Barcelona is Europe at its most dynamic and compelling, full of boundary-pushing food, art, and style, but grounded in centuries of culture. Where to begin?Here, our all-in-one guide to Catalonia’s seaside capital.
Monasteries and Calçots in Western Catalonia
Calçots are long-stemmed onions served from mid-October to early April in Catalonia’s Alt Camp wine country, an hour’s drive west of Barcelona. Valls is the calçot capital, with several rambling masias (farmhouses) specializing in calçotades in season. Cal Ganxo (34/977-605960) and Casa Félix (34/977-601350; www.felixhotel.net) are two of the best. The Cistercian Triangle’s gorgeous 12th-century monasteries (Santa Maria de Poblet, Santes Creus, and Vallbona de les Monges) are nearby, while the medieval town of Montblanc (off the A2 freeway at Exit 9) is a great place for a walk through the ages—Gothic churches, a 16th-century hospital, and Renaissance mansions.
Up the Beach to Carmen Ruscalleda in Sant Pol de Mar
Carmen Ruscalleda is Spain’s most prestigious woman chef, sharing top honors with the likes of Ferran Adrià, Juan Mari Arzak, and Santi Santimaria, and foodies travel far and wide for a place at her tables. A day trip easily organized by train from Barcelona’s centrally located Plaça Catalunya (though for lunch only, as the last train back leaves too early for dinner), Ruscalleda’s world-famous restaurant, Sant Pau (34/937-600662; www.ruscalleda.com), in Sant Pol de Mar, is a 45-minute scenic ramble along the very edge of the Mediterranean, and well worth the trip.
Food and Foliage in Catalonia’s Volcanic Garrotxa
Take an hour-long drive north of Barcelona to Figueres, make a hard left out to Besalú and Olot, and you’ll be in the center of La Garrotxa, Catalonia’s rich volcanic-soiled pre-Pyrenean hinterland, where, in fall, the beech forests burst into brilliant colors. Dine just north of Besalú in the Vall de Bianya, known as "the valley of the stars" for its two Michelin-honored restaurants, Ca l’Enric (34/972-290015; www.calenric.net) and Sant Salvador (34/972-195154; www.restaurantsantsalvador.com). Then spend the night in Figueres—the cradle of modern Catalan cuisine—at the Hotel de l’Empordà (34/972-500562; www.hotelemporda.com).