Apr 01

To Market To Market – in Barcelona

Strolling through local markets on our travels is as much a form of sightseeing as it is a shopping trip or another chance to eat out. Especially in Barcelona, where the markets are so wonderful.

Taking in the dazzling displays of freshly-caught seafood and fish, gills scarlet and scales glistening, the kaleidoscope of colours that are the exhibits of fresh fruit and vegetables that smell like they’ve just been picked, and the aromatic counters of cheeses, sausages and hams… it’s all such a delight, isn’t it?

But we also like to watch the locals and how they interact, how the competing fishmongers call out to their customers, promoting their specials, how the shoppers interrogate the merchants about this particular type of vegetable and where it was grown, or how they explain in minute detail exactly how they want a cut of meat prepared, what they’re going to do with it, how many people they’re feeding and so on.

For many of the local shoppers, their daily trip to the market is a ritual that’s as much about socializing as it is about procuring the freshest seasonal produce. I love to watch the old ladies gossip over their trolleys, the old blokes discuss the footie results over beers at the market bar, and the young mothers chat about how their kids are doing at school. Although Terence will be watching them to see what they’re buying, so he can get some too!

The markets in Barcelona are some of the best in Spain (aside from the market in Jerez!) and you should include one or two on your to-do list, as much for soaking up the local scene, as for sightseeing, shopping, and eating – many of the markets have simple little local tapas bars, and more stylish, upmarket restaurants and bars, such as Cuines de Santa Caterina.

The architecture of markets such as La Boqueria on Las Ramblas and Santa Caterina in La Ribera are Modernist, built between 1888 and 1913, and are also stunning to look at.

The excellent Barcelona tourism website has pages of info on the city’s markets, covering everything from their history and architecture to where to eat, such as Pinotxo at La Boqueria.

Personally, we think La Boqueria has succumbed too much to the tourist dollar in recent years and is not as ‘local’ or as atmospheric as it used to be – there are now way too many stalls selling pre-packaged salads and juices for tourists.

We prefer markets such as Santa Caterina and La Llibertat in Gràcia, but La Boqueria is still worth a visit.

Whichever market you go to, make sure you combine some sight-seeing and people-watching with your food-tasting!

Have you been to La Boqueria? What do you think? Do you like to visit local markets when you travel?

Mar 31

Eating Out in Barcelona: Contemporary Catalan Cuisine

The contemporary Catalan cuisine scene in Barcelona makes the city one of the best food destinations in the world.

The dishes coming out of Barcelona’s kitchens are often wildly creative, yet utilise locally sourced ingredients with a nod to dishes of the past, reinterpreted with finer attention to detail, creativity, presentation, and contemporary cooking techniques. And surprisingly the cuisine is often very affordable – even in those restaurants that have Michelin stars, and especially if you go for lunch.

These often small restaurants with young chefs at the helm, have been labelled ‘bistronomic’ restaurants; ‘bistro’ for the influence of the traditional Catalan dishes that inform their menu, and ‘gastronomic’, referring to the avant-garde techniques used.

Call them what you will, but we are smitten by their inventiveness, the lack of pretence in the décor and the service, and the number of different dishes and flavours that a diner can sample at one sitting. They make a traditional three-course à la carte meal look decidedly old-fashioned.

As Jordi Artal from Cinc Sentits (one of the best of this breed of restaurant in our opinion) explained to us, “We took a-la-carte off the menu last year and, really, no-one seemed to care. Most guests order the degustation menu anyway.” You should do the same.

Any visitor to Barcelona who has an interest in food should make sure that they visit one of these restaurants and order the degustation menu. If you’re only here for a few days, do one of these restaurants for a ‘date night’, but be warned you’ll be staring at the plates with lust rather than longingly into your partners eyes!

Once again these are restaurants that we’ve visited personally. This is no guidebook, folks.

Cinc Sentits
Why? A gifted chef, a great sommelier, and welcoming maître d‘, it’s bistronomic at its best in a warm, but modern space.
Terence says: Jordi Artal is a true culinary talent and despite no formal training as a chef, has a well-deserved Michelin star for his creative cuisine. I’m jealous and his food makes me weep. These two things may be related.
Lara says:
It’s one of the few restaurants we’ve returned to and not been disappointed on subsequent visits; the creativity and quality are consistently brilliant and pleasantly surprising.
Star plate: The only thing that isn’t a seasonal dish is the ‘Grand Cru’ Chocolate! Pray it’s on the menu.
Address: Aribau 58, L’Eixample, http://www.cincsentits.com/

Alkimia
Why? Often crazily creative, boundary- and genre-pushing cuisine, served up in a spare, white space.
Terence says: Not all dishes worked for me but it was never less than fascinating. The Asian twist in the middle of the degustation menu was genius.
Lara says:
After Cinc Sentits, this is my favorite restaurant in Barcelona; the service was easily as warm and friendly and although the dishes weren’t as consistently exemplary the flavour combinations were sometimes even more dazzling.
Star plate: Pickled oysters with glazed cheek and spinach sauté.
Address: Industria 79, Gràcia, www.alkimia.cat

Hisop
Why? This is a favourite of many Barcelona chefs for the fact that it’s incredibly creative but still not crazily priced.
Terence says: Staff changes since we visited last summer have affected the service (for the worse), but not the creativity of the chef, that’s for sure! Expect the unexpected.
Lara says: Last time we ate here I left thinking this was Barcelona’s best restaurant, but last week I was disappointed by the service, and only 80% of dishes excited me. Still, that’s a lot more than most.
Star plate: The scallop with truffle, watercress and rucola sauce.
Address: Passatge Marimon 9, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, www.hisop.com

Moo*
Why?
Haute cuisine by the famous Roca brothers in an environment that visitors will warm to, but with unexpected flavours and aromas, alongside a brilliant matching wine list.
Terence says: Simply a flawless experience, despite being located behind the lobby of the hotel. Loved the wine pairing – some special wines on the list.
Lara says: The food and service were impeccable, but I actually like the busy off-lobby location; it reminds me of Dubai. Very few European hotel lobbies can match the buzzy atmosphere of a Dubai lobby.
Star plate: Golden egg. Don’t ask, just make sure it’s on the menu.
Address: Hotel Omm, Rossello 265, L’Eixample, http://www.hotelomm.es/
* Since our visit the restaurant has had a refurb and been renamed Roca Moo.

Gaig
Why? Carlos Gaig is legendary in Barcelona and this restaurant expresses his haute cuisine to a tee.
Terence says: Probably the most ‘old-fashioned’ of the restaurants of this calibre we tried, but the flavours were phenomenal.
Lara says: Loved every dish, but equally memorable was the service of Antoine Schepper, now at Carlos Abellan’s Bravo 24 at the W Hotel I believe.
Star plate: Gratinéed cannelloni
Address: Aragó 214, corner Aribau, L’Eixample, www.restaurantgaig.com

Bohèmic
Why? At this cosy, faux-French bistro you definitely won’t hear the ubiquitious ‘ding’ of France’s beloved microwave! Chef Francesc is a one-off, and one of Barcelona’s best kept secrets.
Terence says: The night we went it was great food borne out of chaos. The assisting chef was ‘a hindrance’ according to Francesc and the ‘front-of-house’ was his charming family, his father (who left in a huff), mother and auntie, who were hugging everyone. Fascinating food, though!
Lara says:
We *did* wait a very long time for our food; Francesc needs to sort his staff out, as delightful as they are. But the food we enjoyed was imaginative and the dishes that missed were still hits because of the creativity and conceptual ideas behind them.
Star plate: ‘Oyster with pea soup’ – theatrical presentation and tastes are amazing.
Address: Carrer de Manso 42, Eixample Esquerra, 934 240 628 (no website)

Gresca
Why?
Great reputation, with Rafa Peña considered to be one of the leaders of the ‘bistronomic’ movement.
Terence says: Even though we booked days in advance by phone, they didn’t tell us that you need to book the degustation menu in advance. Off-hand and occasionally rude staff soured some serviceable dishes. I’m still baffled, quite frankly.
Lara says: I wanted to like this place so much after all we’d read about it, and despite a couple of mildly interesting experiments, it is in no way in the same league as the other restaurants we’ve reviewed.
Star plate: The bill. The lunch menu, which we didn’t really want to order, is inexpensive.
Address: Provença 230, L’Eixample, www.gresca.net

Restaurant Coure
Why? Off-beat creativity that has Barcelona’s culinary luminaries both fascinated and frustrated by the cuisine.
Terence says: Only a couple of dishes really worked for me, but when they were good they were really quite extraordinary.
Lara says:
Agree. The dishes were either daring or confused, while the service was either caring or distinterested. Shame.
Star plate: Soup with green beans, razor clams, basil, mint and avocado. But they never sent us the menu as they promised…so no guarantees.
Address: Passatge Marimon 20, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, Tel: 93 200 7532

Mar 31

Holy Grail or Grilled Sandwich? Tapas in Barcelona

Barcelona is a city that gets written about so much that there is little that has escaped the guidebook author or magazine writer who drops in for a taste of the ‘real’ Barcelona.

Whether it’s a bar, café, or anything associated with Ferran Adrià (at this stage, Ferran Adrià’s dishwasher could open a tapas bar and have tourists salivating), if it’s been written about in the guidebooks or magazines you’ll see people queued outside and studying up before attempting the ‘must-do’ experience they’ve been told they ‘have’ to do.

Most of it is nonsense and the hype is out of control. And the over-hyped eateries are equally to blame for creating artificial experiences far removed from the authentic meals that made Barcelona’s tapas bar scene so endearing in the first place.

One of the worst offenders is Inopia Classic Bar, run by Ferran Adrià’s brother. It’s billed as a tapas bar, but I haven’t been to any tapas bars where there is a ‘doorman’ who takes your name but can’t really tell you when you’ll get seated “maybe one hour, maybe two”, he tells us, clearly agitated by the huge crowd gathered out front.

When we finally get in (after he loses our place on the list the first time round), we’re crammed in next to the toilets before a sympathetic waitress reseats us. Some of the food looked good, but of course it was sold out by the time we tried to order it and the dishes we did manage to order were no better than a decent neighbourhood tapas bar. The ones we received that is. Ninety minutes after ordering, our patatas bravas still hadn’t arrived. But as I swung around in my chair to survey the scene, I saw a cook plating some up. The chef went over and grabbed a couple of pieces of potato and ate them hungrily. The plate wasn’t for us, obviously. And so we left.

At Cal Pep, one of the first tapas places we ever went to in Barcelona some 12 years ago, the tourists now line up half an hour before opening, clutching their guidebooks and chatting excitedly. After the shutter is opened they’re each steered to a seat at the bar, where a place mat, plate and cutlery await. It’s no longer tapas, it’s a tapas show put on for tourists, just like a ‘flamenco show’. We asked a local shop owner on the same square what he made of the nightly circus, “publicity, just good publicity, the food was good there… 10-15 years ago.”

Tapaç 24 is another place with a link to Ferran Adrià, with the owner Carles Abellan having worked for Adrià for many years. As a result, the hype over this place is crazy, but the food is just okay. We did enjoy Abellan’s Bar Velodromo, but it was mainly for the cava and oysters, and buzzy atmosphere, certainly not the very sloppy version of the celebrated ‘Bikini’ (a toasted ham and cheese sandwich with truffle paste).

Curiously, people seem to have bought into the hype of Ferran Adrià, despite these places having nothing in common with the cuisine of Adrià’s at elBulli. Perhaps after travelling to Barcelona, and waiting in line for an hour or so (or even arriving before opening time – very un-Barcelona), people want to believe that they’re biting into some of that elBulli magic, rather than a croquette that’s exactly the same as the one a local is eating at the neighbourhood tapas bar next door, except it’s half the price and they’re not surrounded by salivating tourists on some sort of pilgrimage.

Even a very ordinary bar on Las Ramblas – the last place you’ll head for a decent dish in this fine food city – has been lauded by no less a journal of record than The New York Times. Food scribbler Mark Bittman, an accomplice on perhaps the most-maligned cooking-cum-travel show ever to hit the airwaves, Spain – on the Road Again, lauds the ham sandwich (flauta d’ibèrico) at tacky Café Viena. Sure it tastes good, but it’s nothing that can’t be had at a hundred places across Barcelona. Or buy buying some great ham at the markets and just eating eating it with your hands – the traditional way – you don’t even need bread when the Jamón ibérico is so good!

The New York Times even goes so far as to call Café Viena a restaurant, which it most certainly isn’t. It’s little more than a Viennese-themed McDonalds with laminated signs and pictures of the food above the bar and on the walls.

Over and over again during the last two weeks locals told us that Barcelona wasn’t really a tapas city anyway, unlike Madrid, Seville or San Sebastián where tapas-bar hopping is a ritual among locals. Although if you want to sample San Sebastián’s Basque pintxos (as they call their h’ors d’oeuvres-style tapas there), try Taverna Basca Irati (Cardenal Casañas 17, Barri Gòtic), an old favourite of ours from many years ago that is still going strong.

While it’s worth dropping into these places if you’re into food, what’s really special about the cuisine in Barcelona isn’t the tapas at all. It’s the ‘bistronomic’ restaurants – but more about those in the next post.

Here’s a list of places we enjoyed having some ‘little plates’ at over the last two weeks. It’s by no means comprehensive, but unlike many guidebooks and magazine stories, we don’t write about anything unless we’ve experienced it. And we don’t buy into the hype.

ADDRESSES & NOTES
D.O. Vins i Platillos
Creative, contemporary tapas in a tiny space in the heart of Gràcia. Plenty of Asian-inspired tapas, including tuna sashimi, salmon ‘kebabs’, and Thai-style prawns, alongside Catalan-influenced plates. Good fun and a predominately local crowd.
Verdi 36, Gràcia

Flash Flash Tortilleria
Groovy, retro, black and white interior that wouldn’t need one thing changed to feature in an Austin Powers movie. Popular with local office workers, couples, and businessmen. Fresh tortillas and omelettes are the things to order here – the tortilla trufa negra (tortilla with black truffles and cheese) was to die for.
Granada Del Penedès 25, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi

Cuines de Santa Caterina
A massive, buzzy place that’s very stylish – shelves crammed with food supplies and a herb ‘garden’ at the back. The tapas isn’t amazing (apart from the Calamares Plancha we tried), but it’s still worth dropping into for the atmosphere. Don’t worry if you can’t get a table, we prefer the bar as it’s a place to eat and run for us.
Mercat de Santa Caterina, Francesco Cambó, La Ribera

Quimet i Quimet
Miniscule but generally packed to the rafters, it strikes the right balance with decent tapas plates (we love the seafood), loads of atmosphere (floor-to-ceiling shelves of bottles, all for sale), friendly professional staff, and a mix of locals and visitors who know how to order and understand the local version of personal space.
Poeta Cabanyes 25, Poble Sec, Tel: 934 423 142

Bar Velodromo
A wonderful, atmospheric space in antique building with lofty ceilings and enormous windows. Many more locals here than we experienced at the other places, most partaking of the six sublime oysters and a bottle of cava for 18 euros deal.
Muntaner 213, L’Eixample

Mar 31

Spanish Wine and the 99 cent Wine Box: the Local Verdict

Spanish wines, and especially Catalunyan wines, are wonderful – and affordable. Go to the wine section of El Corte Inglés or specialised wine shops such as Vila Viniteca and Lavinia and you can buy a decent quaffer for around five euros, a nice drop for around ten euros, and a brilliant wine for 20 euros upwards.

If you’re a traveller on a tight budget, you can find a drinkable bottle of wine at the supermercado for around three euros, and some that go for as little as 1.95 euros – which is why it confounds us that anyone, even the most frugal long-term backpacker, would resort to buying a .95 cent box (cask) or Tetra Pak of wine such as the hugely popular Don Simon range.

Don’t think we haven’t gone there ourselves. When Terence and I backpacked around Spain well over a decade ago, we’d buy the odd wine box ourselves. We have fond memories of picnics with our queso curado, jamon Iberico and Tetra Pak of Don Simon. On my first solo trip to Spain around 15 years ago, my friends and I drank little else. I remember our evening ritual drinking Don Simon from the hostel balcony overlooking Las Ramblas – it was 99 pesetas then!

So when a Twitter pal TheresaTsui asked us for our verdict on the .99 cent red wine, we gave it some thought. When we went shopping we noticed that young travellers were still buying the wine boxes and we wondered what it tasted like these days and why they weren’t spending an extra euro or two to buy a better quality of wine in a bottle. Then we read that Don Simon was “the best selling Spanish wine worldwide because of its unbeatable value”. Was it really?

A tasting was in order. Rather than do it ourselves, as we did with our DIY Sherry tasting, we decided to recruit our new local friends instead and conduct a blind tasting of the Don Simon range plus a 1.95 euro bottle. Here’s how it went:

1. Don Simon Rosado (Rosé, .95 cents)
Ester: It doesn’t even smell of anything. Rosado should be fruity and a little sweet.

Kim: (pulls a face) Is that wine? It doesn’t taste like anything. The smell is gross.

Julio: This is like water. Red water. It’s very soft.

Sergio: This is a kind of wine… it should be colder. My mouth doesn’t feel anything. It’s free of feeling!

Julio: I imagine it’s a very cheap wine. You could give me some of this so I’m not thirsty, but that’s all… it’s a paradox.

None of the participants could finish their small tasting portions.


2. Don Simon Vino Tinto (Red Wine, .95 cents)
Ester: It has a short length… the taste finishes fast, like a house wine.

Kim: Ooh, it takes like Don Simon! No, I don’t really like that at all. It tastes cheap! I’d be disappointed if I was served that.

Julio: It’s a little acidic. It has a bitter after-taste. But it’s drinkable…

Sergio: It’s not very intense, it’s young, and it doesn’t have a lot of body.

Julio: It actually has more flavour after a few sips… (Julio sips some more)… but the flavour actually gets worse with every sip!


3. A bottle of Vino Tinto (Red Wine,
1.95 euro)
Ester: (looking at the legs on the glass) It at least has some viscosity. But it leaves a dry sensation. It’s too rough on the tongue. It has smell. But somehow the taste is not related to the smell.

Kim: In comparison to the last two, it’s better. It’s heavier. There’s still not much flavour though. It’s definitely more drinkable, but it’s smells a bit of vomit.

Julio: It’s very dry. It lacks body. I prefer more viscosity. For sure, it’s better than the last ones, but the taste doesn’t last long at all.

Sergio: It’s got a bit more body than the last ones, and more tannins… but it’s… aspero… rough?… like the skin of a peach. Maybe it needs time to open up?

The participants actually finished their tasting portions of this wine!

4. Don Simon Sangria (.95 cents)
Ester: It’s Sangria! But I like it. It’s very sweet. And it’s drinkable, unlike the others. It’s a great summer drink!

Kim: I have drank this before… it’s punch. Yeah, that’s quite nice. If it was colder it would be better…

Julio: It’s Sangria for sure… The first time I ever got drunk it was on this. It’s typical for families to drink this together. It’s actually quite a good Sangria.

Sergio: It’s the best one, no? I like Sangria, so I don’t mind this one. It’s very easy to drink!

And drink it they did!

VERDICT: Our tasters found that the 1.95 euro bottle of vino tinto was more drinkable than the .95 cent Don Simon wines. But they overwhelmingly agreed that if your budget only stretches to .95 cents then you’re far better off buying Don Simon’s Sangria. And that’s the advice of a local! Four of them in fact.

Mar 30

Barcelona’s Best Off The Beaten Track Neighbourhoods

Barcelona, like Paris and London, is really a city of villages, each distinct neighbourhood boasting its own unique identity and character. Once you’re satisfied you’ve seen enough city sights, leave the Ciutat Vella (Old Town) and Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) and amble over to one of these atmospheric quarters instead. Simply saunter the backstreets, browse shop windows and mouthwatering food markets, and drop into local cafés and bars. Here’s our guide to Barcelona’s best neighbourhoods to explore:

GRÀCIA
Our ‘home’ for the last two weeks, Gràcia is now our favourite Barcelona neighbourhood. While it’s a block away from the upmarket L’Eixample area (see below), you won’t see any tourists in Gràcia. If you do, it’s probably because they’ve decided to stroll down to the centre from Park Güell and have got lost. Lucky them! Gràcia is great!

Once a separate village that was absorbed into Barcelona in the 19th century, Gràcia has maintained a strong identity and real sense of community – in fact it boasts one of the city’s liveliest festivals, the 8-day Festes de Gràcia held every August, which Gràcia residents Julio and Sergio tell us is not to be missed.

Densely populated, with a combination of medium-rise apartment buildings with shuttered French doors, ramshackle colonial-style residences with wrought iron balconies, and the occasional modern building, the area is inhabited by Barcelona’s bohemians, musicians, artists, designers, and the like, hence the tiny galleries, ateliers, young designer boutiques, and music shops, that dot the skinny streets.

During the day, Gràcia’s narrow lanes and sunny squares, such as Plaça del Sol, are filled with young families and students enjoying coffee on the café terraces or simply soaking up the sun. In the evening, locals cram the cafés, line up outside the art house cinemas, or can be seen chatting outside tango studios and alternative theatres in their sweats or dance gear.

Late at night, the casual ethnic eateries along Carrer Verdi (mainly Arabic: Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian) and in the surrounding streets (Catalan, Basque, Japanese, pizza, and contemporary tapas) are crammed with locals, while the tiny bars on every square are buzzing with groups of friends, young and old, enjoying each other’s company.

TIP: If you’re not staying in Gràcia (although we think it’s by far the best place in Barcelona to stay), a great way to discover the neighbourhood is to head here between 10am and noon or 5-7pm to browse the shops or after 9pm to eat and drink. The bars don’t get going until around midnight and on weekends the streets are busy with revellers until the morning so prepare yourself for a long night.

L’EIXAMPLE
Often called Barcelona’s ‘Fifth Avenue’, L’Eixample is the city’s most upmarket area. In stark contrast to Gràcia’s narrow lanes, here you’ll find broad tree-lined boulevards that are home to grand buildings boasting elegant wrought iron balconies, elaborate decorative murals, splendid domes and sculptures, and other ornate eye-catching details.

The main promenade of L’Eixample, Passeig de Gràcia, is lined with posh designer shops, from Chanel to Yves-Saint-Laurent, at the Gràcia end, and, closer to Plaça Catalunya, ‘high street’ stores such as Zara, Mango and H&M. It’s also home to two of Barcelona’s beloved modernist architect Antoni Gaudi’s buildings, La Pedrera (Casa Milà) and Casa Batlló, so you will see other tourists here, shopping and grazing on tapas after doing the sights.

Once off the main drag of Passeig de Gràcia, however, it’s pretty much locals only. The parallel streets and side streets and dotted with busy tapas bars, restaurants, casual eateries, cafes, bakeries, wine shops, and design stores, and are definitely worth a wander.

TIP: Head across to Passeig de Gràcia’s parallel street of Rambla Catalunya with its pedestrian strip dotted with alfresco cafés, and pull up a seat to watch the local action. You’ll find the same fashion boutiques lining Rambla Catalunya, only here they’re crowded with locals. You’ll also discover many smart little ‘bistronomics’, some, such as Cinc Sentits, with Michelin-starred chefs at the helm. You can stroll Rambla Catalunya all the way down to the centre and Las Ramblas.

LA RIBERA & EL BORN
Bordering the Barri Gòtic, La Ribera is Barcelona’s medieval quarter, boasting dark skeletal lanes of tall, narrow tenement buildings with washing hanging over their balconies, and on their ground floors, vibrantly-painted garage doors hiding away chic boutiques, galleries, gourmet food stores, and tapas bars.

El Born is the name given to the lower quarter of La Ribera, south of Carrer de la Princesa, which has a hip vibe. While the neighbourhood was once the heart of Barcelona’s alternative, arty scene, with a similar vibe to Gràcia, it’s tapas bars are now firmly on the itineraries of gourmet tours, and its streets see plenty of tourists exploring after a visit to the Picasso Museum and Santa Maria Del Mar.

TIP: Don’t be afraid to leave the main drags and explore the quieter, tiny alleyways – this is where you’ll find the more interesting boutiques of young up and coming designers, and art ateliers and galleries. Avoid the area on Monday when everything is closed after the busy weekend. The best time to browse the shops and galleries is Tuesday to Friday when locals are more patient and happy to chat. For lunch buy some queso, jamon and vino or eat at one of the bars at the Santa Caterina Market (far less touristy than the Boqueria) or for dinner, hit the El Born restaurants and tapas bar after 10pm when the tourists have gone back to the hotels and the locals are just starting to head out.

EL RAVAL
This grungy, alternative area – home to Barcelona’s immigrants, artists, designers, students, and young expats – hasn’t lost its streetwise vibe despite the number of intimidated tourists who pound its gritty pavements throughout the day. Don’t be surprised if you see drug deals being done in the backstreets, and other shady goings-on; just look the other way.

While, like La Ribera-El Born, the area is in all the guidebooks, apart from the Sant Pau del Camp monastery, the Gothic Biblioteca de Catalunya, and the excellent cutting edge MACBA (Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art) and CCCB (Barcelona’s Centre of Contemporary Culture), there is actually little for sightseers to see

TIP: Like La Ribera-El Born the best days to browse the shops of Raval are Tuesdays to Fridays, and the later the better when you’ll be shopping with locals rather than tourists. Carrer Tallers is the street to head for street fashion and music stores. On Saturdays the vintage clothing shops wheel out their racks of clothes and drop the prices to create a bit of a market atmosphere, while on Sunday there is a collector’s market, specialising in books, comics and movies, on Comte d’Urgell. The time to hit the bars is well after midnight.

BARCELONETA
South of El Born, extending to the seafront and bordering Barcelona’s harbour, Port Vell, is Barceloneta. A former fishing village, this fascinating neighbourhood boasts a warren of skinny streets lined with tall tenement buildings with a fish market and square at its centre. Apart from the jewellery shops in the corner near Fonda Litoral, the backstreets are often empty apart from residents going about their business.

The seafood restaurants overlooking the boats bobbing on the harbour are alluring, but they throng with tourists. You’re best trying the backstreet places. Off-season you’ll find few foreigners on the beachfront – it’s mostly locals out for a stroll or to get some exercise. Come summer though the beach is crammed with locals and tourists alike and it’s almost impossible to find a spot to lay your towel on the sand.

TIP: If you love a good beach, skip Barceloneta’s in summer when it can get uncomfortably crowded (go south to Sitges if you must) and instead hit the seafood eateries and beachside bars after dark; the later the better. The rest of the year, the backstreets are always worth a wander, while the beachside promenade warrants a stroll around sunset when the locals are stretching their legs

OTHER AREAS: If you’re staying in Barcelona for a couple of weeks, make sure you explore the affluent areas of Les Corts and Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, a short stroll from Gracià, home to superb little restaurants, shops, bars and nightclubs that never see tourists entering their doors; the multicultural, working class area of Poble Sec, which has some very good tapas bars; and the middle-class neighbourhood of Poble Nou, for an insight into everyday life in Barcelona devoid of tourists.

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