Best of Barcelona: Tapas, Wine & Cocktails

 

Barcelona is a bit of an enigma, a chic European city that somehow maintains the vibe of a laid back seaside town.  A mix of extraordinary architecture and culinary excellence, particularly when it comes to seafood. In between exploring soul-stirring masterpieces like the Sagrada Família and Casa Batlló by the city’s most revered son, Antoni Gaudí, take some time to immerse yourself in the culinary artistry that awaits seemingly around every corner … if you know where to look.  Below are some of my “can’t miss” highlights.  

Best Gourmet Market in Barcelona

My favorite place to start an exploration of any new city is the central market.  To me, there is no other way to quickly dig into the language, social customs and culture of a new place.  Barcelona counts perhaps the best market in the world, Mercado de La Boqueria, as one of its crown jewels.  You can spend hours meandering around the various stalls, sampling Spanish cheeses, olives and jamón, but be sure to allocate enough time to actually take a seat at one of the food stalls and settle into Spanish daily life.  Peaking at what the locals are ordering and following suit is almost always a fool-proof plan. One of the best stalls in the market is Pinotxo BarWhite Beans and Baby Squid at Pinotxo Bar in La Boqueria Barcelona SpainTheir house speciality is the chickpeas (which we missed twice, so arrive around opening time to have a fighting chance to try them), but everything is extraordinary.  Order a crisp glass of cava and pair it with a hearty dish of white beans and baby squid; wild mushrooms with Iberian pork sausage; or grilled shrimp with butter and garlic — or maybe all three like I did!  From there nestle in at nearby Ramblero for impossibly fresh and expertly prepared seafood. Order the “pescadito frito” — tiny little fish fried into ethereal briny bites (pictured above) — with a squeeze of fresh lemon.  You won’t believe it when you finish the whole basket. 

Great Tapas Bars in Barcelona

Of course, no review of Barcelona’s food scene would be complete without a mention of the city’s incredible tapas bars.  It would take a lifetime to give them all their fair due.  So let’s just agree to settle on two that won’t disappoint. Don’t let the descent into the basement fool you, a surprisingly convivial atmosphere awaits at the other end at Tapas 24.  Lots of beautiful Spanish wine available by the glass.  Bikini Tapa at Tapas 24 in Barcelona SpainPair a nice glass of Ribera del Duero with the “bikini,” a tiny little Spanish ham and cheese sandwich cut into triangles and hot-pressed to a golden crispness; mind-bending flavor in a seemingly humble bite.  The housemade cheesecake — baked to a bubbly brown and nothing like what you’ve had outside of Spain — is equally intoxicating. Baby Clams with White Wine Garlic and Herbs at Cal Pep in Barcelona SpainThen, head on over to Cal Pep.  Don’t be discouraged by the long line; grab a drink from the bar and start studying what those before you seem to be enjoying.  Order a plate of the teeny tiny clams with white wine and garlic and slurp your way to seafood nirvana. 

Best Cocktail Bar in Barcelona (and Maybe the World!) 

I don’t say this lightly: I had THE best cocktail of my life at Paradiso, crowned one of The World’s Best 50 Bars.  Pass through the tiny storefront pastrami shop and traverse through the freezer door (cynics note: yes, just do it).  A carved-wood tropical utopia awaits on the other side. Grab a seat at the bar, and let the cocktail spectacle unfold before your eyes.  If the “Aire de Jalisco” is still on the menu, consider yourself a lottery winner: premium silver tequila with coriander, fresh mustard and daikon sprouts, toasted corn syrup, lemon, ginger, red pepper, chili, cinnamon bitters and apple air.  West-central Mexico in a glass.  

Great Restaurant in Barcelona 

Not too far from Paradiso in the funky El Born neighborhood, you’ll find Llamber.  A sit-down restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere for those that need a break from the frenzy of the tapas bars.  We had a front-row view into the open kitchen and every single dish was an eye-catcher, evoking exclamations of “ooh, what’s that one?!” Smoked Sardines and Figs at Llamber in Barcelona SpainStandout dishes were smoked sardines with yogurt and caramelized figs; beet carpaccio with king prawns, raspberries and pistachios; and the seared beef entrecôte with mini potatoes in dill butter.  The young Italian bartender at Paradiso — who insisted we go to Llamber —declared this restaurant to be the producer of the best gnocchi outside Italy.  

Best Wine Bar in Barcelona

If you are a foodie like me (and I assume if you are reading this you are), there is nothing that sends a warm wave of euphoria through your body like stumbling upon a hidden gem like Bodega MaestrazgoScreen Shot 2020-02-23 at 5.21.43 PMAn unassuming little wine shop and bar in the heart of the El Born that’s been pouring curated glasses of wine since 1952.  Thousands of bottles line the walls and lead the way to the rustic wooden tables at the back. Nearby, the butcher expertly carves perfect slices of jamón Ibérico.  Candles flicker.  Service is friendly.  Everyone is smiling. This is the kind of place you can linger for hours, sampling an array of Spanish wines by the glass paired with generous platters of cured meats and cheese.  

Great Coffee Shop in Barcelona

Ironically, selecting Satan’s Coffee Corner for my list is probably the antithesis of the ethos of this establishment, which proudly displays a sign that snarkily proclaims “fuck Yelp and TripAdvisor” (among other things) near the front door.  Satan had me at hello. But if the coffee sucked, it would have been a distant memory. It doesn’t. Go.

Satan's Coffee Corner Barcelona Spain

Best Chocolate Shop / Bakery in Barcelona 

On an afternoon stroll intended to distract us from nonstop eating so we’d be ready for our next meal, a chance encounter with Chök The Chocolate Kitchen crushed those plans (at least temporarily).The smell of melting chocolate and toasting pastry is intoxicating.  An homage to the mighty cacao, the chocolate bars are some of the best I tasted in our multi-city tour of Spain.  Buy a stack of them for gifts; if you’re lucky you’ll have at least one to actually give away (they are pretty much irresistible on long-haul flights).  

Chök The Chocolate Kitchen Barcelona Spain

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Four Fitness Vacations That Will Change Your Life

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1. WILDFITNESS Kenya, Spain, Greece, Tanzania and England

Imagine arriving at a private villa ensconced in palm trees steps away from the warm Indian ocean in Kenya, or savoring freshly prepared lamb and farm fresh vegetables at sunset while you overlook the mountains on the Greek island of Crete. The Wildfitness locations and accommodations alone would be enough for most travelers, but add in a carefully-crafted program of physical activities, nourishing meals, and the camaraderie of like-minded “tribe members” from around the globe, and you have something truly life-changing. A team of highly-skilled coaches will motivate you through outdoor sessions focused on “wild” movements like running, swimming, boxing, agility, and a few other surprises. There is also plenty of time for rest and relaxing massages. Meals showcase the best local ingredients with a focus on meat (Pan Roasted Chicken in Whole African Spices), fish and an abundance of vegetables in multiple preparations; there are even a few “wild” treats like Avocado Chocolate Mousse.  Best for: Those of any fitness level looking to completely disconnect from the outside world and get back to their “primal” nature.

2. BIKINI BOOTCAMP Tulum, Mexico

Located at the Amansala eco resort on one of the most beautiful stretches of white sand and turquoise water in the world, Bikini Bootcamp is a “tune up for the mind, body and spirit.” The six-day all-inclusive camp offers a mix of fitness classes (zumba, boxing, circuit training, yoga, dance) with top instructors, superb massages and local excursions. Extras include sessions with Mayan healers, a temazcal (sweat lodge), tarot card readings, and more.  Meals focus on healthy fare like tropical fruit and housemade granola, grilled seafood and colorful salads (those who tire of the menu can find solace at nearby hotspots like Hartwood, Posada Margherita, Casa Banana, El Tabano and Restaurare).  Famous Bikini Bootcampers include Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon and Demi Moore. Best for: Ladies looking for a girlfriend getaway or a safe solo excursion who don’t mind casual beach accommodations and a bit of disorder.

3. BACKROADS Worldwide

Backroads is your one-stop shop for a turnkey active getaway, with a seemingly endless selection of adventures. Whatever your dream (a gourmet walking tour through the Tuscan hill towns; a walking and hiking tour of Bhutan; a trekking tour in Peru), Backroads likely has the perfect trip to make it a reality. A focus on high-quality trip leaders, impeccably-designed itineraries, authentic local experiences, and above-and-beyond service makes Backroads an industry leader in group travel. Best for: Those with little time or patience to plan and orchestrate an unforgettable trip and willing to pay a premium to have someone else do the work.

4. NINJA CAMP Canggu, Bali

Located on the magical island of Bali, Ninja Camp is an exclusive health and fitness retreat located in Canggu that embraces the mantra “eat well and play hard.” Ninja Camp is an immersive fitness experience, offering a variety of training activities, tailored nutrition and local adventure activities to small groups of fitness lovers. Freediving, mobility training, yoga, surfing and CrossFit are all on the menu, as are scheduled blocks of free time to rejuvenate. A private chef sources local ingredients and prepares Paleo meals and snacks focused on lean meats, fish and vegetables. “Ninjas” stay in a spectacular, modern villa on beautifully maintained grounds with rice paddy views. Program expansion plans include Guatemala, Iceland, the Philippines and Japan. Best for: Thrill-seekers with a fairly strong baseline level of fitness.

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Top Food Markets to See Before You Die

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1. FERRY PLAZA FARMERS MARKET San Francisco, California

Not too far from the epicenter of the organic food movement popularized by renowned chef, food activist and writer Alice Waters, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market has a seemingly endless offering of organic fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and prepared foods from over 80 Bay Area producers. While the farmers market is open three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday), the Ferry Building Marketplace, open daily, is a destination in its own right. Must Try: Ethereal beignets from Boulettes Larder, burnt caramel hazelnuts from Recchiuti Confections, and almond brittle with dark chocolate from Alfieri Farms.

2. MERCADO DE LA MERCED Mexico City, Mexico

The largest market in Mexico City, La Merced sprawls across four city blocks and offers an boundless bounty of Mexico’s finest provisions from over 3,000 vendors, including dozens of dries and fresh chiles, moles, Oaxacan cheese, nopals (cactus paddles) and avocados. Pick up the freshest ingredients for this unforgettable guacamole. Must Try: Rich, spicy, fragrant Mexican vanilla, and homemade grilled masa cakes.

3. LA BOQUERIA Barcelona, Spain

Dating back to 1217, La Boqueria is one of the oldest, and arguably finest, markets in Europe. With a dizzying array of produce, meat, seafood, cheese, olives, spices and much more, you could easily spend a whole day here, winding down with a glass of cava and tapas at Bar Pinotxo. Or book a class at La Boqueria’s cooking school. Must try: Iberico ham, manchego cheese, and one of the myriad brightly-colored fruit popsicles.

4. TSUKIJI FISH MARKET Tokyo, Japan

The main attraction at Tsukiji Fish Market is the early morning tuna auction, where visitors (capped at 120 a day) line up at 5:00 a.m. to observe the spectacle. Must try: Incomparably fresh sushi and sashimi at Daiwa Sushi.

5. COURS SALEYA Nice, France

Nestled among picturesque buildings and mere steps away from the turquoise Mediterranean Sea, Cours Saleya is one of the most beautiful markets in France. Although largely a flower market, you will find a generous offering of the freshest fruits and vegetables in Southern France, including the elusive and fragrant fraises des bois (wild strawberries). Must try: Sundried tomatoes and vanilla sea salt.

BONUS: WAIMEA TOWN MARKET Waimea, Hawaii

Undoubtedly the best little market you’ve probably never heard of, the Saturday Waimea Town Market is a relatively undiscovered gem nestled among the gently rolling hills of the upcountry. Over 30 vendors offer beautiful produce, meat and prepared foods from the Big Island — most produced within miles — including exotic items like lilikoi (passion fruit), ginger, coconut, papayas, and rambutans, which can be difficult to find as fresh stateside. And if all this wasn’t enough, the market is run on a volunteer basis and has raised over $150,000 in the last six years for Parker School. Must try: Macadamia nut tarts and pineapple and toasted coconut macadamia nuts from Ahualoa Farms

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