Costa Brava Hot Air Balloon trip

The Catalan Pyrenees

The snow capped Pyrenees

 If you are looking for great activities to partake in while in the Costa Brava there can be few better than taking a Hot Air Balloon ride. There are various balloon companies to choose from in the Girona province. In our opinion the extinct volcanic region Garrotxa offered us the best mix of terrain and a closer proximity to the stunning snow capped Pyrenees.

Extinct volcanoes

The extinct volcanoes Croscat and Santa Margarita in the Garrotxa region.

 We flew with http://www.voldecoloms.cat/ who have great modern installations between Olot and Santa Pau. There is a sweet feeling of anticipation as the balloons are being prepared and adrenalin starts to surge once you get into the basket. You lift silently up into the clouds and are quickly welcomed by some spectacular bird’s eye views of the surrounding landscape.

Mas de la Roureda

Mas de La Roureda, one of Charming Villas properties

 Typically a flight lasts for 1.5 hours and although the wind can never be guaranteed, a common landing zone is around the picturesque medieval village of Besalu. Whilst airborne everybody is offered a glass of Cava and some biscuits. Upon returning to the installations close to Santa Pau everyone is treated to a typical Catalan breakfast of Pa amb tomaquet, cheeses, cured meats and wine. If you only take one Hot Air Balloon ride in your life make it over the Garrotxa region with Vol de Coloms.

Happy New Year

 

Everyone wants to start off the New Year right.

Why don’t you celebrate New Year’s Eve the way Catalans and Spanish do!? The most popular New Year´s Eve tradition is the 12 grapes of good luck. At 12 seconds to midnight the countdown begins and each time the bell rings in a new second, everyone has to eat a grape, for a total of twelve grapes.

Cava, Cava cork, happy new year

Cava corks are always marked with a four-pointed star.

Then at the stroke of midnight the cork on the Cava bottle is popped, and people kiss each other on both cheeks.

Cava is the Spanish sparkling wine made by a traditional method in the same way as champagne (with the second fermentation in the bottle). There are some fabulous examples at great prices in comparison to French Champagne. Almost all cava is produced in Catalonia, especially in the Penedes wine region.

Don’t be fooled into accepting an inferior sparkling wine. You can distinguish cava by the cork, which should be marked with a four-pointed star!

Salut and Happy New Year!

Catalan Christmas Traditions

 

Catalonia has its own unique traditions over the Christmas period and perhaps one of the most unusual one is the Tió de Nadal (roughly “Christmas Log”), and popularly called “Caga tió” (The pooping log in English).

Tió de Nadal

El Tió de Nadal, a Catalan Christmas tradition.

The Tió de Nadal, found in the living rooms of many Catalan homes during the holiday season, is a small to medium size log standing up on two or four little stick legs, and with a broad smiling face drawn on one end. It wears a red peasant hat called “barretina” and it is covered with a little blanket so it doesn’t get cold at night.The Tió comes from the forest on the day of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), and from that day onwards one gives the Tió a little bit to “eat” every night.

On Christmas day or, depending on the particular household, on Christmas Eve, children hit the Tió with a stick while singing a song that orders it to loosen its bowels and let drop the presents!

 

 

The Tió does not drop large objects, as those are brought by the Three Wise Men (on the 6th of January), instead, it leaves small presents for the children, as well as candies, nuts, nougats, wine and other goodies that are shared by everyone.

 

It’s mushroom time in Catalonia!

 

In the months of October and November a large number of Catalans pour into the countryside in search of wild mushrooms or “bolets”. It is one of the autumn rituals of our region: we “hunt” for mushrooms and then we eat them!  Although there are many edible species we use the name “bolets” to refer to all of them. But then there are specific names according to the type, like “rovellons”, “rossinyols”, “ceps”, “llenegues” and many more.

Wild mushrooms

Picking and eating wild mushrooms is one of the favourite autumn rituals of many Catalans.

It is a healthy pastime (long walks), and enchanting too, as autumnal forests are so beautiful. And while enjoying the stimulus of a mycological hunt, you feel an additional glow of achievement and pride when you actually find one! Mushrooms can be cooked in many different ways: they can be grilled, baked, fried or stewed with meat and other vegetables.

But precaution is to be practised at all times. It is very important to know how to distinguish the good ones from those that are not so good and from those that can kill you! So don’t eat any mushrooms you have picked unless you, or someone that knows, have identified them 100%. Otherwise play safe and find yourself a good restaurant for a great “vedella amb bolets” lunch!

The Festivities around the 15th of August

Festa Major de Gracia

A decorated street during the Festa Major de Gracia in Barcelona

The week before and after the 15th of August there are many festivals (Festes Majors) taking place in Catalonia. The streets and squares of many villages and towns are decorated, and an array of traditional events takes place: concerts, dancing, markets, fairs, parades…

The reason why so many festivities take place during these dates is because traditionally this is the period when the work of mowing the fields ended. Also the Christian tradition set the 15th of August as the date to celebrate the Assumption of Mary, that commemorates the mystery of the elevation of Mary’s soul , the Mother of God, to heaven.

One of the biggest and better known festivals is the “Festa Major de Gràcia” in one of the neighborhoods of Barcelona, where 17 streets and squares are decorated by residents who transform their street into elaborately themed carnival style decorations.

 

Rupit

 

Not many tourists make their way to Rupit when coming to Catalonia. This beautiful village is set on a high hill 845m above sea level in the area of Osona, and even though it’s a popular destination by Catalan day-trippers, it is hardly frequented by foreigners. The streets and lanes of this small town have retained an atmosphere of gone-by times, and has retained its medieval charm, with narrow cobblestone streets and an age old plaza.

Rupit

The streets and lanes of this small town have retained an atmosphere of gone-by times, and has retained its medieval charm.

The countryside around it is wild and beautiful, with dramatic rock formations and spectacular views across the Pyrenean foothills. The river running through Rupit has carved out a deep gorge over millions of years, eventually resulting in the 100m high Sallent waterfall.

It is definitely a place worth visiting when you come to Catalonia!

Fancy some Calçots?

 

Catalonia is known around the world for its cutting-edge molecular gastronomy – famed by the many michelin starred restaurants- but there is still plenty of traditional down to earth food to be had! We have our own unique culinary customs and eating calçots is one of them at this time of the year.Calçots are a variety of scallion. They are milder than onions and look similar to small leeks.

Calçots

The Catalan method of cooking the calçots is to grill them over a flaming barbecue.

It is a generally accepted story that a peasant farmer from Valls (south of Barcelona), began growing calçots in the latter part of the 19th century. He covered them with earth -in Catalan, “calçar” literally means “to put the shoes on”- in order to keep the edible part white.

The Catalan method of cooking the calçots is to grill them over a flaming barbecue. They are traditionally served on a terracotta roof tile, rather than a plate, to keep them warm. Diners peel away the blackened outer layers, and then dip the tender bulbs in Romesco, a sauce made of tomatoes, almonds, garlic, peppers, vinegar and oil.

Mmmmmmm! Messy but delicious!

Els Castells

 

Els Castells –a Catalan word that means castles– are a cultural tradition particular to Catalonia that consists of erecting human towers. The human towers are formed by castellers standing on the shoulders of one another in a succession of stages (between six and ten).

Castellers

As well as having cultural and symbolic importance for the people of Catalonia, the castells are considered a demonstration of sporting prowess.

There are three definite parts to a castle: La pinya (base) is a bunch of strong, big castellers with the arms locked together in a taut circle. They support their teammates as they create level upon level with progressively fewer and lighter people to form el tronc (trunk) which is the central part of the castle, made up of some two to five human layers.

 

 

 

The uppermost levels of the tower are known as El pom de de dalt, and comprise young children. The Anxaneta is the tiniest (and braviest!) child that climbs all the way to the very top and, supported by only two people, raises a hand with four fingers up to symbolize the Catalan flag.

As well as having cultural and symbolic importance for the people of Catalonia, the castells are considered a demonstration of sporting prowess.

The castell season runs from April to November, with teams performing regularly at festa majors, national celebrations and Catalan competitions.

Barcelona’s Palau de la Música

 

One of Barcelona’s hidden treasures, quite often not discovered by the usual tourist is the Palau de la Música, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the heart of city, minutes away from Placa Catalunya.

Palau de la musica

The breathtaking architecture full of colour and natural light is a magnificent example of Modernist architecture.

It was built built between 1905 and 1908 as a place where music could be enjoyed at its most, and it is still today a major site hosting festivals and music concerts.

The breathtaking architecture full of colour and natural light is a magnificent example of Modernist architecture, designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner, a contemporary of Gaudi.

The interior design, made of mosaïcs, sculpted stones and numerous impressive stained glasses, is absolutely stunning and well worth a visit.

The best way to enjoy the Palau is to go to an actual concert, but there are also daily tours taking place in English, Catalan and Spanish. Visit: http://www.palaumusica.org/ for more information.