Guided tours in Barcelona

The Catalan city of Barcelona is without doubt one of the most loved and visited cities within Europe and welcomes more than seven million visitors each year.
Sagrada Familia, The Ramblas, Park Güell, Casa Battlo are some of the better know attractions of the city and although they are a “must do” there’s so much more that the city has to offer the seasoned traveller.

There’s countless guide books you can read about the city which will give you some great pointers but to find those off the beaten track gems you really need an insider’s help to get the most out of your time in the city. Again, there’s lots of guides out there to choose from but we highly recommend the British Ex-Pat Simon Harris. Simon has been living in Barcelona since 1988 and knows the city like the back of his hand. Fluent in both Catalan and Spanish Simon is the man behind the website http://www.barcelonas.com/

The website lists ideas of places to visit and things to see but Simon is also available to give private guided tours and can be contacted from the website. Let him know what your interests are and Simon can arrange a bespoke itinerary best suited to your interests and Schedule.

For those of you interested in history Simon is also the author of the book “Catalonia is not Spain” which gives a detailed account of over a thousand years of Catalan history up to the present day. I truly believe that in understanding the history of the often troubled relationship between Catalonia and Spain visitors will appreciate more their time in Barcelona and Catalonia.

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!

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.