Day 3 was not a public holiday and the streets of Milan finally bustled again. Everything was open and we had our choice of cafes and bakeries for breakfast. We ended up at Panarello, a Genoan chain that is excellent. Our pastries were fantastic and if you have space for a box of their canestrelli (a buttery, ring-shaped biscuit), do get them.

Breakfast

Panarello
Piazza S. Nazaro in Brolo, 15
20122 Milano, Italy

We spent a long morning at the Pinacoteca di Brera, the main art gallery in Milan. The collection is amazing but poor Blai’s heart was broken as its Caravaggio was currently on loan elsewhere. Ah, an excuse to come back surely!

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We kept things simple for lunch, knowing that we would feast in the evening. We stopped into a cafe near the Pinacoteca which seemed to attract a huge lunchtime crowd. They had the usual primi and secondi for those who wanted a relaxed meal but it struck us that Milan was very much like London with its quick lunches on the run. Most people opted for the piadine and toasted sandwiches for their lunch; actually, this cafe seemed to specialise in piadina sandwiches, boasting a long list of them.

This was my piadina, a thin flatbread folded over a number of fillings and then toasted.

My Piadina

And inside? I chose the one with smoked ham, a bitter chicory similar to radicchio (I believe), mushrooms and tonnato sauce. Yes, that rather brilliant creamy sauce made with tuna. Delicious.

Tonnato Sauce!

Caffè Ponte Nuovo
Via S. Marco, 14
20121 Milano, Italy

There was more wandering around Milan, some sitting in a cafe, and then while Blai browsed a bookshop in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, I worked up an appetite by climbing up to the roof of the Duomo! It’s good fun and it wasn’t at all as busy as I expected up there.

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And that night, we finally had Milanese food! I had had a few people recommend the Antica Trattoria della Pesa for classic Milanese cuisine and that was our one blowout meal. It’s not cheap but it was excellent. We were offered a few bites of a saltfish fritter and one with peppers as we perused the menu.

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OK, so we shared a Roman salad first but I do love an Insalata di puntarelle so! It was fresh and bitter and salty and tangy here.

Insalata di puntarelle

We had to have a Risotto alla milanese, though their risotto al salto (a fried pancake of rissoto alla milanese) was also tempting. It was utterly fantastic, smelling strongly of saffron, and with a wonderful bite to the rice and an overall savouriness.

Risotto alla milanese

A pasta dish that was shouting at us was their Tagliatelle ai carciofi , which was brilliant, with a touch of tomato.

Tagliatelle ai carciofi

And then we eschewed the ossobuco and the cotoletta for Cassoeula, which is a very typical wintry Milanese dish. It’s a heavy dish of pork sausages and other pork bits (not offal exactly but not common cuts) cooked for ages with lots of Savoy cabbage and served with soft polenta. This massive platter (the photo doesn’t seem to show its size) was really a serving for one that we split between the two of us! This was a hearty dish that filled us up and I can see its appeal and its necessity on a cold, wintry day.

Cassoeula

The desserts on offer were simple but after all that rich food, simple is all one desires. We split a Gelato di crema con marmellata fatta in casa. The fruit used in the homemade jam was some kind of plum. Again, simple but perfect.

Gelato di crema con marmellata fatta in casa

It’s not cheap, however, as the bill came to about €100 altogether but nothing could be faulted. It was a fantastic meal; do try to book ahead as it fills up quickly.

Antica Trattoria della Pesa
Viale Pasubio, 10
20154 Milano, Italy

Our final morning and our final breakfast in Milan (I barely eat breakfast here in London but if all cafes and bakeries here were like Milanese cafes and bakeries, I would have breakfast every day). This was the weakest bakery of our trip but was still better than many places in London. A pistachio croissant was fine while my cappuccino was too milky.

Pistachio Croissant

A savoury salame sandwich was excellent though.

Salame Sandwich

Our last morning was spent at the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, a small and intimate collection of art and antiques that doesn’t seem to attract the usual crowds of tourists (though to be fair, it did seem to be generally quite quiet in Milan – perhaps most tourists in Italy don’t bother with this city?).

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After a couple hours in the museum, there was time for an early lunch, which started in a queue in a fishmonger’s. Oh yes, the Pescheria Spadari is a fishmonger’s that’s been situated in central Milan (a 5 minute walk from the Duomo) for around 80 years. In addition to selling fresh fish, they run a lunchtime bistrot with delicious fresh fish dishes. I think the menu changes a little each day but there’s always fritto misto, which we bought to takeaway and eat outside. It was about €10 and was as fresh and amazing as you’d expect.

Fritto Misto

Pescheria Spadari
Via Spadari, 4
20123 Milano, Italy

A final bite, before taking a tram to the main station, from where we caught a bus to the airport, was at Princi – yes, my beloved Princi in London is the only international outpost of this Milanese chain. Two slices of fantastic focaccia – one topped with sliced vegetables …

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… and the other sliced and filled with Parma ham. Yes, it’s as good as the one in London and while writing this up, I realise I need to make another visit to ours soon to get a taste of Milan again.

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Princi
Via Speronari, 6
Milano, Italy

I love Milan! Of course, with more time, I think we would have ventured out of the city centre more, especially to eat and I bet I would have fallen in love with it even more. Next time….there will be a next time. As is usual, all the photos from our trip can be found in this Flickr album.

Right, about a month ago, I realised we didn’t have anything planned for Easter (one of the few free holiday days I get off from work) and after a bit of a discussion, we came to the realisation that we were both jonesing to go back to Italy. A little while later, after a bit of googling, we had booked two cheap flights to Milan and a budget hotel as well.

And the next thing we knew, we were on a plane from London to Milan! Italy! The city of fashion! The city in Easter! Oh yeah, Easter. Easter in a very Catholic country turned out to be quite a difficult one for a couple interested in food. Many of the cities top eateries were closed on both Easter Sunday (many restaurants are closed on Sundays anyway) and Easter Monday and we ended up eating not the food of Milan or Lombardy but the cuisine of Parma, of Naples, of Emilia-Romagna. Eventually we got some Milanese cuisine (that’s for the second post).

We landed to beautiful weather – blue skies that were the perfect background to the glistening Duomo.

Duomo

Unfortunately, within about two hours, it started pouring with rain and we found ourselves trudging through empty and dead streets trying to find some dinner. We ended up in one of the only restaurants that seemed to be open – Salsamenteria di Parma.

After we placed our order, bread and a couple of sauces were dropped onto our table. These were the sauces for which they made their name – the two turned out to be whichever random two our waiter grabbed but they turned out to be scallion and artichoke. And they were excellent.

Bread and Sauces

It was a brilliant start to a fabulous meal. Here was polenta fritta e mariola, the latter being an incredible spiced cooked pork sausage.

Polenta Fritta e Mariola

Tripletta rustica was a selection of excellent salames and mortadella.

Tripletta Rustica

The Tripletta Parmigiana was a trio of pasta dishes – tortelli di zucca (pumpkin), tortellli d’erbetta (Swiss chard), and anolini di San Secondo. The first two were dressed simply in butter and parmesan while the last was served with a creamy tomato and cured ham sauce.

Tripletta Parmigiana

I had to get some vegetables in us and a padellata di verdure was a selection of vegetables slowly cooked with lots of olive oil.

Padellata di Verdure

For dessert, we shared a doppietta del goloso, a selection of torta sbrisolona, zabaione, and salame di cioccolato con panna. That torta was an incredible crunchy nutty biscuit and that salame! I’ve got to learn the recipe for it.

Doppietta del Goloso

Salsamenteria di Parma
Via S. Pietro All’Orto, 9
20100 Milano, Italy

The next morning was equally grey and drab but what immediately picked us up was a standing-by-the-bar breakfast at Panettone Vergani, one of the few places open on Easter Monday between our hotel and the centre of Milan. Blai’s chocolate croissant turned out to be freshly filled with a chocolate cream – two pumps worth!

Chocolate Croissant

My chosen colomba was similar to a panettone but without the raisins…. so hence it’s better! It’s only really for Easter and there was plenty of candied citrus peel within. And a cappuccino – gotta have my morning coffee. Blai, on the other hand, developed a daily spremuta di arancia habit – freshly squeezed blood orange juice!

Cappuccino and Colomba

Vergani
Corso di Porta Romana 51
(MM Crocetta)
Milano, Italy

Walking around in the grey drizzle wasn’t great but we did manage to see lots of Milan and its churches that morning (most museums are closed on Mondays). We were ready for lunch and we stopped at the first place we could find that was open. This turned out to be Osteria al 29, an osteria that served Neapolitan food, including pizzas. But we were not in the mood for pizzas nor pasta and so we each ordered what was normally a secondo. My salsicce e friarielli hit the spot and caused me to fall in love all over again with the bitter greens.

Salsicce e Friarielli

Blai’s salmon was also delicious and served with all the vegetables one needed.

Salmon

Others were ordering pizzas which really did look excellent.

Osteria al 29
Corso Magenta, 29
20123 Milano, Italy

The highlight of the afternoon was a visit to the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, an outstanding church built in the Lombardy Renaissance style (this is the same style of all the little churches in the Vall de Boí which we visited last year). If you visit (it’s free), do pay the extra €2 to see the ‘treasure’ of the basilica. Oh, and take a look down in the crypt for the somewhat traumatising peek at the remains of three of the most important saints in Milan, one being Sant’Ambrogio, its patron saint.

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Finding dinner that evening was equally challenging. I thought that perhaps Easter Monday wouldn’t be as bad as Easter Sunday but our first choice of trattoria was closed. We weren’t going to risk going to yet another one on our list (much of the good stuff is located far from the centre) and so we went to Eataly in Piazza XXV Aprile. I’d visited Eatalys in Genoa and New York and knew what to expect – food!

We went to the section focusing on meat and fish (along with other tourists and Italians also looking for a place to eat) and ended up with a good selection. Our starter of arrosticini, thin grilled skewers of lamb, were fantastic – all juicy and lamby – and an Easter special.

Arrosticini

We split two main courses – one was veal cheeks cooked in red wine and served with soft polenta …

Veal Cheeks with Polenta

… and the other was grilled amberjack on a lemony potato puree. Both were excellent and as we’d never eaten at an Eataly properly, we were impressed.

Amberjack on Potato Puree

Dessert was found downstairs at a soft-serve gelato outlet, specialising in soft serve made from some fresh Alpine milk. Our stracciatella was milk soft serve topped with chocolate sauce that hardened on contact – good stuff! Thank goodness for Eataly at Easter!

Eataly Milano Smeraldo
Piazza XXV Aprile, 10
20100 Milano, Italy

Days 3 and 4, coming up!

Once the working week was over, there were only about 20 hours left to eat to my hearts content. The last dinner was at an Uyghur restaurant recently featured in Lucky Peach magazine. The Kashgar Uyghur Restaurant is located very close to the main train station (München Hauptbahnhof) and on first glance is a fancy kebab joint. We went upstairs where it’s a plain restaurant and you’re handed takeaway menus from which to order. We left it all to a colleague who was the most knowledgeable on Uyghur cuisine (from Xinjiang province in China) and he went ahead and overordered for us all.

I don’t have the ‘official’ menu names for anything – everything was listed in Chinese or German, of course. We started with samsa – baked handheld pockets of flaky dough filled with a lightly spiced minced lamb mixture. These were brilliant and I probably could have made a meal of two or three of them.

Samsa

A dish of cold spicy noodles (laghman) were topped with a hot stirfry of lamb and vegetables.

Cold Spicy Laghman

Beef stomach was soft and tender, not unlike slurping down beefy jelly.

Beef Stomach

Then came a stir fry….of lots of different things. And so we renamed it the stir fry of everything. Those flattish clear bean noodles were spectacular.

A Stir Fry of Many Things

Dapanji – Big Plate Chicken – was probably my favourite dish of the evening. Large flat belt noodles were served with the fabulously delicious bone-in chicken, pepper and potato stew. Here was just a portion for one – my friend would have ordered the larger version had I not stopped him!

Dapanji - Big Plate Chicken

Another dish! Stir fried egg and cucumber and meat. The mild cucumber was a soothing balm to our now tingling tongues.

Egg and Cucumber and Meat

And still there was more – ok, our final dish of stir fried laghman. Excellent as it was, we could only pick at it. Excellent noodles, yes, excellent.

Stir Fried Laghman

Overall, excellent! Highly recommended! There is another Uyghur restaurant nearby (that more resembles a Chinese restaurant) but according to my colleague who tried both, this was the better one.

Kashgar Uyghur Restaurant
Dachauer Str. 4
80335 Munich, Germany

And then on my last morning, before my flight back in the afternoon, I had to fit as many Munich foods as I could into my gob. I didn’t do too badly.

My main stop that morning was the Viktualienmarkt – Munich’s famous outdoor food market. Sure there are tourists around but you’ll also find locals shopping for the week or picking up something a bit special. I joined the locals in the queue at one of the mushroom stalls and bought a mixture of wild mushrooms to cook at home that night.

Mushrooms//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I also stopped at the Münchner Suppenküche, one of my favourite stops from over a decade ago, and I was happy to see that it’s still going strong. This large bowl of chicken noodle soup was €3,50 and it remains one of the best chicken noodle soups I’ve ever had.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Münchner Suppenküche
Am Viktualienmarkt Abt. 3 Stand 5/28/29
80331 München, Germany

Leberkäse! This is one of my most favourite Bavarian foods. Yes, I should have also eaten weisswurst but leberkase! If you’re not familiar with it, I guess I could liken it to posh Spam/bologna. You can get it everywhere. At snack stands, a hot slice will be sandwiched in a roll. In restaurants, a slice is likely to be served with potatoes and a fried egg. As I was noshing on the hoof, it would have to be in a roll for me. I took a tip from somewhere on the Internet and got my leberkäse in a roll directly from one of the Viktualienmmarkt’s butchers – they’ll slice the hot meatloaf and weigh your slice (nice and thick!) before shoving it into a sliced roll and handing it over. Look at that massive wodge! With a little mustard, it was some fine eating on the hoof while doing some sightseeing in the centre.

Leberkase

I had to end my haphazard ‘meal’ with something sweet. I concluded my tour of Munich with a stop at Cafe Luitpold, close to Odeonsplatz. I only found out later that the breakfasts/brunch here are quite famous but I only had the time and the stomach space for Kaffee und Kuchen.

The Cake Counter

Choosing a cake from the massive display was certainly challenging! But in the end, it was another slice of Prinzregententorte. It was perhaps a more elegant looking slice but taste wise – well, both were excellent!

Prinzregententorte

Cafe Luitpold
Brienner Str. 11
80333 München, Germany

And then it was off to the airport! Goodbye, Munich!

Goodbye, Munich

I love the city! Other points to note include the fact that it’s safe. No one bothers you at night when you’re walking around and everything’s wonderfully clean. The food is good everywhere and there are plenty of options other than Bavarian food nowadays. I do hope to return soon (especially when my kilo of Ritter Sport runs out)!

Here’s a general tip – there’s a very well-stocked supermarket at Munich Airport. I bought tonnes of things to shove last minute into my suitcase.

All my photos from my trip can be found in this Flickr album.

So I was travelling again as you could probably gather if you follow my Instagram and Twitter feeds. This time work took me back to the Bavarian city of Munich for a week. I love this city – my first and only visit was about 10 years ago when my brother and I spent a wintery week there indulging in everything Bavarian and Christmas. This time there were no Christmas Market stands and the weather for the most part was quite pleasant; oh yeah, and there was mostly work too, forgot about that. And I now have a little bit more spending money than an impoverished student (I still shop like a student though – I brought home 1.2kg of Ritter Sport).

Surprisingly (or perhaps not, I don’t know), not much has changed about the city in over a decade. Sure there are a few more international high street shops but there are still lots of independent shops and little cafes. I think even the food scene has improved somewhat.

Our first evening’s dinner was at Kuchlverzeichnis, a very traditional Bavarian restaurant with, yes, lots of pork on offer. We all shared a few starters first. There was a traditional platter of Bavarian snacks (I really enjoyed the obatzda), …

Pork Platter

…a venison pate served with a berry and horseradish compote,…

Venison Pate

…and shredded duck in aspic. All excellent and all plates cleaned.

Duck in Aspic

For my main course, as soon as I saw schnitzel on the menu, I couldn’t look away. But instead of the traditional Viennese style veal schnitzel, I went with a Münchner Schnitzel, a thin pork cutlet first coated in mustard before being crumbed and fried.

A Munich Style Schnitzel

We had to try a traditional Bavarian Cream, here served with fruits. It’s simply a pastry cream thickened with gelatin, nothing much to shout about.

Bavarian Cream

Kuchlverzeichnis
Rosenheimer Str. 10
81669 München, Germany

On some afternoons, I hopped over to True & 12 which seems to be considered one of the best ice cream places in the city. The flavours were indeed pretty fabulous! Here’s a chai latte and mango+ginger…

A bit of ice cream this afternoon - chai latte and mango+ginger flavours!

…and ‘Happy Monkey’ – a banana ice cream with chocolate chips, caramel and cinnamon sugar.

A scoop of 'Happy Monkey' - banana ice cream with chocolate chips, caramel, cinnamon sugar. Happy happy!

I really liked that scoops were sold individually, so you could have just 1 or 100.

True & 12
Rosenheimer Str. 14
81669 München, Germany

One particularly memorable teatime was spent at Konditorei Wölfl where we had a difficult time choosing just one cake from the myriad of homemade choices. I settled for a Prinzregententorte, a Bavarian cake made with thin layers of sponge cake interleaved with chocolate buttercream and covered with a dark chocolate glaze. It was as amazing as it looked and sounds and their other cakes also got the thumbs up from my colleagues. I hear they get queues down the road on weekends and I would recommend trying to get there on a weekday if possible.

Kuchen

Konditorei Wölfl
Kellerstraße 17
81667 München, Germany

A few days in and the pork levels in our bodies were already starting to get a bit high. We took a break one evening with Afghani food at a place nearby – Chopan (to go). Massive plates of basmati rice pilau and tender lamb and heavily spiced spinach ensured that we left satiated, our tastebuds enlivened again.

Narendj Palau

Chopan (to go)
Rosenheimerstraße 6 + 8
81669 München, Germany

Sometime later during the week, a few of us were getting a little tired of the sandwich lunches and we left in search of a kebab. Oh yes, this was my first German döner kebab and now I understand what the fuss is about. I mean, look at all that salad! It’s, like, fresh and whatnot all on top of some quality meat (by quality, I mean I can identify it as meat, unlike those elephant leg doners).

Today for lunch, we sampled that super German specialty, the döner kebab.

It was back to Bavarian food for a couple more nights and our meal at Haxnbauer was memorable mainly for the ridiculous amounts of meat before us. Between five of us, we first shared a platter for two. Goodness, if this was for two, then surely this was for two as a main course.

Starter Platter

While I was freaking out about the size of the knuckles and thinking of ordering slices, the others were keen to order by whole knuckle (warning: this is not a budget move by any means). When you state that preference, your waiter will come along with a platter of knuckles, with prices stuck on toothpicks, from which to choose. One veal knuckle and one pork knuckle then. These were whisked back into the kitchen for slicing before being presented to us yet again. Both were excellent but my favourite was the pork with its crackling, of course.

One Veal Knuckle, One Pork Knuckle

We eschewed the usual sides (sauerkraut and mash) and went with an eclectic mix: potato pancakes,…

Potato Pancakes

… red cabbage with apple,…

Red Cabbage with Apple

…pickled cucumber with dill,…

Pickled Cucumber with Dill

…and creamed mushrooms.

Creamed Mushrooms

Of particular note were the cabbage (a little sweet and a perfect pairing to the pork) and the mushrooms (like a chunky cream of mushroom soup).

No, we didn’t have dessert; actually we had to pack up meat leftovers. Booking recommended.

Haxnbauer im Scholastikahaus
Sparkassenstraße 6
80331 München, Germany

More in Part 2!

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!

We finally made it to Breizh Cafe on this Paris trip; this restaurant specialises in the galettes and crepes from Brittany and is probably on everyone’s list of places to eat in Paris. I’d recommend getting there soon after their opening time for lunch if you’re trying to get a table without a reservation; and even if you have a reservation, don’t be surprised if you’re seated in their shop next door (it’s perfectly normal though we saw some tourists leave in a huff when presented with that option). We got there about 15 minutes after they opened and got a prime table on the sidewalk; soon after, the entire restaurant was full.

It took us a while to choose the fillings for our savoury buckwheat galettes – everything on the menu looked incredible. I knew that everything would be good – the restaurant is known for the quality of the ingredients it uses. A Galette Bretonne was filled with creamy mushrooms with cheese and smoked ham and the buckwheat galette was fabulous, all flavourful and crisp at the corners. (A neighbouring couple who left their “galette crusts” made me quite upset.)

Galette Bretonne

A Galette Artichaut was the classic complète – ham, cheese and egg – with the addition of artichoke hearts. Perfect.

Galette Artichaut

Of course, we couldn’t leave without a sweet crepe. After a long deliberation, we finally decided to split a Crepe Quimperone – a crepe filled with apple puree, drizzled with the cafe’s salted caramel sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream. Yes, it was as incredible as it sounds.

Crepe Quimperone

I see now why there’s always a crowd here! We’ll be back.

Breizh Cafe
109 rue Vieille du Temple
75005 Paris
France

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