It took less than 24 hours for us to realise how different the city of Barcelona is compared with Paris. While there is an immediate charm and Old World Elegance to Paris, the centre of Catalonia in Spain is more wrapped up in a passionate chaos. From the fervour in traffic, the heated political climate and the flavours of the food and wine. The politics of the city is keenly felt - much of Barcelona favours independence for Catalonia from the rest of Spain, with virtually every apartment building sporting multiple separatist banners.
We quickly immerse ourselves into the tourist centre of town - the Boqueria market and Las Ramblas, the old Gothic city. Heaving numbers of tourists fill the streets, and we wonder what it would be like in full swing mid-summer heat with yet more people. Keeping a close guard of all valuables (being somewhat paranoid of pickpockets after multiple warnings) we have enjoyed many of the city's great sights, the greatest surely being the unfinished Sangrada Familia Bascilica - designed by the genius Gaudi in the mid 1800s and to be completed in around 2028. It is in stark contrast with Sacre Coeur in Paris - construction starting in a similar era but the French decided to mimic the old Gothic style, whereas Gaudi has gone for a cutting edge but intricate modern style - with outstanding use of natural light and space - photos do not do it justice.
In dining, it is clear that Tapas is the way to go. Small bars are everywhere through the city, offering a broad range of small and very tasty dishes - often simple ingredients like Manchego cheese, or Choritzo sausage, or fried potatoes, but all are bursting with flavour. We are slightly surprised that there isn't more choice of wine, the specialist wine bars have this sorted but in the tapas bars the house red or Cava are easy options. It pays to ask though, for only €0.50 more per glass we enjoyed excellent Crianza easily three times better than the house wine. All are very forgiving of our almost non-existent Spanish (and complete absence of Catalan) Por Favor!
Certainly a highlight of our trip was a trip to Pares Balta - a family winery in the Penedes region, an hour's train ride from the city. Pares Balta is both Organic and Biodynamic, with vineyards stretching from the plains up to 700 meters above sea level, many plots are tiny pockets of vines surrounded by natural parkland, full of wildlife. We are treated to exceptional hospitality, meeting the two sons who run the business, and their wives who are the winemakers. A terrific personal tour by 4WD through the rugged forest terrain by the instantly affable Joan and his business consultant / financial economist / expert photographer Marti. We taste an impressive lineup of wines, from a Cava made in a tradional Champagne style, whites from white Grenache, Xarello and Gewurztraminer, reds from the hallmark Garnacha but also terrific Syrah and a mind blowing Carignan. To top it off we are treated to a gastronomic treat - a feast of wild mushrooms and ultra-fresh seafood that would be proud to be presented in a Michelin star restaurant.
Our last day is tomorrow, and we plan to make our way to Monserrat - a monastry based among breathtaking scenery high in the mountains. We will be sad to see our memorable journey come to a close, but now that our appetites have been tempted we know that we will be back.