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Journeyman Guide to Three Barcelona Neighborhoods:
Elegant, Ancient & Hipster-Hot

Sally Peabody is an American Journeywoman. A true traveller she creates tours to France, Turkey, Greece and Spain.

When visiting a city, which areas are you interested in? The elegant, the ancient or the hipster hot? There are three interesting neighborhoods in Barcelona that are intriguingly different -- the Eixample, the Old City and the Raval. Each is well worth a visit. Barcelona is a vastly vibrant city for shopping, for enjoying stunning architecture by Gaudi and other moderniste architects, for its humming nightlife, delicious wines and uber-fresh cuisine, indeed, even café-lined beaches. There is design, art, history, a rich uniquely Catalan culture offering much to see, experience and taste. Be sure to visit any or all of these three dramatically different quarters that calls to you...


The Eixample...

I love GaudiFirst up, the Eixample, the visionary 'new city' designed by Idlefons Cerda and built in the late 19th century. The goal was to create a spacious 'modern' neighborhood outside the cramped medieval city bounded by its' walls. The Eixample is built on a grid pattern with plenty of light, wide boulevards, and chamfered building corners that create a sense of spaciousness. Today, loads of top Spanish and international fashion and design shops, and, architectural gems of Antonio Gaudi are among the gems of this neighborhood. Starting roughly at the Placa de Catalunya and spreading north, east and west, with Passeig Gracia and the Ramblas de Catalunya being main boulevards of interest to visitors, the Eixample is prime strolling, dining and shopping territory.

Along Passeig de Gracia in close proximity one can indulge Gaudi-cravings by visiting Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera) located on the corner of Carrer Provenca and Passeig Gracia. Casa Batllo is located at #43 Passeig de Gracia. These masterful buildings are packed with sinuous art nouveau elements as well as witty forms referencing nature, animals, flowers and more. They are remarkable. Also magnificent is Casa Lleo Morena, built by Domenech I Montaner, another Moderniste master architect. This is less known than the Gaudi buildings and entry is often quicker with less crowds. Casa Lleo Morena is located next door to Casa Batllo. The Sagrada Familia Church, also a major Gaudi building of interest, is within the Eixample but a short cab or bus ride to the east.

If your hotel taste runs to small, comfortable, personal hotels or boutique bed and breakfasts, consider the Circa 1905 on the first floor of a lovely mansion in the Eixample, just a half block from Passeig Gracia on Carrer Provenca. This is a charming small hotel renovated by a South American architect who moved to Barcelona and who runs the hotel today. There are loads of hotels of all levels in Barcelona but this one is particularly homey feeling - if you were lucky enough to have an Eixample mansion as home.

If you have a passion for fresh-food markets note that every neighborhood in Barcelona has a market for its residents. These are usually lovely Baltard-style art nouveau steel framed buildings chock full of stalls with irresistible foods and small bars to eat in right on the spot.


The Old City...

I love GaudiIn our second quarter, the Old City, the famous St. Josep/La Boqueria market, is often said to be among the best in Europe. La Boqueria is on everyone's must-visit list. Just off the perennially popular Ramblas, the vibrant street that runs from Placa de Catalunya down to the seafront, dividing the Barri Gothic and the Raval, this massive market is magnificent and has the best of fresh Catalan produce, fish, of cheese, jamon, meats, spices and more in dizzying profusion. Bar Pinoxto in the market is famous as is El Quim, and there are numerous other bustling stands for a snack or drink. Sadly, La Boqueria is an absolute mob-scene today with hordes of tourists clogging its aisles. If you do go, go early to enjoy the experience.

Or, visit another top quality market like the Santa Caterina with its famous wavy tiled roof, located just south of the Cathedral Square in the Barri Gothic. Santa Caterina attracts chefs, locals and food savvy tourists and is a gem of a market for fresh foods of all types. Just around the corner from Santa Caterina is a foodie spot worth seeking out for visitors who love the best jamon and flavorful cheeses.

A few blocks from the Cathedral and the Santa Caterina market, walk along Carrer Aguilera to find a small shop worth a stop at #9. Vila Vini Teca looks like a gourmet deli, and it is. But they have a few tables and you can sit down and enjoy the cheese and charcuterie plate of your dreams, accompanied by a delicious Catalan wine. Treat yourself to a small plate of the cinco jota (five star) iberico bellota jamon. This is the Rolls Royce of Spanish hams. The pigs from whence the hams come are free-range black-footed pigs that roam through oak forests on large farms in Extremadura or the Aracena region. They eat only acorns, sometimes chestnuts. No chemicals, no processed food. The resulting aged jamon is dark mahogany red, deeply flavored and simply delicious. It is in a class by itself. Don't worry about eating the thin edging of fat. This has been proven to be beneficial to humans, lowering cholesterol among other positive effects. Jamon of this level is always cut razor thin by hand from hams placed in purpose built ham-stands.

This will surely fortify you to explore the Cathedral and continue walking on down towards the sea into the lower old-city area that surrounds the Santa Maria del Mar church. Santa Maria del Mar is a stunning example of Catalan gothic architecture, quite different from the Barcelona Cathedral and from gothic structures in France or elsewhere in Europe. Fishermen and others who worked in sea-faring trades as an act of devotion to the Virgin Mary built this early Gothic church. The stone blocks to build the church were literally carried from the not so nearby Montjuic hill quarries on the backs of the builders of this beautiful church and placed by hand as the structure rose to its completion. Notable for its openness and width rather than extreme height, this church is a glorious one to visit and take a quiet moment or two to appreciate. If you fall in love with this place, read the epic novel The Cathedral By the Sea which tells the absorbing story of the Catalan era when Santa Maria del Mar was constructed.

Another Old-City destination near Santa Maria del Mar is the Picasso Museum that shows its collection, donated by Picasso to the City of Barcelona, in five connected medieval buildings. A highlight is the series of paintings in the last room where Picasso deconstructs Velasquez' iconic Las Meninas. This entire area known as the Barri Gothic and La Ribera is definitely one to explore for hours exploring the narrow streets, enjoying a snack in a bar, shopping, and soaking up the atmosphere.

 

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