Once we made our way from the airport to the iconic Hotel Cotton House (which is gorgeous by the way!) we were welcomed by the sights of historic statues and architecture. People bustled on the streets lined with street art and graffiti. For a city famous for its art and architecture, the ride into the city did not disappoint as it provided a heavy mix of both historic and modern artistry.
After a quick check-in at the hotel, there was no time to wait for our first adventure was about to begin. We met up with our group and began a gastronomic walk through the Casco Antiguo (Old Town) of Barcelona.
The Old Town consisted of narrow alleyways populated with tourists lined with tall 100+ year old buildings. Niche shops, restaurants, bakeries, butchers, and cafes occupied the first level of the buildings and the higher levels were predominantly living spaces for the local residents. Basically you’ll end up walking along these alleys and easily find yourself getting lost in them, but don’t worry, there are plenty of people to help guide you.
As we neared the end of our first adventure it was time to stop and experience some of the famous Catalan tapas at La Puntual. We started our meal by spreading fresh tomatoes on top of spanish bread then adding a little olive oil. We learned that this is the common Catalonian tradition, such as bread with herbs/oils for Italian meals or chips and salsa with Mexican cuisine.
The next day we were set to take a journey west of Barcelona to visit the olive groves where Spectrum sources its organic Spanish extra virgin olive oil. We traveled on narrow roads through vast landscapes full of poppy fields and greenery. The ancient castle-like structures that sprinkled the hilly landscapes made it feel like a setting to a fairy tale.
After a couple of hours the area became filled with olive groves and vineyards. At the center was a small town, desolate compared to the big city of Barcelona, and a small road that led to the main building where they store wines and olive oils. The building was on top of a large hill and offered beautiful views of the groves, vineyards, and Pyrenees mountains. There, we met the owner of the olive groves and enjoyed a snack of apple cake drizzled with olive oil and espressos before heading into the olive groves.
A quick walk up the hill was all it took to get to the beautiful olive groves, where we learned about the tedious process of producing organic olive trees and olive oil, which have been family-grown for generations and produced in small batches. No use of artificial chemicals – just wholesome, organic goodness.
What I loved about the olive trees he produces is that he and his team take such good care of the groves and take care in how they’re pressed. The groves were surrounded by an amazing environment of wildflowers, trees and beautiful vines. We learned that Spain produces more olive oil than anywhere else in the world and is home to over 300 million olive trees. Many of the olive oil found in Italy actually comes from Spain; who knew?
After visiting the beautiful organic olive groves, we traveled to the center of town and ended with a wonderfully prepared tapas meal. Every dish was paired with a different flavor of olive oil almost how we would pair certain meals with different wines. We experienced infused olive oils such as truffle, oregano, lemon, red pepper and basil. I think my favorite was strawberries with a balsamic sugar reduction and a drizzle of lemon olive oil. YUM.
Our tour ended and next on the list was to travel northeast to the Emporda region of Spain. We arrived at the MOST AMAZING boutique Hotel El Raco de Madremanya. After an excellent dinner, we called it an early night since we had a biking tour the following day.
Started our morning off right with the traditional Pan con Aceite (which is basically just Spanish olive oil on toasted bread) with some fresh fruit to prepare us for the day of riding electric bikes. I decided to turn off my electricity and get some exercise in. It was probably one of my favorite activities we did as a group because we were able to see the beautiful countryside up close and personal.
On our ride, we made a stop in the medieval town of Pals, a small town filled with cobbled streets and beautiful Gothic architecture. Towers built in the 13th century still stood tall and sights such as the Medes Islands of the Mediterranean and a landscape of the fields of Emporda could be seen from the town center. From there, we rode to rice fields where they showed us the process of producing and harvesting rice. Tony even had himself a nice rice beer.
After that we headed back to the camp where we sat down to enjoy more charcuterie while a fresh seafood paella dish was being prepared. The paella was made with homemade fish stock, veggies, spanish rice, shrimp, crawfish and a generous amount of olive oil. I also got to try an arugula garpazio with olive oil and fell in love.
The next item on the agenda was a “Liquid Journey” with award-winning mixologist Diego Baud. If you get a chance to do a liquid journey in Spain, I highly recommend it! We sampled extraordinary drinks such as a tasteful margarita prepared uniquely in a bag and a whiskey drink that tastes like peanut butter aka Tony’s dream come true.
However, the night did not end there as we were to travel to the Michelin rated restaurant, La Calendula, for dinner where I proceeded to eat the most food I’ve ever consumed in MY LIFE. Here we were greeted by chef Iolanda Bustos where her and her team prepared 12 dishes for our group. Every ingredient was locally produced and many of her dishes included edible wild flowers and roots. It was unique, fun and full of beautiful presentation. Although, I now know that I’m not a huge fan of razor clams, ha!
The next morning we started our trip back to Barcelona with a stop at L’Escala in between. L’Escala is a fishing port city famous for their anchovies and mackerel. Tony and I are not huge fans of either one but it was interesting to learn about fishing techniques and the local auction the fisherman have to sell them. Our group took a cooking class from the local fisherman where we prepared our own lunch.
Once back in Barcelona we were able to explore some of the famous local markets. These markets, especially the Boqueria, are unlike anything we have in the states. Hundreds of stands are selling everything from freshly squeezed fruit juices to freshly caught fish.
The stands are packed as tight as possible together and thousands of customers shop all throughout the day. If you are hungry or thirsty there are plenty of stands selling food and drinks on the go. Be wary though, the public bathrooms are not free so be sure to carry a couple euros with you.
For our last day in Barcelona we wanted to see some of Antoni Gaudi’s famous architecture. We were able to get tickets to the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that began construction in 1880’s and is still being completed. It may be one of the most touristy things to do in Barcelona but it truly amazing to see in person.
Another thing we loved was the Pablo Picasso Museum. I’m such a huge Picasso fan, so this was a must on my list!
Just by walking around Barcelona you never know when you are about to run into something amazing. The city flourishes in culture and vibrant life. Being a coastal city, its cuisine is heavily influenced by seafood but just inland there are many fields and farms so options are plentiful. The Catalonia region is ideal for growing olives and grapes so it is not surprising that some of the best oils (including Spectrum!) and wines come from this region.
Other Barcelona recommendations
- Flax and Kale
- Brunch and Cake
- Honest Greens
- Bar Canete
- Surf House
- La Pepita
- La Luna
- Bo De Be
- Hoja Santa
- Alsur Cafe
- Teresa Carles
- San Pedrito
- Bar Del Pita
THINGS TO DO:
- Sagrada Familia
- La Boqueria
- Camp Nou
- Pablo Picasso Museum
- Go to the beach
- Eat your heart out
- Barcelona Cathedral
- Gothic Quarter
I hope you enjoyed my trip recap below! Thanks to Spectrum for sponsoring this trip and for being such amazing partners in cooking.