km away (25 minutes by taxi) and the easiest way to reach the centre of Barcelona is by public transport (metro, taxi or bus). We found the easiest and most direct was to get the bus to the very central Catalunya Square and then either walk or hop in a taxi to your destination.
Recommended places to eat
BAR DEL PLA – affordable authentic tapas restaurant near the Piacasso Museum. Highly recommended by local insiders and it doesn’t disappoint.
TALLER DE TAPAS Several locations. Very popular. Queues down the street. In the beginning, Taller de Tapas was only a dream for José Lombardero and Kate Preston as they travelled together across Spain from the Atlantic coast of Galicia to the deserts of Almeria and back to their home-town of Barcelona in Catalonia, gathering authentic recipes as they went. Now Taller de Tapas is the result of their passion for the food of Spain.
ORGANIC BAKERY Several locations. Great pizzas, pastries
OCANA BAR for cocktails and tapas in PLaca Reial
BAR MUT – website says this is where local people go for casual tapas and beer. Looks too cool for school but gets rave reviews. Check out their website – it’s like a Pedro Almodovor film trailer.