By: Chethana Rao
Winter trip to Barcelona
Day 1 Barcelona walking tour
Day 2 Sagrada, Flamenco
Day 3 Park Guell and Montserrat
Day 4 Girona
Typically we think of getting away for 5 days locally or to the Caribbean. This time, my family decided to go to Europe instead. It was a hectic but fun trip. I would recommend it for active families, not necessarily for people who want a relaxed vacation – they can spread out the itinerary over a couple of days more.
We flew in on thursday night to Barcelona, despite a 5 hour delay in the flight and one piece of lost luggage and checked into the beautiful hotel opposite to the cathedral in the Gothic quarter. Restaurants are around the corner within walking distance.
Day 1 Barcelona walking tour
We hired a local guide to take us on a walking tour. She was amazing and took us around the old town Gothic quarter and showed us the narrow cobbled streets which are pedestrian only. We discovered small stores which make beautiful candles, vases, perfumes and chocolates. We saw beautiful noblemen’s homes with interior courtyards with Valencia oranges and fountains.
Day 2 Sagrada and Flamenco
La Sagrada or Sacred Family – Gaudi’s Masterpiece- many names for a great monument. Some people consider it grotesque, but to others it’s a shrine. Nevertheless, it’s like nothing you’ve seen before. A church with soaring spires that will be the tallest in the world when complete.
Gaudi is Barcelona’s most famous son, an architect, visionary with total out of the box imagination. His houses and monuments litter Barcelona.
The Sagrada was started in 1866 and will supposedly be completed by 2026, 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. It has 3 facades, the most commonly seen one is the Nativity facade( birth of Jesus Christ) It has massive bronze doors flanked by chicken and geese! Makes you do a double take!The Inside is equalling enthralling, its spartan and geometric with a profusion of natural light that filters through the stained glass windows and makes changing patterns throughout the day and year. The pillars are all bent towards the center and branched at the top to give a semblance of real trees in the forest. The Christ is suspended in mid- air over an altar of porphyry stone. The back facade is called the passion facade and it looks very eerie and futuristic. The glory facade is not visible due to construction but you can see the replica door.
That night we were lucky to see some amazing Flamenco. It is an immersive experience. The staccato rhythm of the dancers mixes with the plaintive notes of the singers to make it a truly memorable experience. If you are visiting elsewhere in Spain, it may not be the best place for flamenco, but if you are only in Barcelona, then please catch it if you can. We went to Las Ramblas for the Flamenco. There were drinks and Buffet dinner options as well.
Day 3: Park Gull and Montserrat
Park Guell is a beautiful urban park built by Gaudi for a famous wealthy merchant in Barcelona. An iconic place, not to be missed. It has the typical mosaic associated with Gaudi everywhere. One of the most whimsical and colorful places I’ve experienced. It will remain in your memory for a long time.
We took a bus tour of Montserrat which is a mountain range about an hour outside of Barcelona, famous for a Benedictine Abbey located there. You could presumably drive there but the tour as very convenient and started in the center of the city, easy to find and very friendly. They took us to the romanesque style Abbey through hair pin bends on the mountains and sheer drops if you look out of the window. The views are fantastic. It was cold in December there, so bundle up if your going in winter. There is a quaint farmers market outside the abbey where local farmers sell goat cheese, and fresh ricotta like cheese with honey- don’t forget to taste em or buy.
The Abbey itself is majestic located at the serrated cliffs (mont serrat) an isolated in the medieval times. Now it’s open to the public. In the high season, there is a long wait to go inside but as it was winter, we saw the interior including the famous Black Madonna without a wait. The Madonna is made of ebony and in a gilded chamber with glitter mosaics. Truly spectacular. Afterwards we sampled the liquors at the gift store and bought the famous olive oil and salt chocolates produced by the monks there.
Day 4 Girona
Girona is a sleepy town near the border of France. We took the train out of the main station to Girona. Take the super fast train to save time. It has a beautiful medieval walled city with cobbled streets and a massive wall. My main attraction to Girona was that it was sit for filming Game of Thrones. To drag my reluctant husband and kids there, I booked a segway tour which was very interesting and kept s all on our feet and occupied. Our guide was a very knowledgeable historian who has this as a side gig. He showed us the sites of the filming as well as the clips from GOT! I was in heaven, to say the least!
For others who are not interested in GOT, there are numerous things that would be interesting in Girona. The cathedral is enormous with innumerable steps, the basilica is beautiful and the German gardens that leads to the wall has an unbelievable vista. You can walk on the wall which was built initially by the romans and then refurbished in the middle ages .The turkish baths are pretty cool too! The jewish quarter has narrow gullies where several parts of GOT was shot. The food in Girona was actually fabulous including the tapas and the gelato.
- Food is very good, but somewhat bland for the Indian palate. Some vegetarian options, my husband is vegetarian and could find an ok selection. The batatas bravas and fried peppers are a local delicacy as well as the paella. You can get veggie paella. There is a creme brulee variation called crema Catalan which is delicious.
- The seafood was fresh and delicious here.
- Travel inside Barcelona- no uber here but taxis are every reasonable. For a family of four, we found that taxis were cheaper and more easier to get than the public transport but both are options.
- Shopping- Designer stuff is for the most part cheaper here than in US, so if you have something on your wishlist, look into it if you have time, big difference especially after getting the VAT back
- Local tour guide- ask your hotel to recommend one, it was worth it!
- If you are there during Christmas, decorations are beautiful, very tasteful. Don’t miss the Christmas markets that spring up and the Catalonian specialty- the crapper!