Marvel for example in the Gothic quarter where past and present live side-by-side, jewel-boxed boutiques line the cobbled streets in this Bohemian district of ancient squares and centuries old buildings.
As one would expect of a country soaked in sunshine and sea air, there are numerous overpriced modern temples with sophisticated cuisine. But,if it’s local food you want, head to where Barcelona’s new generation dine – the tapas bars – in particular the Piscolabis chain of restaurants. Their menus are impressive (available in English), the food is memorable, their prices good – a plate each of cheese croquettes, small fried fish in a tempura batter and fresh anchovies in vinegar, comes in at under €12.
Let’s skim over the historical landmarks, like the famous Picasso Museum and the architecture of Golden Square in the Eixample District – their details can be found on any Barcelona Tourism’s website. Instead, I’d like to tell you about two unique experiences that could turn your Barcelona trip into an unforgettable delight.
Being somewhat partial to a drop of wine, it was recommended that I visit Vila Viniteca, one of Barcelona’s leading specialist wine shops and one of Spain’s main purveyors of wine to restaurants and retailers. Vila Viniteca stocks more than 7,500 wines and is the sole representative for more than 200 wineries from around the world. More importantly, they offer wine tastings, hosted by Maxime Blais, formerly one of Raymond Blanc’s sommeliers. Beside the wine shop they have a delicatessen, considered to be the best in the city, brimming with more than 350 artisan cheeses and premium quality Iberic ham.
Flamenco with feeling
But the pièce de résistance is to be found along the famous mile-long, tree-lined market boulevard of La Ramblas – Tablao El Cordobés where some of Spain’s best Flamenco dancers can be found. With roots in Indian, Arabic and Spanish cultures, Flamenco dance is known for its sweeping arm movements and rhythmic feet stamping. Perhaps the greatest joy of Flamenco dancing is watching the expressions of the dancer, as they continually change throughout the performance of intricate guitar work, emotive singing and serious dance moves. It’s one of the most characteristic elements of Spain’s culture – a dazzling result of diverse cultures bound together over the centuries.
I was ushered into the dimly lit Moorish-inspired Tabloa whose stone pillars and vaulted ceilings allowed no more than 180 seats to be crammed around the low stage. Soon three Flamenco guitarists, two singers and six handsome Flamenco dancers, four women and two men, trooped onto the stage. The cave-like interiors began pulsating with the bold rhythm and stomping of Flamenco which, for ninety minutes, had the audience captivated. The color, intensity and drama of it all held me riveted to my seat as I watched the graceful movements of the long skirted, multi-frilled female dancers, who wove in and out of their ornate shawls to the hypnotic sounds of the flamenco guitars.
The role of the flamenco dancer is essentially to physically interpret the words being sung with fluid arm movements that contrast the reverberating steps as feet drill into the floor with a bewildering intensity. Duets, performed by a man and a woman, are often the most vivid Flamenco dances. The dancers keep their eyes firmly locked onto each other, constantly and aggressively building off one another in what becomes competition of passion, sexual tension, and emotion.
A white spotlight fell on a male dancer who stood motionless and free of expression for a few moments absorbing the strums of the guitars, the clapping, and the singing until the inspiration hit him. As he began to feel the throb of the music, he clapped his hands loudly above his head, then, as the tempo built he started to move, slowly at first, then with a little more urgency, launching into a Flamenco dance every bit as passionate as the cantaor’s song.
His rendition culminated in what sounded like a stampede which had rivulets of sweat streaming down his face. Many in the audience were overcome with the emotion his performance evoked. I found my heart racing and was glad to see I was not the only person with tears coursing down my cheeks. The passion of this art is raw, in-your-face and utterly exciting, leaving you with a sudden and overwhelming urge for one of Vila Viniteca’s popular liquid refreshments. Olé.
A city break and beach vacation all rolled into one, Barcelona is the perfect destination.