Oh, so pretty. A sled whooshing, tails wagging, snow spraying, sun smiling. Mushing in Val d'Aran at Beret. The small valley of Naut Aran, a collection of perfect villages, like they were stolen from a miniature train set. Three and a half hours by car from Barcelona.
Carcassonne and the Canal Midi. Two more reasons to visit Languedoc. I did not go inside the castle, had been warned about that...tourist trap! But since the two hour float on the Midi was close by, I couldn't help to loop around it and a stop on the Old Bridge to gawk, and was super glad I did. The canal ride that departs from Homps is a great taste of canal life. Through tunnels of arched Plane trees (we call 'em Sycamores back home!), next to the vineyards, over a locke -- fun to float literally UP the river! But, hey, whats with all the plastic houseboats -- Winnebagos on water, please no!
I accidentally interrupt the vineyard owner and wine maker eating his lunch on a shaded terrace. He shakes my hand with his garlicky one, happily opens his small ware house, lustily pours tastes of wine from opened-on-the-spot bottles. Then waves genuinely as we drive away weighed down with a few of his bottles clanking in the back of the car. In Languedoc, three hours by car, technically out of Spain and into France, but so close to the border, I'm going to let it slide. Try Poilhes and Roquebrun for super cute villages.
A little too many people and a little too many shops selling toy medieval weapons and shields, but I have to give Besalu credit for creativity. I was glad to see it, an enchanting village, all in the styling details. Sweet!
Dale, dell, glen, glade, swale, vale, valley. Three and a half hours plus from Barcelona, Naut Aran. Tidy shale-roofed stone villages, a deep cut between alpine mountains. Elegant, smart, regal, groomed. Water bursting in streams, wild daffodils, a crowd in spring meadows....baby cows, baby horses, baby everything.
I've never seen someone actually wearing this traditional catalan hat! It's like finding a leprechaun or a real santa. A resident of Siurana in the Priorat. The drive up there is stunning rocky sheer cliffs. And overhangs that bring in the rock climbers eating their tailgate lunches in the parking lot.
A weekend plane hop, San Sebastian's tapas scene. So satisfying, there is very little bad food and it is hard to make a mistake. Adventure the streets of old town and pick what looks or smells good. For me, top of the list -- Astelena 1960. Not just for the yummy, yummy, yummy food. It's also a restaurant where the waiters love the dishes so much that they join in and eat the ordering mix ups. And yell at each other like a New York deli, but protect each of their own customers like their kids. At this bar, everything on the counter is raw, point at it, ask what's inside, order it and only then it goes to the kitchen, coming to the table fresh made.
Save this trip as a reward for when you speak enough Spanish to know all your food words. Especially since many to the best pintxos are up on the chalk board and not out on the counter. So, you, the food critic, here's a short list to get you started...but go, go, go, don't let it stop you from trying more! In the old town, east to west: Zeruko, Astelena, La Cepa, Martinez, La Cuchara De San Telmo, Gambara, Gandarias, Alfuego Nero.
I dare you to try to walk though the town of Hondarribia without taking at least 100 pictures. Gobsmacking cute, the last coastal town in Basque Spain before the French frontier. Alpine chalets, replete with geraniums (of course!) landed in Ireland and moved to Spain. Cross the river and head up the hill to Chateaux Abbadia Hendaye then walk the footpaths through the green fields that merge with the Atlantic.
Rioja... 5 car hours from Barcelona. A bit far for a weekend, but we did it! Laguardia and Haro for basque tapas and old-timey ambiance. Bike riding in the vineyards out the back of Villabuena de Alba.
I have made so many mistakes. It started our first night pouring sweetened “plain” yogurt all over a savory dinner dish. And it never stopped from there. I am used to it now. Even so, it was nice to be reminded that great people falter too. I love Frank Gehry’s Disney Center in Los Angeles. I enjoy the form of his building in the tiny village of Elciego, Rioja. But, his bungle was landing it in the scruffy, humble wine country. And swathing it in strutting gold, silver and...eek, bright purple. The excuse being that we should see flowing wine in the big dash of color. But that is a shade of purple that only a jug of kool-aid could love, no? So head-high with your own little bloopers, we all make them!
We jumped on the fast train this weekend for a quick visit to Madrid. Sometimes at 300 km per hour! It doesn’t save any time or money over flying, but it is super fun and more relaxing way to travel. I can’t even say there is anything to look at along the way for the 2.5 hours, but we would always take the AVE train!
By Maia Pay Ozguc
Barcelona Impressions.Be curious. Be present. Be Barcelona!