Sunday, 24 September 2017

Barcelona Guide - Part Three - Where to stay & must see attractions

Writing about our break in Barcelona has given me mixed feelings, its making me miss it already, so much so that we are already planning a return next year, perhaps combining it with the experience of going to see the Formula One, while also getting to see some of the places that this time we didn't have time to experience. With friends and colleagues having seen the first couple of posts, they have asked me about my time there and its been great to tell them about it and equally as enjoyable to put these guides together.

Where to stay 

Whisper it quietly, but myself and Beth stopped in a three star hotel.....I can assure you that it really wasn't evident and you would be stretched to find a hotel providing such value combined with style, location, comfort and facilities.

The Andante Hotel was the ideal place for us to be located, Las Ramblas, the marina are only a few minutes walk away providing a great central starting point to each day. 

The hotel has spacious rooms, with all the amenities you would come to expect, with zero noise considering you are in the middle of large city, comfortable beds, amazing black out curtains & upon the roof is the cherry on the cake, with a sun terrace and infinity pool, providing stunning panoramic views of the city.

They have a large emphasis on sustainability, saving waste & being eco friendly, as well as being contemporary in its design, it was an ideal place to recharge after hours and hours or walking. 

With the starting point established, it was now to the places that would fill up our days. 

The Camp Nou Stadium - Home of Barcelona F.C 

Whether a football fan or not, this place is stunning, a church of football with bold plans for the future development of the stadium. With the amount of people visiting you need to pre book your tickets. I would advise to set aside around 90 minutes for the tour, where you get to see nearly every part of the stadium. For me, having made Barcelona my favourite Spanish team as a youngster, I was really keen to take in all the history of the club and what is such a huge and fantastic stadium.

Again due to queue times I would recommend that you book tickets in advance, the site that was meant to be a unique housing area, however now has become a must see place that I would describe essentially as an open air art gallery.

It does get extremely busy so when taking photos you need to be quick. Beth isn't particularly keen on metro travel so we took the bus, you need to get the number 24 which takes around half an hour and drops you right outside one of the main entrances.

It's difficult to describe the feeling when you arrive here, but having your breath taken away by such stunning architecture is almost indescribable. The constant and ongoing development of this monumental building is mesmerising, its almost impossible to take it all in, the colours of the stained glass windows and the way they direct and manipulate the light, which creates a vision of what I would expect heaven to look like, I think you'll understand what I mean by that when you see it.

When booking tickets here, be sure to select one of the towers as part of the visit, with this you are given a time window to go up the towers elevator, they are strict with timings so be sure to plan this in. 

A vast park, which is also where the city Zoo is located, and a stunning fountain that just pops up draped in striking bright gold statues and figures.  There is something going on in every part of it, people playing music, practising yoga, dancing, having picnics, families playing, also keep a look out for the giant mammoth statue. We took a walk around and came across a small lake, where you can hire a a paddle boat for six euros which we did for around 40 minutes, a great workout to build up an appetite for lunch.

4.2km of golden sands, only 10 minutes away from the city centre. How many cities can boast that? 
We didn't sunbathe here, but it was lovely to take in the sun soaked walk after lunch, alongside the beach you are offered a wealth of restaurants, and for the night scene there are a number clubs over looking the beach and sea.

These are my top places to visit in Barcelona, and yet there are plenty more that we wanted to fit in too. 

I would strongly advise to allow for wandering time, we took different routes to and from our hotel depending where our main destination was located, and along every street there is something to draw you in, keep your eyes peeled because you can be assured that there will be a building or structure on your route draped in Gauid's fine handiwork.

Ensure you take in The Gothic quarter & El Born, close to to here there are plenty of shopping opportunities, from unique independents - one of which I have to mention is Suara, a cat foundation to adopt Cats in need, as well as a whole shop full of cat inspired clothing which is pulled off with unbelievable results, please take this in, it can be found opposite to one of my recommend restaurants Llamber.

These sit alongside recognised high street brands to the exclusive designer stores, surrounding this area are the Cathedral, Arc De Triumph and too many beautiful buildings to list in all honesty.

I pre warn you that fitting all this in within three days nearly broke us physically, that may say more about us than the demands of the city, but we were determined to cram everything in and because of the beauty of the city we travelled nearly everywhere on foot, comfy footwear is essential. 

Barcelona is a city that gives you everything you need and more, in all aspects that you could possibly want, quite simply go and enjoy!!


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Barcelona City Guide Part Two - Breakfast, Lunch & little treats

Following on from the first guide to Barcelona that I put together, here is my guide to places to go for breakfast nibbles and little cafe stops for much-needed middle of the day refuelling! Believe me, when you read part three of this series about all the places we visited in little over 3 days you will appreciate the need for a good list of potential refuelling stops...

Again, with some great planning as featured in part one, we had identified the places we wanted to visit that were able to offer great food, atmosphere and stylish, authentic decor as well as being logistically suitable to the chosen attractions of each day.  Admittedly, there was one occasion where we simply hopped into the nearest patisserie and collected a couple of croissants and coffees to go -this is the beauty of cities like Barcelona though, there are so many lovely & quaint cafes with their own bakeries where you can simply take the load off and enjoy a simple but delicious pastry. You really are spoilt for choice.

One place that was top of our list was the absolute must-visit, Brunch & Cake

Barcelona boasts four of the these dotted around the city with a fifth due very soon. We decided to visit 'Brunch & Cake By The Sea', which is the newest of the four. Its popularity was clear to see. At around 13.30pm we arrived and there was queue of around 4 or 5 other couples, most were simply waiting for a table outside. If I'm honest I wasn't too concerned with that - despite the title of being by the sea you are actually facing the road next to the port, which does provide some very nice boats and yachts too see, but not the beach or sea water, so being inside we didn't feel we were missing out on anything. In fact, the decor inside is just perfect - laid-back, beach-side vibes with splashes of marble, brass and rustic wood (even some hay-bale seats).

For anyone health conscious, there is a great combination of fruit, organic, vegan and nutritional based dishes then this ticks every box. That was evident from the variety of cereals, pancakes, egg based dishes, salads & smoothies on offer.

There really wasn't anything on the menu I wouldn't of happily devoured, however after much deliberation we both ended up choosing the Signature Blueberry Cheesecake Pancakes with banana, granola and seasonal fruits, accompanied with a tiramisu smoothie full of natural cocao,dates, banana, coconut milk, coffee and vegan protein. Beth opted for the Blueberry Bomb made up of  blueberries (obviously), banana, coconut milk and raw mango chia jam.

While waiting we couldn't help but head turn at every dish that came out from the kitchen. Every single one uniquely presented, in great portion size as well as being bright and eye catching. We didn't have long to wait despite how busy they were, and even if we had of been kept waiting I can assure you it would of been worth the wait.

Two bright platefuls of pancakes came our way and we both wowed at what was in front of us.. a stack of 3 chunky pancakes each, a pineapple top sat aloft of them, with scattered fruit and granola around the edges of the plates, sat alongside our freshly made smoothies, mine a deep brown colour but topped off with a bright pink topping and sprig of mint.

If I wasn't mindful of needing to get some photos for this very blog then I would of tucked straight in, but they certainly got the visual appreciation that they deserved. However that palled in to insignificance once I got a taste, apart from a lot of mmmmmm's and wide eye glances, there was barely a word spoken. Honestly everything was so delicious and refreshing. All of the fresh and natural ingredients combined to make such a filling meal, as someone who can quite confidently put away any size dish, I found myself really struggling. I can also safely say that this kept us going right the way through the rest of the day into the night so really offered great value for money too.

Another not to miss place was Flax & Kale. My word Barcelona has such a wealth of trendy, healthy based places to eat and this place was just the perfect choice for our last breakfast before departing this amazing city.

Flax & Kale prides itself on a menu that is 80% plant based, with the remaining 20% made up of oily fish. I make no denial of my love for meat but I am always on the look out for good quality food however that may come about, and it is always good to see various ways that dishes can be made with such quality and taste, with ingredients you may not expect or know of particularly well.

We were here purely for breakfast but they do offer lunch and dinner menus too. We both opted for a variety of the breakfast bowls, mine the Acaitella Bowl ( Raw Cacao, homemade hazelnut cream, gluten free crumble, kiwi strawberries, banana & tumeric dressing) and Beth for the Royal coconut milk parfait ( coconut milk yogurt, housemade granola, seasonal fruits & berries) alongside this a coffee for me and Beth opted for one their huge range of juices. There are several fridges full of the freshly made juices to cater for your every need.

These dishes were both beautifully presented, perhaps not as unique as Brunch & Cake, but that doesn't take anything away from the experience. The ingredients combined to make bright and presentable bowls which were matched by the filling and extremely tasty ingredients.

This is a unique restaurant with such a heavy emphasis on the healthy produce I urge you to make this one if your eating destinations, and would love to know what the other times of day have to offer.

One place we didn't actually sit down at to eat or drink but just had to see was inside, was El Nacional, it was on our list but we simply ran out of time. But after what we had read about it we had to take a peek. This electric establishment boasts four different restaurants in one place, with tapas and bars running through the centre. It is a large building that just catches the eye with it's unique interior (and array of beautiful botanics outside), all of which combine without looking gaudy. What perhaps was even more amazing was that this wasn't in a prominent position easy to find, its tucked down a little side street of the main strip of retail shops.

You almost wouldn't know it's even there. This place really is both a blogger's and instagrammer's dream - plenty of large plants outside, a very art deco feel about the decor and interior furnishings, and the added touch of having its own newspaper, offering insights into the history of the building and its renovation alongside information on the people behind it all and the local and varied produce they use.

My sweet tooth and coffee needs were satisfied by Chok & Nomad Coffee. Chok was amazing! Had we arrived earlier in the day we would of had even more choice than we had, but there was still a huge variety of hand crafted donuts ( over 30 varieties to choose from) , biscuits, brownies and various other naughty treats on offer. Do I dare confess how much we had?..We felt we had earned our right to pig out here... I highly recommend sampling the chocolate truffles and maybe a couple of donuts - the lemon meringue was my favourite.

At Nomad Coffee you are greeted, literally, with a lab of coffee. The lady who served us was an absolute expert on her products, educating many a customer on the beans, their origin how they are roasted to create the best possible coffee you could experience. A couple of espressos later and I was super-charged to resume the seemingly endless meandering around the city.

So there we have it. The second instalment of my Guide to Barcelona. Be prepared, you need to of had had all of this fuel of great food, drink & naughty treats to prepare and get you through all of the places you need to visit and explore throughout Barcelona which are coming in part three.

Missed part one? You can read it here. 


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Barcelona City Guide Part One - Restaurants

As 30th Birthday presents go, a trip to Barcelona from my Fiance was an incredible and very thoughtful idea.

My excitement had to be reigned in though as we had 2 months to wait until we jetted off for this mini break.

This amount of time though was no bad thing. We had ample time to research & plan our three and a bit days there. So over the past 7 or 8 weeks we have taken ourselves into the kitchen to discuss ideas over several cups of tea (or laid out in the garden when the weather has allowed) and taken our travel literature to various beer gardens to come up with the ideal itinerary for both our tastes.

My first recommendation would be to purchase a copy of The 500 Hidden Secrets Of Barcelona by Mark Cloostermans. This really helped us with suggestions under various categories such as: stylish restaurants, landmarks, tapas bars, breathtaking views and so much more. With five suggestions per category, we didn't feel overwhelmed by the choices and it really helped as we could quickly google and trip advisor each place to see whether it was to our taste, easy to get to and of course how many 'instagrammable' photo opportunities we could get.

We had 3 (and a bit) days to fit as much in as we could without rushing - we wanted to make sure we had enough time to take everything in, as well as factoring in time for general 'wandering'. We didn't want to waste any precious time, so we downloaded a great app called Sygic Travel: Trip & City Guide. Using this is pretty easy - you could use pre loaded templates with suggestions based upon your days or reason for travel, we however opted to choose our amount of days and start inputting our selected destinations. We could see where each place was in relation to our hotel, and enabled us to work out where we could save time and visit places closer together and where our eating and drinking choices would fit in with that too.

Once we had inputted everything we really wanted to see and do, it was clear that the few days were going be jam packed! I would in urge however not to keep things too tight time wise as Barcelona is a fabulous city to just 'get lost' in!  You get drawn in by the little side streets with their hidden gems and independent shops selling clothes, home interior bits, local products, street food and so much more. On top of this and what makes this city so incredible are the buildings and various structures around every corner. The city is one giant art gallery and we could of easily just spent a full day walking around and taking it all in, snapping away as many pictures as we could.

Good food is extremely important to me (there has been many occasions where Hanrgy Sean has kicked in) so it was vital that with a lot of walking about over the three days that we had some great restaurants to visit and sample the local cuisine... as well as a few pints of Estrella & the odd jug of Sangria, of course!

On the way back from our first day of exploring we entered the district of Born where we located our first dinner destination which was Llamber, a restaurant with a lovely cosy interior, with a mix of modern with rustic looking brick work, along wood & steel furniture. Confession time here... something that has shocked many people I have told, this was my first time sampling tapas!! I know I know, 30 years old, self confessed foodie - shocking! At least this way my first experience would be in the country of its origin rather than a UK based chain lacking the authentic local produce. We booked a table for 9pm, this was also going to take some adjusting too, but we felt that we wanted to do things the Spanish way and its their way to eat late, if anything at 9pm we were quite early (the restaurant got considerably busier at around 10.30.11pm!)

Greeted by very friendly and welcoming staff, they were more than happy to talk us through the menu options making suggestions of what goes well together as well as particular dishes that they recommend.

The choice was difficult, but we opted for a selection of Patatinas Bravas, a plate of Serrano ham, Grilled aged beef with edible charcoal (still don't know what this was made of) homemade ham croquette and what was my favourite and highly recommend selection was the marinated sea bass with avocado, bloody mary and pico de gallo. Not entirely sure how but there was just enough room for us to share a dessert of white chocolate cloud, pistachio and goats cheese ice cream.

During a little over two hours, the customers kept coming in, obviously a popular place and for good reason. Constantly looked after and considering it was so busy at no point did we feel rushed, nor were the tables too close together, allowing us the ideal first meal for this trip. Just make sure you book in - this place is incredibly popular!


Our second evening restaurant was one that wasn't originally in our plans, mainly due to our very sore feet and legs after a good 9 hours walking around in the day, but also on the way back to our hotel we were looking for one that was on our list and on the way came across a lovely looking place called Luzia.

It seemed to have a mixture of dishes and that was also reflected with the interior, a giant wooden dragon dominated the ceiling, alongside bohemian hints and rustic furniture and wall art.  Helped by a customer leaving telling us that it was somewhere she would highly recommend, we thought why not? There was another great array of tapas dishes, but on this occasion the lure of the wood fired pizza oven couldn't be ignored. The pizza's were delicious and there is something about being able to watch it being made, the dough being prepared and tossed in the air, and the open view kitchen enabling you as the customer to see everything happening.

The restaurant has such a cosy feel and some very friendly staff. It was a very easy place to be and it felt very welcoming after a hard days sight seeing, however my sweet tooth was left wanting as there was no desserts on the menu, this is no bad thing though as there are a number of places you can satisfy that need as you turn back on to The Ramblas.


Our final main meal was reserved for Bar Lobo, perfectly located to The Ramblas it was a good stumbling distance back to the hotel as well as offering some great instagramable opportunities. The first tick box had to be the quality of the food however and the menu looked great and with a large amount of tapas dishes to choose from it seemed rude not to end the trip with my second taste of the local traditional food. Again we seemed to pretty much fill our table with as much as we thought we could fit in. We had some beautiful Serrano Ham, nachos, white bait, potato omelette, asparagus tempura, ham croquettes and brushed tomato bread, with a jug of sangria to accompany it all.

The food was delicious and incredible value. The interior was a classy mix of modern and rustic materials with very high ceilings, suspended from which are several round lanterns and lights made out of books all combined make a very cool look and very camera friendly. To top this place off was the wonderful service, I'm a stickler for good customer service and the lady that was looking after us couldn't have been more friendly and helpful. It was a perfect last destination for our final night and comes with a high recommendation from me. A bit of advice here would be that they don't take reservations but there were a few tables to choose from when we arrived at 9pm - thats the time I would aim for as it seems to get insanely busy everywhere across the city after this time.

Bar Lobo

Hope you foodies out there get to experience some of these great Barcelona finds, coming up next will be the great places we visited for breakfast, brunch and coffee.

Blogger Template Created by pipdig