Lisa and Sean are two of my favorite clients, and I was very concerned about them when they were in Barcelona during the recent tourist attack on Las Ramblas. Fortunately, she emailed me right away to let me know that they were safe and sound in their hotel, and ready to continue on with the rest of their travel plans. I’m glad they did! Mostly because their final destination — the Costa Brava — turned out to be the highlight of the trip. But also because if we live in fear and start to curtail our travels, the terrorists win. Read on for their fabulous trip report 🙂
We were so lucky that our hotel in Madrid had our room ready when we arrived at about 9:30 am on Saturday morning. The Iberostar Las Letras Gran Via was a perfect hotel. The location was very central, our balcony was so spacious it had a table and chairs as well as two lounge chairs, and a beautiful rooftop bar, which we utilized often. I would definitely use this hotel again for Madrid vacationers.
We spent our first day walking the Plaza de Serrano for shopping, they have lots of designer stores there. Then we headed to Retiro Park, which was a hidden gem! It was beautiful, great for people watching, and had a cool crystal palace. We got lucky with weather the whole vacation – it was hot and sunny, but not oppressively humid like we’ve experienced before in other cities in the summer. We found this really cool place called La Platea for lunch, which had live music and tons of tapas options. They aren’t kidding about the sangria – it’s like the wine in Italy, the same price as getting bottled water! I have to say, the food the whole trip was also delicious. That night, we walked through the “big areas” of Madrid – Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Mercado de San Miguel. All areas were lively and fun, but the market was definitely a bit crowded. We ended up going back later in the evening another night and got luckier with the crowds. We had dinner at Museo de Jamon, which is everywhere in the country, but actually really good. We also found a place called Chocolateria San Gines, for the most amazing churros and chocolate. I would be lying if I said that was the only night we visited there!
We woke up early the next day to go to the Palacio Royal. We did have tickets in advance, but not a specific timed entry. They open at 10 am and I would highly suggest getting there right around opening time. We walked right in and got to enjoy the place without feeling crowded. By the time we exited almost 2 hours later, the lines were pretty long to get in, even if you already had tickets. It was a beautiful palace, and easy to navigate. The audio guide was very helpful. On our way to lunch at a wonderful place called Inclan, we stopped at Primark department store, which is probably the biggest department store I’ve ever been in.
Our last day was spent at the museums. We did the Prado Museum in the morning (we had advance tickets for a specific time so it was easy to get in) and then the Reina Sophia in the afternoon. We did not have tickets for the Reina Sophia because we’re not huge museum people, and weren’t sure if we were even going to do it. First of all, I’m glad we did, because it’s much smaller than the Prado so it wasn’t overwhelming. But, it was also easy just to show up and buy tickets, so there’s no need to do that ahead of time. We had lunch at a place called La Taperia. We spent that night, like many other nights, getting drinks and tapas at our hotel rooftop bar.
The train ride to Barcelona the next morning was easy, as are all European train rides I’ve realized! Our hotel, Condes de Barcelona, was also fabulous! It was in a great location, nicely appointed rooms, and another even more gorgeous rooftop bar, with views of La Sagrada Familia. The only thing I would mention to future clients is that they advertise a rooftop infinity pool. It might possibly be the smallest pool I’ve ever seen, with only about 6-8 lounge chairs around the pool. It was always filled, which was fine, because we had the coast ahead of us and weren’t looking for sun time. But, they definitely advertise it differently, so for people looking to be able to lay by the pool, it’s definitely not what it seems like.
We took a cooking class that night from a company called Cook and Taste! It was about a 4 and a half hour class, and I would highly, highly recommend it to anyone! It was definitely a highlight of our trip. The chef was so nice and knowledgeable, and the group was about 15-18 people, so everyone got to be involved. It could have been the best meal we ate all trip as well, and we got to take the recipes home with us. We made traditional Spanish dishes – vegetables with romesco sauce, gazpacho, paella, and a dessert called Crema de Catalana.
Our next day we called the “Day of Gaudi”. We went to La Sagrada Familia (advanced, timed tickets which are definitely necessary, the place is a madhouse!) The church is definitely one of the most unique things we’ve seen in our travels in the past few years. We then checked out Parc Guell, which is the park Gaudi designed. We did not have tickets to this, and didn’t realize that it gets sold out. However, the majority of the park is free to walk through, there are only a few attractions that need a ticket. As it turns out, we didn’t feel cheated without having a ticket. Then we went to La Pedrera, one of Gaudi’s houses right near our hotel. It was very cool, but I wouldn’t suggest anyone going to more than one. They all start to look the same after awhile, and La Pedrera is the biggest. Again, you can buy tickets to that ahead of time, but it wasn’t necessary. We had lunch at an italian place called Ristorante Margherita. As an alternative to tapas, there was a lot of good Italian food in both Barcelona and at the coast. We spent the evening strolling Las Ramblas, which really is as crowded and chaotic as they say (foreshadowing obviously). We had dinner at a plaza near Las Ramblas called Les Quinte Nits, which had amazing paella.
We spent the next morning doing a little more exploring. The one thing about Barcelona that’s different than Madrid is that it’s much more spread out. We could walk almost anywhere in Madrid, but you definitely have to utilize the public transportation in Barcelona more often. That being said, the metro is easy to navigate and efficient. We went to the Picasso Museum (had advance tickets, but not necessary), and Citadel Park, which is huge and really cool. We had lunch at a place called Vinitus, which was busy but very authentic. We had planned to take a ride up to Montjuic (heard it was beautiful views) in the afternoon, but after a short rest break in our hotel, obviously the terrorist attack put a damper on those plans.
Obviously, we don’t want that horrific incident to define our trip but a few things I will say about it. Like I just mentioned, Las Ramblas is most definitely one of those areas you say to yourself (unfortunately at these times) that is asking for something bad to happen. It’s insanely crowded. We did see a good amount of security up and down the street however, so I was not surprised the next day during the incident when I heard multiple accounts that police and security had the area contained in 30 seconds to 1 minute. The city definitely shut down that night, we were lucky that we had a restaurant in our hotel for dinner, or we may have been very hungry, because nothing was open! I will also say that the security when we flew back out of Barcelona 4 days later was insane. I am certainly not complaining, because better safe than sorry, but they definitely had things on top notch control. Thankfully we were in the hotel throughout the duration of the incident but it was obviously still unsettling. And, we were lucky that it happened right before we were planning to leave, because I know there were some restrictions on the public transportation and hop on/hop off tours for the next few days.
We left the next morning to rent a car (an inefficient process no matter what country you’re in!) and head to Tossa de Mar, which was a very straightforward drive to the coast. Our hotel, Gran Hotel Reymar Resort and Spa, was perfect!! It was steps from the beach, and we had a gorgeous view of the water from our room. The town itself was adorable, all shops, restaurants, beaches were within short walking distance. It was vibrant and lively at night. We ended up not actually heading to the beach at all, although it was reasonably priced and easy to rent chairs. The sand was slightly rocky and it was crowded so we decided to stay at the hotel pool for its convenience, especially because the pool was surrounded with glass for its railings and if you turned your chair you were facing the ocean anyways! The pool had a bar and tapas available for lunch each day, so it couldn’t have been more relaxing. The other cool thing about Tossa de Mar was the “Old Town” portion, which was original from like the 15th century. It was an old castle, lighthouse, and fortress. We even ate dinner one night outside at the base of the castle. It was an amazing mix of old and new in one small area. It may be our favorite coastal town yet, to be honest! We had lots of delicious meals, both traditional Spanish and Italian options. We didn’t use the spa, but the spa brochure looked very high quality. Honestly, of course we didn’t want to leave!
Our return flights through Barcelona with Air France were easy. Overall, we had quite an amazing trip, and Spain has definitely taken over the second spot in our “favorite countries” after Italy. Both Madrid and Barcelona were clean and welcoming, and I’m hard pressed to say which one I liked better.
As always, you planned a trip for us that we couldn’t have imagined being any more perfect, so thanks again!
Lisa & Sean