Catalonia


There’s a restaurant in Gràcia called La Ceba (The Onion) which specialises in truites – the Catalan word for Spanish tortillas. Their main menu lists truites made with many ingredients, some of which you perhaps cannot imagine in an omelette, as well as other Catalan dishes. We ate there one lunchtime this summer and ordered off their more expensive menu del dia (they have a cheaper one as well – and it also looked good) at €13,80 each. Service from the off was…well, off. The servers were ill-tempered and rushed off their feet at the lunchtime crowd. They seemed to hate our (the diners, any diners) existence. That said, the food is fabulous so perhaps someone’s happy in the kitchen.

A torrada d´escalivada, formatge manxego i anxoves gratinada was a large slice of toast topped with lots of the Catalan grilled vegetables, melted cheese and anchovies. While simple, the toast was delicious in its simplicity and generosity.

Torrada d´Escalivada, Formatge Manxego i Anxoves Gratinada

We had to have a truita, of course – here was a truita de carbassó i patates (courgette and potato). Excellent. It wasn’t overcooked and had just the right egg to filling ratio. Its perfect size inspired me to go out and buy a pan that’s just that diameter (I bought it and it’s great!).

Truita de Carbassó i Patates

I had seen a hamburger go to a neighbouring table and it looked great – we ordered one. This excellent hamburguesa amb ceba caramel.litzada (cooked to a perfect juicy medium) came with salad, fries, and that lovely large dollop of caramelised onions.

Hamburguesa amb Ceba Caramel.litzada

Our other second dish was the Catalan classic botifarra amb mongetes seques – a big grilled fresh sausage with cooked dried beans. Excellent and especially excellent were the beans, which had been fried a little after they had been boiled. Usually you just get boiled beans.

Botifarra amb Mongetes Seques

Notice how both were big, hearty meat dishes – we needed a break from fish after our time on the Costa Brava!

Desserts were an average flam

Flam

… and an amazing pastís de formatge (cheese cake) that Blai says was the best he’s had in the city.

Torta de Formatge

So yeah, hopefully it’s not always this grumpy in the restaurant as they’re putting out some terrific food. I’d love to go back in the evening to try one of their many other truites.

La Ceba
C/ La Perla, 10
Barcelona

The bus to Cadaqués was the most nerve-racking, white-knuckle bus ride we’ve ever had. Our bus driver was going a little faster than we would have liked and he zipped around the corners, hugging the dry cliff edge and occasionally having to back up to let a car pass. We emerged into the Cadaqués sun breathing hard and feeling more than a little woozy. It felt good to dump our things at our hotel and take in the fresh air with a stroll around town and by the sea.

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Casa Blaua

It’s a beautiful town! The former fishing village no longer homes fishermen but just tourists in the little whitewashed houses. Its difficult to reach location meant that the town has been protected from the tourist hotels you find further down the coast and has thus retained its charm. Apart from the sea, the town itself, clinging onto the hills of Cadaqués, is a beautiful setting in which to walk around.

Anyway, lunch time. We chose a restaurant close to out hotel: Can Shelabi, with its menu del dia. To start, excellent fried seitons (fresh anchovies) …

Fried Seitons

… and the salad of the day, which turned out to be some fantastically flavourful and garlicky esqueixada, a traditional Catalan salad of salt cod, tomatoes, onions and peppers.

Esqueixada

Now, this was a delicious tagine of sea bream but it’s the dish I’d most like to forget as a treacherous fish bone went down my throat and caused much anxiety. It was delicious but let’s go on to the next dish.

Tagine of Sea Bream

Grilled sea bass was served with white rice and tomatoes. Again, fresh and delicious but altogether a bit dry – a little sauce of some kind would have helped with the rice.

Grilled Sea Bass

We both opted for a simple banana with chocolate for dessert. While the banana could’ve been riper, the chocolate sauce was gorgeous, dark and not too sweet.

Banana with Chocolate

The afternoon was spent walking first to Port Lligat to see Dalí’s house …

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… and then finding ourselves another quiet beach to while away the late afternoon. We succeeded! Cadaqués is smack dab in the middle of the Parc Natural de Cap de Creus and the water was even clearer here with lots of fishes and crabs and sea anemones to ogle. Next time though we’ll need to get some shoes that’ll ensure our feet aren’t cut by the rocks.

Our Favourite Beach

We hadn’t planned anything for dinner and just went off in search of a nice place that had space. That place turned out to be Mut and we only had to wait a short while for a lovely table outside, facing the sea. We shared a number of plates with drinks: escalivada with goat´s cheese, …

Escalivada with Goat´s Cheese

… more seitons, this time in vinegar, …

Seitons

… and a Catalan classic of pa amb tomàquet with anchovies. Perfect. Everything here was excellent.

Pa amb Tomàquet with Anchovies

Cadaqués by Night

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and spent the morning strolling around more of the narrow whitewashed streets of Cadaqués and then finding our own little rock on which to perch and dip our toes into that crystal clear water.

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I had taken notice of a promising looking restaurant earlier that morning and we returned there – Can Pelayo – for lunch. Blai’s sardines were again fresh and fantastic (as you can imagine, when we returned to Barcelona, we took a break from fish).

Sardines

My gazpacho was exactly what I wanted, cold and refreshing. 

Gazpacho

Our shared fideuà looked spectacular and was fine; it didn’t have the same wonderful seafood flavour of the paella we had in El Port de la Selva though. Still, a fine eat and certainly a good deal as part of a €15 menu del dia.

Fideuà

There was dessert too – watermelon and crema catalana. Service was a bit of a mess when we were there though but it was laughable rather than stressful. Hopefully things will improve!

After lunch, we caught a bus to Figueres – ok, it’s not exactly the Costa Brava but it is part of the Dalí Triangle (the third and final vertex being the Gala Dalí House that is Púbol Castle). It was about 5pm when we arrived in Figueres and it was the perfect time to see the Dalí Theatre-Museum as there was no queue for tickets.

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There was even a little time to see the small collection at the Museu de l’Empordà, where we were delighted to find a couple of original capitals from the monastery we visited while we were in El Port de la Selva. After that, it was onto a Rodalies train again, back to Barcelona (delicious pastries were purchased for our train dinner).

We loved the Costa Brava! If you’re planning a trip there, I can highly recommend the official website of the region as I turned to it often. All photos from this little trip of ours can be found at this Flickr album.

Back we were in Catalonia for the summer! This time, to get away from the big city, we ventured north to the Costa Brava. In particular we aimed for two small fishing villages – El Port de la Selva and Cadaques – and it’s the first village that I’ll feature in this post. To get to the Costa Brava, many people drive but it’s entirely possible to do it by public transport; you just need to be aware of the timetables. We chose Cadaques as it’s known to be beautiful and we both had never been; El Port de la Selva was chosen for its size (tiny) and its beaches and culture (plenty).

Our first part of our journey from Barcelona was a Rodalies train from Passeig de Gràcia to Llançà – you can buy your tickets on the day, a few minutes prior to the train’s departure. It was a very pleasant and uneventful 2 hour ride to Llançà, where we emerged at a station hotter than the fiery depths of hell. It was hot. Llançà is a coastal town but away from the coast, where the train station is located, oof.

Exit from the station and walk straight out and continue walking straight, over the bridge and onwards until you come to a road perpendicular. Turn left here and you’ll find the town hall. Across the road is the bus stop you’ll need. We stood there in the sun, dripping with sweat, and gazed at the very nice bus shelter on the opposite side of the road for buses going in the opposite direction. Gah. Anyway, we caught the bus for El Port de la Selva – this is a local bus and it was a little late, according to its timetable, but you can’t complain when you’re paying €1,80 for the 20 minute coastal ride.

Another view of El Port de la Selva, just before we left for Cadaqués.

We entered El Port de la Selva just in time to check into our hotel, have a little wander and then find some lunch. There were plenty of restaurants in the village and many with weekday menus. We settled for a lunch menu at Ca l´Herminda, a restaurant operating in the village since 1963. Their lunch menu was €16,50 and the first courses were very good, like this salad with anchovies – I love Catalan salads as they’re always full of variety.

Sardines Salad

It was to be seafood for the second courses. A seafood pasta was creamy and chock full of garlic. Perfect for longtime married couples!

Seafood Pasta

More garlic was had with this fabulous hake with thick toasted slices of garlic. Everything was excellent, including the paellas we saw at other tables.

Hake with Toasted Garlic

Their desserts were simple but excellent – we shared a crema Catalana and a large chunk of cold fresh watermelon.

Crema Catalana

After lunch, it was all about finding ourselves a quiet little beach and there are plenty to choose from in the area, from big beaches to little coves. The water in the region is crystal clear and it’s within the Parc Natural del Cap de Creus; it’s brilliant for snorkelling. No real photos from our time there but here’s a view of the harbour and the monastery (the speck on the hill) as we walked back to the village.

El Monastir de Sant Pere de Rodes in the distance

It’s here I’ll mention that the village was perfect for our needs – there’s plenty to do but it’s not crowded like many other towns along the coast. Most tourists were French (France is a short drive away and Blai’s mobile even managed to connect to a French network while we were at the beach).

Dinner that evening ended up being at El Rebost del Pescador, a new tapas bar we happened to pass. When I discovered that it was linked to its neighbouring Confraria de Pescadors del Port de la Selva, a fishermen’s collective, I insisted on eating there! For did I mention yet? El Port de la Selva is still a fishing village. I was expecting great things and we weren’t disappointed.

We tried almost everything that was available that night. The waiter made a special effort to point out the sardines fumades (smoked sardines), here served on slices of pa amb tomàquet. They were indeed excellent, lightly smoky and meaty.

Sardina fumada

I also need to try their home cured anchovies – and this was the best anchovy I’d ever had, all plump and tender and not overly salty.

Anxova de la Confraria de Pescadors

A Pomada d´en Manu turned out to be a kind of tuna salad with onions. I know that doesn’t sound particularly exciting but this was just superb.

Pomada d´en Manu

A melt in your mouth tender, local octopus was served sliced on sliced potatoes; again, this was some of the nicest octopus I’d ever had.

Pop roquer de Cala Prona

We ordered more after seeing a plate of something intriguing at a neighbouring table. It was mackerel off a tasting menu (€35 per person, including a bottle of wine between two) but off the regular menu, we got sardines en escabetx. These cooked sardines were falling apart in a beautifully vinegary sauce laced with plenty of sliced onions.

Sardina en encabetx

I also ordered a pintxo of their seitó de la Confraria – their own cured fresh anchovies (or boquerones). Beautiful. And with that, we tried all the seafood; it’s just a shame that they had run out of the red prawns from the region.

Seitó de la Confraria

All this with a couple of drinks totalled about €30. Bargain. You can purchase their preserved fishes and other local products in the restaurant too. Highly, highly recommended.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we set off for our hike to El Monestir de Sant Pere de Rodes – the monastery up the hill from El Port de la Selva. Our first stop was at a local shop/bakery where for about €5 we got a baguette turned into two sandwiches with freshly sliced chorizo and ham and cheese from the deli counter. We were not charged much more (if any more) than the cost of the baguette and the deli items by weight, and we got the bread rubbed with tomato in the Catalan way as well! Bargain! That was our picnic lunch sorted.

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The hike up was difficult, much more so than our hikes in the Vall de Boí – the distance was greater and the heat! The heat! If you’re going to do this hike, do bring lots of water to keep you well hydrated. We walked all the way along the harbour until we reached a campsite. From there we went through the valley, via a tiny village called La Vall de Santa Creu and then up to the monastery.

The Monastery!

We only saw two other hikers on our way up and three on the way down; it was hot. The majority of visitors to the monastery drove there and they all looked cool and fresh whilst we looked like sweaty rats. The monastery was well worth the hike though and the views from up there were incredible.

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If you don’t want to bring your own lunch, there’s a full restaurant and cafe inside.

We took a different route down, heading first to the carpark and taking the path down past the incredibly fortified Església de San Sebastià …

Església de San Sebastià

… and then the most beautiful village of La Selva de Mar. From there it was back to our hotel in El Port de la Selva. I read somewhere that the fishermen in times past worked in El Port de la Selva and lived in La Selva de Mar. The latter village was clearly heavily fortified against the many pirates that used to visit the region.

La Selva de Mar

Our final dinner that night in El Port de la Selva was at Monterrey, the restaurant that was owned by our hotel. While our hotel was located a little back from the coast, their restaurant was right by the beach, well, and a road. It’s a good position and we got an outdoor table with a lovely view of the harbour (reservations recommended).

We pushed the boat out when ordering (we deserved it after the hike!). First up, a snack of delicious fried xipirons, tiny little squids.

Xipirons

It’s only after this trip that I’ve realised that we ordered a lot of escalivada, here again with anchovies. We can’t help it – we love this Catalan grilled vegetable dish!

Escalivada with Anchovies

We couldn’t leave without sharing a rice dish between us – we chose the seafood paella, which was cooked more like a Catalan rice than a Valencian paella.

Seafood Paella

The grains of rice were a little undercooked and it was a little wet (hence the Catalan rice dish comparison) but overall the flavour was outstanding. There was plenty of seafood within and we finished the entire thing. Uh… no dessert for us then.

Seafood Paella

We did have a little walk to a local ice cream joint though – Gelats Artesans Galiana! I have no photos but their ice creams were fantastic and we went there both nights we were in the town. My favourite was their orxata sorbet but their pistachio ice cream was also excellent.

Thinking about this sorbet de orxata in El Port de la Selva.... #latergram

Overall, we ate very well in El Port de la Selva! Our second stop was Cadaqués – and that’s for the next post!

I’d heard a lot online about Chen Ji in Barcelona. Strangely enough, we passed this restaurant a few years ago as we went shopping in a Chinese supermarket across the street; I was getting some ingredients for a dinner I was making, I think. I’ve already forgotten about what I made for dinner that night but I remember the restaurant; we got a good vibe from it…something about the way it looked clearly indicated that it wasn’t like the other Chinese restaurants in Barcelona. And that’s a good thing – some of the stuff in the city can be grim. There’s been lots of buzz about it online recently, all in Catalan/Spanish of course, and after showing Blai a few photos of the food, the restaurant shot up to the top of our must-try list. Dumplings! Hand pulled noodles! Cheap as chips! We settled on visiting one day during our holidays for lunch and brought along Blai’s brother too.

We found the restaurant in the middle of C/d’Alí Bei, the street running down a neighbourhood that is fast becoming the major ‘Chinatown’ of Barcelona. There are a few serious-looking restaurants and a couple of well-stocked Chinese supermarkets. Chen Ji has one of those narrow shopfronts that leads to a much larger interior with plenty of seating, all of which filled up when we were there for a weekday lunch. Most were locals, a few were tourists, and the split between Chinese and non-Chinese diners was about 50:50.

One popular dish at the restaurant is what’s listed on the menu as ‘xiao long bao’. These are like no xiao long bao I’ve ever had… if you’re not familiar with them, they’re those Shanghainese soup dumplings, thin skinned, filled with meat and soup and steamed. These were more like sheng jian bao, pan fried with their breadier skins and moist but less soupy insides. They were excellent and such a bargain at €3 for a portion of 9.

"Xiao Long Bao"

Their fried rice was excellent, one of the best restaurant fried rices I’d had in a while. With a little bit of chilli oil on the side, bam, good eating. This is miles better than any of the arròs tres delícies you’ll typically find.

Fried Rice

We had to order some hand pulled noodles too. They’re available in soups (for stupidly little money) and stir fried too. We went for stir fried with beef and vegetables, dry being easier to share than wet. The noodles had a good chew and were delicious – full of flavour and packed with ingredients.

Fried Hand Pulled Noodles with Beef and Vegetables

With the three dishes and a large bottle of water, the bill for the three of us was under €15. Bargain!

Their menu was full of dishes you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere in the city: various vegetables, fish dishes, offal. There’s even a menú del dia – three or four dishes from a hot buffet will be piled onto a divided metal plate (yeah, like a prison tray) and from what I saw, it’s a lot of food. We’ll be back!

Chen Ji
Carrer d’Alí Bei, 65
08013 Barcelona

When we’re in Barcelona for the summer, we always visit Blai’s extended family out in a village in the Alt Penedès. It’s wine country and everywhere you turn you’re surrounded by vineyards, vines dripping with white or red grapes. Quite often we’ll eat in Cal Padrí, a restaurant we’ve seen rise from what was originally a large chicken shed, and we’ve seen the restaurant grow in popularity since it opened, both with locals there for the weekday menú del dia or non-locals out for a special day with a special menu or lost tourists who are looking to retrace the cava route they planned. Yeah, I wasn’t there but Blai had to help out some lost tourists while he was having lunch there one day; lots of the wineries in the region now welcome visitors. And Cal Padrí is indeed a lovely place to stop for lunch if you’re in the area.

On our last visit, it was a Sunday and hence the menú del dia wasn’t available. There was a weekend menu or what we all opted for, the menú degustació. This tasting menu consisted of three first courses, two second courses and two desserts…and all for €26,50. And that included bread, water and the house wine. Definitely a bargain as you’ll soon see. And not everyone at the table even has to order it.

We started with a little snack of pa de vidre (rubbed with tomato and oil for pa amb tomàquet naturally) and topped with slices of fuet. A good and classic start.

Pa de vidre amb fuet

Then the tasting menu began proper. Amanida de perles de foie amb maduixa i reduccio de vinaigre – A salad of foie pearls with strawberry and vinegar reduction. I’ve never thought much about strawberries in salads but they were perfect in here, a lovely fresh and slightly sour foil to the rich foie.

Amanida de perles de foie amb maduixa i reduccio de vinaigre

Coca de farigola amb seito i ceps confitada – A thyme coca with anchovy and confited porcini mushrooms. This was wonderful. I love flatbreads and flatbreads topped with delicious things are always welcome.

Coca de farigola amb seito i ceps confitada

Raviolis de mascarpone i alfabrega amb daus de tomaquet fresc – Mascarpone and thyme ravioli with diced fresh tomatoes. Those tomatoes are certainly fresh as they have a kitchen garden on the other side of the parking lot!

Raviolis de mascarpone i alfabrega amb daus de tomaquet fresc

Llom de bacalla amb crema d’Idiazabal i patata xip violeta – Cod with Idiazabal cheese sauce and purple potato chip. This was one of my favourite dishes with lots of creamy cheesy sauce with the mild cod.

Llom de bacalla amb crema d'Idiazabal i patata xip violeta

Anec mut del Penedes criat a Cal Padri rostit amb prunes i pinyons. KM0 – Roasted Muscovy duck from the Penedès with prunes and pine nuts. This is the signature dish of the restaurant as it uses ducks they raise on the premises (the farm has been there for years). The cooking style is very Catalan – the duck is roasted in pieces in its own juices along with the fruit and nuts. It’s simple but very satisfying. The ‘KM0’ denotes the distance the ingredients have traveled!

Anec mut del Penedes criat a Cal Padri rostit amb prunes i pinyons. KM0

And then there were desserts! On the left is Copa de mousse de xocolata blanca amb gelatina de mango – A homemade cup of white chocolate mousse with mango jelly. On the right, “Ou sorpresa de Cal Padri” – their “Surprise Egg” of meringue with vanilla ice cream. Both simple but both good.

Postres

Overall, a tasty tasting menu and quite a fun way to dine if you’re here on a weekend.

I’ve been a few times already in the past and each time I’d had their menú del dia, the lunch menu of the day – made up always of two dishes (the first is usually a vegetable/rice/pasta and the second usually a meat/fish) plus dessert, bread, water, and wine. I’ve just highlighted some of the dishes they offer here. This is all very typical everyday Catalan eating and it’s all very well cooked here.

A typical Catalan amanida (salad)

Salad

A saltejat (think stir-fry or saute) of green beans with piquillo peppers

Saltejat de Mongeta Verda amb Pebrot Piquillo

A simple but typically Vilafranca/Catalan fideuà

Fideuà

Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and basil

Spaguetis amb Tomaquet Xerri i Alfabrega

Chicken wings with garlic and potatoes

Alas de Pollastre al Allet amb Patata

Stewed lean beef with mushrooms

Daus de Carn Magra amb Bolets

Homemade yoghurt cake with chocolate sauce

Coca D'Iogurt amb Salsa Xocolata

Crema Catalana

Crema Catalana

Now there’s the matter of actually getting there. Cal Padrí’s address states that it’s in Castellvi de la Marca, which is really a municipality in the Alt Penedès. Technically, it’s in a village that’s really only made up of three houses. The proprietor said that everyone really finds the restaurant using Google Maps. And so I’ll recommend that too. Also, you’ll need a car or a taxi.

Cal Padrí

Cal Padrí
Masia Cal Gori s/n.
08732 Castellví de la Marca
(Barcelona)

The closest large town is Vilafranca del Penedès.

I wish we were back in the Vall de Boí. But we’re not – we’re back in the swing of things at work and I’ll just have to make do with photos and memories. This somewhat epic post is where my blog treads the line between food blog and travel blog as, in addition to all the food we ate, I’ll also give details of hotels, public transport and sights for the region. We don’t drive and depended on public transport, taxis, and our two feet to get us around and we did brilliantly. I highly recommend it.

But where do I begin? The idea of our spending some time walking in the Pyrenees had been in our heads for a few years and as we weren’t particularly organised this summer (no long train trip this year), we decided to just fly into Barcelona and then go from there to the Pyrenees. But where in the Pyrenees? The Vall de Boí! This is a beautiful valley (vall) on the edges of the Pyrenees and is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its being the home of a significant number of beautifully decorated Romanesque churches. There are 9 in total and on our short trip, we managed to visit six and see one from a distance. It also borders Catalonia’s only national park – Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici – and we spent one of our days there too.

Tuesday

On Tuesday morning, we caught a 09:00 bus (ALSA, tickets bought in advance online) from Barcelona Nord bus station to El Pont de Suert, the largest town closest to the Vall de Boí. The ride was 4 hours long, inclusive of a 30 minute break in the pretty town of Balaguer, close to Lleida.

We reached El Pont de Suert at 13:00 and spent the time before lunch looking around its mediaeval buildings. The bridge for which it was named disappeared about 50 years ago but there’s still enough to see in a short amount of time.

For lunch, we happened upon the Restaurant Cotori, connected to the hotel of the same name. €18 would get us the usual menu of two dishes, bread, wine, water and dessert. This lunch included our first taste of the fresh river trout that we’d encounter all through the region – the rivers must be full of these delicate and delicious fishes; here our trout was panfried and topped with bacon and vinegared onions. The ugly dessert below was a fantastic slice of fresh pineapple topped with crema catalana!

Truita de riu de la Ribagorça amb reducció de Ratafio de la Vall de Boí amb ceba

Pinya natural amb crema catalana cremada

From El Pont de Suert, we went to the tiny taxi rank next to the bus station (equally tiny) and grabbed a taxi to Barruera, our first destination in the Vall de Boí. We got our first good look (exterior only) at one of the famous Romanesque churches; this was Sant Feliu de Barruera.

Sant Feliu de Barruera

This is where we discovered that the walking/hiking trails in the region are extremely well marked and we found our first route just behind the church, by the river. We were walking from Barruera to Durro, where our first booked hotel was located.

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See that bridge above? We crossed that…and then it was straight uphill the whole way. Oof. After that sweaty endeavour, we arrived in Durro, one of the prettiest villages I’d seen in a while. We checked in at Casa Xanet, one of only a scattering of hotels in Durro. The village is very quiet and there are also only a couple of bars and restaurants. We felt like the only tourists staying in the village that evening; most come for the church and then stay elsewhere.

We had a little walk around the village and visited La Nativitat de la Mare de Déu de Durro, the first Romanesque church we entered. Of all the churches we visited, this was probably the least impressive on the inside – most of the interior decorations were Baroque and not many of the original Romanesque sculptures or paintings remain.

Nativitat de la Mare de Déu de Durro

Ah well, at least the village did turn out to be the prettiest! And the view of the village was indeed very pretty from the top of the bell tower.

View

From a distance, we spotted L’Ermita de Sant Quirc de Durro, another of the churches, but we never got a chance to walk up to it.

L'Ermita de Sant Quirc de Durro

That evening, we ate dinner at our hotel (really more like a bed and breakfast) and we had a wonderful homecooked meal of escalivada, grilled lamb ribs, and another brilliant truita de riu. Here’s the only photo I got that night – a slice of homemade flam de cafè, one of the best flams I’ve ever eaten! It’s flavour was gorgeous and it was so utterly smooth.

This was a fantastic homemade flam de cafè tonight! We're certainly not going hungry here.

Wednesday

After a great night, we woke up to an equally fabulous breakfast – perfectly fried eggs (with crispy frilly whites, just the way I like them) and very flavourful bacon. We were set for the day!

Fantastic eggs and bacon to see us through the morning! The eggs were local and had the most golden yolks.

Casa Xanet

I highly recommend staying at Casa Xanet if you’re visiting the Vall de Boí, especially if you have a car. The owners made us feel utterly at home, the rooms are clean and comfortable, and the food is wonderful.

In Durro, we headed to the parking lot/playground and found the path to Boí. It’s a bit uphill at first but then you walk along a natural ledge on the mountain and you get glorious views of the entire valley. We probably took twice as long as one would normally take to walk this route since we spent lots of time stopping to take in the view.

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Into Boí we went and it was here where we discovered all the tourists. The majority come to this village as there are special taxis that go to the national park from there (more on that later). We were there that day to see Sant Joan de Boí, another of the Romanesque churches.

Sant Joan de Boí

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There are beautiful replicas of the original paintings inside – and do look out for the original carved graffiti on the outside!

For lunch, we grabbed some baked goods from a bakery/supermarket (things cost approx twice as much as in Barcelona – this being the middle of nowhere) and found a little picnic area to dine. After we regained our energy, it was onto Taüll, which we discovered was a couple hundred metres in elevation above Boí. While the road winds up the mountain, the walking path cuts through in a straight line – up we went!

When we got to the top of the hill, we went straight up even further to first see Santa Maria de Taüll, one of the Romanesque churches of the town but located higher in what appeared to previously be a separate small village.

Santa Maria de Taüll

The church had been lovingly restored and replicas of the paintings lined the walls (many of the originals are currently in Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) in Barcelona). Beautiful!

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After this, it was down to the main centre of Taüll where we checked into our hotel for the next two nights – Hotel el Rantiner. It’s a larger hotel, one of a few in the town; there’s much more accommodation here than in any other village in the Vall de Boí as it’s also closest to the nearby Boí-Taüll ski resort. After a bit of a rest there, we walked down to see Sant Climent de Taüll, probably the most famous of all the churches in the region.

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Sant Climent de Taüll

It’s the largest of church of the region and its painting of the Pantocrator one of the best preserved. Of course, the original painting is now in MNAC in Barcelona but there are remnants of the original paint still on the walls. There’s also a bit of a light projection to show you what the original looked like. However, I would highly recommend (as it was highly recommended to us by one of the women working there) timing your visit to coincide with one of the ‘video mappings’ they show. Get in about 10-15 minutes prior to one to secure a seat and then a beautifully created show formed of multiple projections will take place for about 10 minutes; they show how the paintings would have originally looked when they were created almost 1000 years ago. It’s really worth the wait.

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Dinner was at the nearby Hostal Sant Climent – they just managed to squeeze us into a table in the corner. The entire big restaurant had been fully booked! (Book your restaurants in advance – this is our main take home message and I repeat this at the end of this post.) The food was exactly what we needed on this trip – hot and plentiful. While the starters were nothing to write home about, the main courses were excellent – grilled beef cheeks and roasted pork ribs. Desserts too were absolutely massive, with Blai’s mel i mató twice as large as anything you’d find in a Barcelonan restaurant.

Grilled Beef Cheeks

Pork Ribs with Apple Puree

Mel i Mató

Thursday

We started the day at the breakfast buffet at the hotel. This was a proper spread: bread, proper tomatoes for rubbing, hams, cheeses, cereals, jams, yogurt, fruit, juices, coffees, teas, chocolates, sweets, etc, etc. One could also order fried eggs and bacon or eggs any way. We filled up as we were expecting to do a lot of walking that Thursday.

Breakfast for a long day ahead! Pa amb tomàquet i pernil.

After breakfast, it was back to Boí this morning to queue for one of the 4×4 taxis that would take us deep within the Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes. Regular cars are allowed only up to a certain point; to go further, only these taxis have the permission and the ability to drive up one narrow road. You end up in the middle of the park and there are many walking paths from there.

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We had packed sandwiches from a bakery in Taüll as well as packets of nuts we’d brought from Barcelona and we tucked into them when we reached the Estany Llong, a long lake where everyone seems to stop. We were planning to go further but a hiking boot emergency put a stop to that.

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After some general wandering around and taking a slightly different route back…

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…it was near 17:30 by the time we caught a taxi back to Boí. We then booked another taxi back to the hotel. We were shattered!

We did manage to call and get a table for dinner at Restaurant El Caliu though. Like all the restaurants we encountered in the Vall de Boí, this one offered a set menu both at lunch and dinner time (the latter is uncommon in Barcelona) and this was always the best deal with, yup, two dishes plus dessert, bread, wine and water. The food here was fine but nothing special; perhaps the best thing was the crema de llimona we had for dessert. Particularly unique to me was a stew made with horse meat!

Horse Stew

Botifarra

Crema de Llimona

Friday

Goodbye, Taüll and Hotel el Rantiner! The hotel was clean and the daily breakfast was excellent but I will never miss the noisy chickens directly under our room’s windows. Gosh, they’re noisy! I remember lying in bed in the very early morning while it was still dark and wishing that I could cock-a-doodle-kill them all.

Stupid Chickens

We were going to be walking today. Back down to Boí we went and then crossed the village to continue on, crossing the river, to Erill la Vall, a very pretty village just a little elevated above the riverbed. It’s quiet, perhaps not as quiet as Durro but certainly more peaceful than Boí or Taüll. There appear to be a few hotels/rental apartments and quite a few good looking restaurants.

Our final Romanesque church on this trip was Santa Eulàlia d’Erill la Vall, the only church in the valley with an exterior arched porch region (portico?) and the most beautiful wooden sculptures above the altar (replicas of course – the originals are partly in MNAC and partly in the Museu Episcopal de Vic).

Santa Eulàlia d'Erill-la-Vall

Santa Eulàlia d'Erill-la-Vall

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Erill la Vall is also home to the Centre del Romànic de la Vall de Boí, where you can learn a bit about the history of the region. There’s a very good short video that should be viewed if you’re there – and they have it in English too.

We were hoping for an early lunch but the restaurant we wanted to dine at, Hostal La Plaça, only opened at 13:30. No matter, they reserved us a table and it turned out to be a good thing – almost all the other tables in that very big restaurant were reserved! Again, book all your meals in advance in the Vall de Boí!

We started with a shared first dish of faves (broad beans) with botifarra negre (black sausage) – delicious! There was yet another truita de riu, here served with the very Catalan combination of pinenuts and raisins, and another fabulous coffee flam. Overall, there was some excellent cooking going on here.

Faves i Botifarra Negre

Truita de riu amb pinyons i panses

Flam de Cafè

This was one of our favourite restaurants on this trip – highly recommended! What a good one to end on.

After lunch (no lingering as there was a bus to catch later that day), we left Erill la Vall to follow the river to Barruera. It was a very pleasant walk, very flat all the way as we were down in the bottom of the valley.

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From Barruera, we called for a taxi to take us back to Pont de Suert for a rest and a drink. And then it was back to the bus station at Pont de Suert to wait for our evening bus back to Barcelona. Turn the bus around – I want to go back!

Tips for the Vall de Boí:

  • It is possible to get to all the churches by car. Actually, most tourists drive up there; we seemed to be the only people getting around primarily by foot.
  • Make all hotel bookings in advance.
  • Make reservations for lunches and dinners, even if they’re only 10 minutes prior to opening.
  • The best ticket deal for the Romanesque churches is the one for all the churches, the Romanesque visitor centre, and a ticket for MNAC in Barcelona (to see many of the original paintings and sculptures). The MNAC ticket doesn’t have any use-by date. If you’re there for the churches, you’ll easily see most of them.
  • There are no facilities for food/toilet/etc available at the national park. There are some water fountains but they are few and far between. Pack sensibly.
  • To book a taxi ride within the Vall de Boí, call the Asociació de Taxis de la Vall de Boí.
  • Finally, look out for truita de riu (river trout) on menus – they are truly fantastic. Also amazing are the potatoes, the eggs and bacon, and the flams.

It was a fantastic, though short, trip. All my photos from our trip to the Vall de Boí can be found in this Flickr album.

By the way, if you’re reading from Catalonia today – bona diada!

One of the newest visitor attractions in Barcelona is El Mercat del Born, a former market and wholesale market in Barcelona that functioned from 1878 to 1977. I remember my first visit to Barcelona, over ten years ago, when Blai took me there to peep through the railings and into the then excavation site. For under the market, the ruins of the preexisting 18th century Born neighbourhood were in remarkable condition. Today, the market is El Born Centre Cultural, a cultural centre, all centred around the ruins and holding exhibitions, theatre space, meeting rooms, a shop and a restaurant.

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It was, of course, the restaurant that caught my eye and a couple days after our visit to the market, we returned with the whole family to try El 300 del Born, the restaurant run by the local major beer company Moritz and with a menu developed by Jordi Vilà of Alkimia. The space is lovely and light and has, of course, a fantastic view of the ruins (there is a separate entrance to the restaurant from outside when the cultural centre is closed). There are photos all around the restaurant of when the site was still a working market, which made for a great talking point throughout the meal.

What really tickled me though were the menus. On the Catalan menu (which is used as a placemat), many of the items refer to either key points in Catalan history or important Catalan cultural events and details of these are provided as references on the back of the menu. Unfortunately, the English menu lacks these – they should be translated as they’re a great read! Lots of thought had been given to the naming of items in the menu, with lots of ingredients reflecting the historic event or whatnot.

Anyway, onto the food – and it was all Catalan food, making the restaurant a good place for those who’d like to try Catalan cuisine. We ordered a whole lot of things to share between us. First on my list of things to try were bombes. Yes, in English they would indeed be bombs! These deep fried potato croquettes are sauced with aioli and bravas sauce and were originally created to resemble those cartoony spherical bombs that were popular with Catalan anarchists in the politically unstable years around the beginning of the 20th century.

At El 300 del Born, they made different types of bombes with different fillings and sauces and named them after groups and military leaders who were actually involved in the bombing of Barcelona at some point in history. Bombes de la Barceloneta (€4,50) were the traditional ones and which, yes, were originally created in Barceloneta. Bombes de l’Espartero (a Spanish general) (€5,00) were made with morcilla, the Spanish black sausage. Both were excellent.

Bombes de la Barceloneta, la tradicional i Bombes de l'Espartero (amb morcilla)

An Esqueixada tradicional (€9,00) was a traditional Catalan salad of tomatoes, onions and shredded salt cod and was delicious.

Esqueixada tradicional

Patates Felip V (€3,75) were described as patatas bravas of Born but what came out surprised us all! Five roasted potatoes were smothered in aioli and a spicy bravas sauce and were simple but delicious. Felip V was the king whose army defeated Catalonia in 1714, during the War of the Spanish Succession. It’s what the 300 oin the name of the restaurant commemorates (1714-2014). But why five potatoes? Perhaps five for Felip V?

Let's get a closeup of the crazy Patates Felip V at El 300 del Born yesterday! Fabulous!

One section of the menu had a variety of things on slices of bread: these things were the conserved foods that the Catalans do very well, from canned seafood to embotits, their cured meats. Llesca de pa amb espetec (€1,90) was a slice of bread (tomatoed in the style of pa amb tomàquet) with many slices of espetec, a thin cured pork sausage.

Llesca de pa amb espetec

Llesca de pa amb pernil pota negra (€6,00) was similar but with melt in the mouth slices of cured ham made from black footed pigs.

Pernil pota negra

Llesca de pa amb sardina i piquillos (€2,50) was topped with canned piquillo peppers and delicious canned sardines. The quality of the little fishes was outstanding – if only all canned seafood could be like this.

Llesca de pa amb sardina i piquillos

A coca de recapte is a savoury Catalan pastry/flatbread with toppings and our order of a Coca mallorquina (€8,75) came topped with grilled vegetables as well as sobrassada and cheese. The pastry was fabulous – very thin and crispy and the toppings generous.

Coca mallorquina de sobrassada i formatge

We ordered repeats of our favourites – well, with a slight switchup to try as much as possible. Another coca was ordered – this time de recapte tradicional de Cardona (of a traditional recipe from Cardona) (€8,50). Again the pastry here was perfect and the coca was topped with grilled vegetables and sardines.

Coca de recapte tradicional de Cardona

More bombes too! Bombes Prim (€5,00) were filled with tuna and sauced with romesco. Bombes del Comte-duc d’Olivares (€5,50) were filled with oxtail and black olives. Both were, again, excellent.

Bombes Prim (amb romesco i tonyina) i Bombes del Comte-duc d'Olivares (cua de bou amb oliva negra)

We stopped with the savouries there to make room for the sweets. We ordered a few different things on the menu. I forgot to photograph the ice cream, which was a very generous portion in a large glass.

The Tiramisú a la catalana were made not with ladysfingers and Marsala but with melindros, soft Catalan sponge fingers, and vi de Banyuls, a fortified dessert wine from Banyuls.

Tiramisú a la catalana (amb melindros sucats amb vi de Banyuls)

My xocolatada de xocolata negra, cafè i melindros i nata (€5,50 and €0,85 for the whipped cream) were fantastic. The dark and rich hot chocolate had been combined with coffee (surely one the best combinations) and on the side were lemon-tinged melindros. I ordered whipped cream (the nata) on the side as it’s just the best thing ever with hot chocolate!

Xocolatada de xocolata negra, cafè i melindros i nata!

And, of course, being run by a brewery, there’s lots of Moritz’s beers on tap and all at very reasonable prices. There’s even a beer that’s only available at El 300 del Born as it incorporates flavourings popular 300 years ago!

I loved El 300 del Born and hope to return the next time I’m in Barcelona. They’re open every day, except Monday, from breakfast time all the way to midnight and there are many other sweets and savouries that we didn’t get a chance to try this time. I also hope to time my visit to get onto one of the guided tours that take you down into the ruins themselves!

El 300 del Born
Placa Comercial, 12
08003 Barcelona
Catalonia, Spain

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