Bask in Barcelona

jbordsen@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 15, 2014 

David Hoffmann, 28, is president of the travel website davidsbeenhere.com. The Miami native is the author of “Barcelona, Spain: City Travel Guide 2013” (DBH Mega City Guides; $2.99/Kindle) and now lives there when he’s not on the road.

Q: When the clock strikes 10 p.m., where would you ideally be in Barcelona?

A: My wife and I would be going to the rooftop at the Hotel 1898, on La Rambla, one of the main pedestrian streets in Barcelona. We go there a couple times a month and enjoy it. You can’t go into many such places if you’re not staying there, but you can at this place. And it’s affordable: 7 to 10 euros per cocktail (about $9.50-$13.50) isn’t so bad.

Q: What is La Rambla like?

A: Very nice. It’s very good to go there Saturday or Sunday morning. People dress up as characters from movies. There’s an open market, Boqueria San Josep, where they sell fresh produce and seafood. La Rambla is where everybody is at, even in August when everything slows down. It’s packed – lots of tourists, but locals, too.

At its bottom end, by the port, is a Columbus statue. From there, if you want, you can walk to the Gothic Quarter next to it; or to the beach area, about a 10-minute walk. You can also walk toward Passeig de Gracia, where there are two famous buildings by (famed architect) Antoni Gaudi: Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera, and Casa Batlio. The rooftop of Casa Mila is amazing. It has varied chimes and is expansive – you can walk around up there. There are many stairways to the top, where you’ll get incredible views of Barcelona.

A tip for visiting these Gaudi houses: Purchase your tickets online, so when you arrive there’s no waiting in line. Otherwise, on a busy day, you can wait an hour.

Q: As someone from Miami, how would you rate Barcelona’s beaches?

A: They’re perfect for summer, if you like city beaches. I personally would go to Sitges, a nearby town that has various beaches in a row. Very nice. It is known as the Monte Carlo of Spain. It has great tourist apartment rentals close to the beach.

Here, (getting from the beach to the water) takes one minute and you’re there. You can literally have lunch near the sand, then dive in.

Q: Barcelona is a major vacation destination. Does it seem filled with tourists?

A: I don’t really feel it. But yeah, you can see the mix between tourists and locals. Everybody loves Barcelona. It’s a huge city where you can walk everywhere, and the metro (subway) connects to everything. It’s the most artistic city in Spain, for sure. It’s one of the top I would recommend in Europe. The food is incredible, whether you spend 5 euros or 150.

Q: What’s unique about the food?

A: Paella is a little different here; it’s not Valencia-style. They do it here in different ways, like “montaña” with meats and mushrooms, or “mariscos” – with seafood. Barcelona is famous for its style of seafood pasta called “fideua.”

The tapas bars are bigger places than you find in Madrid, but the food is incredible and worth finding. Go for the pimentas – the green peppers from the Galacia region. They’re made a bit different here: a little salty, but classic.

An amazing place is Cervecería Catalana, a walk-in that’s always packed. Getting served without a reservation takes an hour, unless you get there around 6 p.m. It’s on La Rambla, but not the touristy part between the port and Plaza Cataluña. Walk inland about 15 minutes and it’s full of restaurants. This is one of the best. Sit at the bar and you can see all the tostas: little pieces of bread with a little of everything on them. They have a lot of microbeers there. Everything is good.

In the Gothic Quarter, Los Caracoles – “the snails” – is famous for snails and paella. It can get expensive, depending on how much you order, but it’s reasonable.

I need to mention two other places. Tapas 24 is fantastic. It’s gourmet tapas in a cramped but chic setting.

The other place is Mercat de Santa Caterina, about a minute walk from the cathedral. It had international and Catalan cuisine. Very gourmet but inexpensive and with generous portions. Two people can get food and a bottle of wine and spend about 80 euros ($108).

Q: The nightlife?

A: It starts around 10:30 or 11. Barcelona is full of nightclubs and people love bar-hopping. The Gothic Quarter and the Barceloneta beach area are recommended. One bar, Bar Pastis, is famous with locals and is near La Rambla: They have absinthe there – a very strong drink that’s like moonshine in a way.

Q: The wines?

A: Incredible. Many are from the Penedes region; they’re whites. You should try cava, the Spanish equivalent of champagne that’s only made in a town a half-hour out of Barcelona called Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. The most famous producers there are Freixenet and Codorniu. You can do a tour there.

In Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, you can buy a good bottle for 3 euros ($4) – 8 euros for the best bottle. Back in Barcelona, you’d maybe pay double that.

Q: Best day trips from Barcelona?

A: The town of Tarragona; Part of it was an ancient Roman city. They still have the Roman theater.

Montserrat is a forested national park – basically a monastery on a mountain. You have to take the cable car up the incline to get there.

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