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BEST OF 2016: MY FAVOURITES

January 1, 2017
City Turtle 2016

2016 was another busy year of travel.  I enjoyed a record number of European city breaks (Rome, Prague, Bologna, Istanbul, Marbella, Paris, Amsterdam) and a few brilliant longer trips to Miami, New York, Hvar, Andalucia and Mexico.  Hopefully all my blogs have been useful for those travelling to these destinations.

Here are my favourites of 2016:

Most Spectacular Hotel: Hotel Esencia, Mexico

I promise I’ll stop banging on about this hotel, but this boutique design hotel stands out for me as one of the best places I have ever stayed.  Its stretch of beach is so peaceful, the sand so white and the sea gloriously turquoise. The rooms are white washed, minimalist and super comfortable.  Morning yoga is the best way to start the day there, followed by a delicious healthy breakfast.  It’s no wonder Conde Nast voted it as one of 2016’s best hotels.

Esencia, Mexico

Runner up: Finca Cortesin (and I shockingly still have not written a blog about this place).  Hands down one of Europe’s most beautiful properties, high in the hills 30 minutes from Marbella, with sea and mountain views.  The interiors are so elegant, the swimming pools vast and the spa to die for.

Finca Cortesin, Spain

Favourite new discovery: South East Sicily

A week of exploring all the Baroque-rich towns and cities of South Eastern Sicily is such a treat.  Each of the towns, from Ragusa to Modica to Note are all so individual, with good restaurants, a few fun bars, and lots of pretty streets to explore.  Our seafood lunch at Taverna Cialoma in Marzamemi was one of the big highlights of our trip.  And we learnt that the very underestimated city Catania is also worth a stop.

Ragusa, Sicily

Favourite new London restaurant: Foley’s

With so many restaurant openings in London this year, it’s hard to pick a favourite.  But everything from the divine alfresco bar (with the best Espresso Martinis), to a menu where you literally want to eat every dish (and we did), to the friendly, helpful staff, meant that Foley’s wins the 2016 prize.  A place I know I’ll return to, again and again.

Foleys, FItzrovia

Runner up: The Ninth and Clipstone.  Both of these relatively new openings in London have a lot in common: excellent food, reasonable pricing and great atmosphere.  The Pain Perdu at the Ninth is the best pudding I’ve had this year.

The Ninth, Fitzrovia

Favourite Bar – International: The Living Room, at the Faena, Miami

Wow, the new(ish) Faena hotel in Miami is a true showstopper, rich in colour and gold and opulence.  And walking into its main bar, The Living Room, is like stepping into Gatsby’s 1920s.  I loved every moment of being in this crazy, vibrant, colourful place, where you don’t know where to look or which cocktail to pick from their indulgent menu.  The Faena’s restaurant Pao was also a highlight of my visit.

Photo credit: https://luxuriavacations.com/destinations/usa/faena-hotel-miami-beach

Runner up:  The Bar at the Baccarat Hotel, New York. This hotel is so fantastically blingy, as of course you’d expect considering the owners.  It’s a stunning hotel (the rooms are far more toned down than the public areas), but the bar really stood out.  It’s always packed with very glamorous people, the cocktails are fantastic and the interiors are fabulous.

Photo credit Baccarat Hotels

Favourite English Countryside retreat: Foxhill Manor, the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds is one of my favourite areas of England; the countryside is so breathtakingly beautiful here and the villages are all so picturesque, with so many pretty Cotswold stone cottages, lovely cafes and restaurants and fantastic country walks.  So staying at the exclusive five star Foxhill Manor (Dormy House’s sister property) was one of the highlights of 2016, the ultimate country house hotel.  The food was amazing here, our suite the size of my house in London, and the views of the Cotswolds out of this world.

Foxhill Manor, Cotswolds

Favourite Restaurant – International: Quintonil, Mexico City

Chosen not because it’s voted as the 12th best restaurant in the world, but purely because it was a magical experience, and I’ve never had Mexican food like it.  It’s incredible value for money, and the amuse bouches we had here were some of the best I’ve had.  That said, its Mexico City competitor Pujol deserves a mention too, also for its creative food and noteworthy tasting menu.

Quintonil, Mexico City

Runners up:  This is such a tough one, as I have eaten at some seriously wonderful restaurants this year.  Still, if I had to choose, I loved Marzapane in Rome because it is was so different, so modern and so un-Roman.  At the same time, Sansho’s tasting menu in Prague was exceptional, and fantastic value.  And last but not least, Dalmatino in Hvar, Croatia was unexpected and their squid ink truffle gnocchi mind-blowing.

Marzapane, Rome

Favourite beach: Tulum, Mexico

Who knew Mexico’s Riviera Maya had such incredible beaches?  The beach at Tulum is possibly the most perfect beach I’ve been on.  Lined with palm trees and eco hotels (no building is higher than the tallest palm tree), white powdery sand and warm welcoming turquoise waves, it really is a paradise beach.  Plus, it stretches on and on, and makes for the best walk at sunset, Margarita in hand.  Especially the beach at Nomade (photo below) was phenomenal.

Tulum, Mexico

Runners up: Dubovica Beach on Hvar, Croatia and South Beach, Miami.  These two beaches couldn’t be more different, but each has it’s own bit of wow.  Dubovica beach is small, pebbled and one of the prettiest European beaches I’ve seen.  It has a lovely beach bar too and it’s generally not too full of tourists.  South Beach Miami is of course heaving with people, but that doesn’t stop it from being ‘wow’ in its own way.  It’s one of the most fun beaches I’ve been to, great for people watching, with so much going on.

Dubovica Beach, HvarMiami Beach

Favourite Afternoon tea: Petersham Nurseries

I don’t know how I only managed to visit this heavenly place until so recently, but I fell head over heals for Petersham Nurseries.  Even on a cold (but beautiful) winter afternoon the Cafe was so warm and cosy, the cakes so delicious and the selection of teas ideal.  I can’t wait to return in the spring and the summer.

Photo Credit: http://friendlynettle.com/day-petersham-nurseries-%E2%99%A5/

Favourite city break: Prague

People warned me that yes, the city is beautiful, but it’s touristy and the food isn’t good.  Well, yes, I’d agree that’s it’s busy, but it’s hard to avoid tourists these days.  And, after all, I’m one too.  But I’d disagree that you can’t eat well.  One of my favourite restaurants of the year, Sansho, was here.  Plus Field was excellent too, as was CottoCrudo at the Four Seasons.  There’s lots to do and see, and it’s incredibly affordable too.  Win win.

a-prague-top-ten-sights

Runner up was Bologna, with so much charm and beauty, and excellent Italian food and wine.  Our experience at Drogheria della Rosa was absolutely one of the most memorable of 2016.

Drogheria della Rossa, Bologna

And what has 2017 got in store for me?  Definitely more European city breaks, with Rome and Stockholm already booked, a trip back to Andalucia and Italy this summer for sure, and Mallorca in September.  I’d also really like to return to Vienna, explore Porto and maybe go to some of the Greek islands…  Let’s see where 2017 takes me!

Barcelona, Blog, Spain

La Vinya del Senyor – Barcelona’s best wine bar

October 31, 2015
La Vinya del Senyor, Barcelona

If you’re more of a wine than a cocktail person, La Vinya del Senyor is one wine bar you can’t miss.  Locally known as Barcelona’s best wine bar, I loved the vibe here.  Located right opposite El Born’s Santa Maria church, which may be my favourite church in Barcelona, this is the place to come and try a number of their excellent (and very well-priced) Riojas, while enjoying a beautiful view.  It’s a small, cosy bar, with only a few tables, where the staff are friendly and willing to share their fantastic knowledge on wine.   While they’re unsurprisingly strong on Spanish wine, they have wines from all over the world.

And they’re open until 1am, after which you can stumble on to one of the many bars that El Born has to offer.

La vinya del Senyor

Plaza Sta Maria, 5,

08003 Barcelona

Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Boca Chica

October 24, 2015
Boca Chica, Barcelona
If you’re looking for glitz and glamour, then there is one bar in Barcelona you can’t miss.  Boca Chica may be one of the city’s most famous bars, and, having been, I can totally see why.
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Situated above Boca Grande, the flashy but certainly worthwhile tapas restaurant, Boca Chica is a sight to behold.  In fact you don’t really know where to look when you walk into the bar, with so many mirrors, a beautifully lit bar, and Barcelona’s most glamorous clientele.  It reminded me a little of Mr Fogg’s bar in London, but perhaps even more extravagant, and with less of a theme.
Boca Chica, Barcelona
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If you eat at Boca Grande, they’ll reserve a table for you at Boca Chica, which I would recommend as it can get very busy, especially on weekends.  The bar menu (beautifully presented) is extensive, and every cocktail tempting.  We took our wine glasses up from downstairs as we still had wine left, and that’s certainly one way around not spending a fortune on drinks but still being able to experience the ambience of this special place.
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Boca Chica, Barcelona
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This is the place to come for a pre- or post-dinner drink, a place to dress up for, and a place to get you in the mood for a fun night in Barcelona.  And, whether it is to your taste or not, it will certainly be a place you don’t forget.  I hear the bathrooms downstairs are also worth a visit…
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Boca Chica
Passatge de la Concepció, 12,
08008 Barcelona
Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Cornelia & Co, Barcelona

October 18, 2015
Cornelia & Co, Barcelona
Cordelia & Co feels like you’ve walked into a trendy Manhattan Brasserie, except you’re walking distance from Plaza Catalunya, in Eixample.  With a lovely terrace on a leafy, quiet street, this is a perfect place to come for brunch or lunch (note, they do not serve brunch in August), though dinner is meant to be good too.
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Cornelia & Co, Barcelona
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While I was not wholly enamoured by the service, I am a sucker for beautiful interiors.  And Cornelia & Co boasts a stunning bar and dining area, with laid back but tasteful decor.  They also prepare picnics for take away lunches, to the beach or the mountains. Their cappuccinos were incredible.
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Cornelia & Co, Barcelona
Cornelia & Co, Barcelona
Cornelia & Co, Barcelona
Cornelia & Co, Barcelona
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I also loved their shop, with beautiful copper salad bowls and other homeware items which made me want to start my Christmas shopping early.
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Cornelia & Co, Barcelona
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Cornelia & Co
Carrer de Valencia 225
08007 Barcelona
Photos all mine
Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Federal Cafe, Barcelona – EAT

September 28, 2015
Federal Cafe, Barcelona

Some may say it’s a sin to go to an Australian cafe when you’re in Barcelona.  But Federal Cafe is an exception.  It’s a place which does brunch so well it can’t be missed, even if you’re in a city which offers some of the country’s best tapas and local cuisine.

So there are in fact two Federal Cafes in Barcelona, which I didn’t realise at first.  I went to the original, in the cosy neighbourhood of San Antoni, which is very popular with locals (so I didn’t feel too bad about abandoning tapas for brunch), but it also has a sister cafe in Gothic, which may be a little more central for some.

Federal Cafe, Barcelona

When I got the tour of Hotel Brummell (a stunning boutique hotel in Poble Sec, Barcelona), I fell in love with the interior design of the place.  I was told that the Australian duo who were responsible for the design, Blankslate, also had a brunch place:  Federal Cafe.  Funnily enough it was already on my hit list, and I could see some clear similarities in the design.  It has that slight Scandi feel (even though the place was inspired by the Aussie town Federal, near Byron Bay), with lots of wood and huge amounts of light and block colouring (I love their use of dark grey and bright yellow).  Their roof terrace was fully booked, so we sat inside on the first floor, by the wide open windows.   Downstairs there is one huge window which is completely open, and feels like you’re sitting outside.  I love it.

Federal Cafe, Barcelona

The menu offers exactly what I love for brunch.  It has the avocado/sourdough bread/poached egg combo which never goes amiss (but admittedly is not hugely original).  And then the epic french toast with poached pears and creme fraiche option.  Or a smoked salmon omelette.  And finally some seriously delicious Turkish eggs (and the presentation really wins here).

Federal Cafe, BarcelonaFederal Cafe, BarcelonaFederal Cafe, Barcelona

We found the service hit and miss, but the coffee so good it made up for it.

In short, it’s a keeper, whether it’s Spanish or not.   Should you find yourself in Spain and feel the need for a good Aussie brunch, then not only are there two Federal Cafes in Barcelona, but there’s also one in Madrid, and one opening soon in Valencia.

Federal Cafe, Barcelona

Federal Cafe

Carrer Parlament 39, Barcelona

Photos are my own

Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Boca Grande, Barcelona

September 21, 2015

I try and go to as many good restaurants in London as I can afford, or get invited to.  But during my weekend in Barcelona I think we raised the bar in terms of standard of restaurants we ate at.  Boca Grande would probably not be a restaurant I’d go to if it was in London, purely because I’d be terrified of the bill.  But that’s why Barcelona is so wonderful.  You can go to an exclusive, high end restaurant like Boca Grande and pay €40 – €50 per person (OK, you can certainly spend a lot more here, it depends how hungry you are).  And the experience that goes with it makes it even more worth it.

Boca Grande, Barcelona

Boca Grande is an assault on all your senses, in a good way.  The smell, the noises, the beautiful people, the food.  I could people watch for hours, but it was more the incredible intricate interiors of the place that properly fascinated me, with countless antique mirrors, rows of colourful bottles, crystal glasses and dim lighting.  As garish as this sounds, they’ve made it look very tasteful.  The design was done by Lázaro Rosa-Violán, who also designed the trendy and afforable Praktik Hotels (which are all walking distance from the restaurant).

Boca Grande, Barcelona

Their squid ink risotto with cuttlefish was delicious, as was their tuna and avocado tartar.  Their gazpacho was the best I’ve had.  Their raw bar is also worth trying, especially (apparently) the sea urchin.

Boca Grande, Barcelona Boca Grande, Barcelona

This is the perfect Saturday night dinner date place.  And after dinner?  Head upstairs to Boca Chica, Barcelona’s most celebrated bar, which is perhaps even more beautiful than Boca Grande (which nearly makes up for the eye-wateringly expensive cocktails). Oh, and apparently it also has a beautiful outside terrace, which we did not see.  Will be back to try it next time.

Boca Grande, Barcelona

Boca Grande

Passage de la Concepcio 12

Telephone: (93) 467 51 49 o (definitely book ahead)

reservation@bocagrande.cat

Photos Boca Grande’s own and my instagram

Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Terraza del Pulitzer, Barcelona – DRINK

September 14, 2015
Pulitzer Terrace, Barcelona

There’s something special about roof top bars.  For some reason they tend to have that slightly more exclusive feel to them.   Height has its advantages of course: usually they have views worth seeing, of they offer the perfect place to catch some rays, as well as a breeze.  While hotels do frequently have great roof top bars (the Four Seasons’ Aer bar in Mumbai, the Boundary Rooftop in London and the Peninsula’s Sir Elly’s Terrace in Shanghai are some of my favourites), during European weekend breaks I tend to avoid hotel bars in search of more local places.  But the Pulitzer’s Terraza is an exception.  I’d read about it numerous times and thought it looked fun and attractive, with no airs or graces as hotels can have.

Terraza del Pulitzer, Barcelona

Terraza del Pulitzer is one of those places where your mood lifts when you arrive.  Yes its busy, but not heaving.  Loud, but not noisy.  Full enough to create a vibe, with lots of locals to give it that all important authentic feel.  In fact, I don’t think I heard a word of English (apart from from the bar man when speaking to us).  We were there on a Friday evening and you could tell everyone was in a good mood; people were unwinding on the dance floor after a long week at work, dancing as only the Spanish can to upbeat music.  People were sipping cocktails, many the ever-popular ‘Gin-Tonic’, and we almost felt part of the local, trendy Catalonian crowd.  Bar the language and the dance moves of course.

Terraza del Pulitzer, Barcelona

You’re not here for the views (below average), but it’s a beautiful, leafy space where you can easily spend the whole day.  It is the ideal place for pre-dinner drinks (their cocktails are fantastic, the prices sadly what you’d expect from a hotel).  We didn’t really want to leave, but dinner was calling (Llamber in El Born).  It was certainly one of my favourite places of the weekend.

Other rooftop bars like La Terrassa at Hotel Villa Emilia and the Sky Bar are apparently also worth going to.

Terraza del Pulitzer

Hotel Pulizter

Calle Bergara, 8
08002 – Barcelona

Open from May to September

Photos Hotel Pulitzer’s own

Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Gallito, Barcelona – DRINK

September 13, 2015

Chiringuito.  Meaning ‘beach bar’; a key word in Barcelona.  Barceloneta – Barcelona’s main beach – is full of them.  They range from W Hotel chic (Wet Bar), to surfer-style rustic, to just plain grungy.  Yes, they are touristy.  But the locals love them too – you just need to find the right one.

And we definitely did.

Gallito, Barcelona

Gallito, which fits into the rustic surfer style category (with a trendy touch), was one of our favourite finds in Barcelona.  It’s on the far ‘W Hotel side’ of the beach, underneath the sail that is the W (and which you can’t miss).  Gallito has that laid back feel to it, where when you walk in (it’s partly outside and partly inside), that holiday feeling hits you just that little bit harder.  And when the rosé arrives that feeling is only accentuated (I recommend the house rosé at €22 a bottle – it’s that lovely pale pink colour).

Gallito, Barcelona

Gallito is unpretentious.  Its large shaded terrace is spilling with plants, and pastel-coloured materials slung over awnings tangled with grapevines.  They serve large fresh salads, plates of nachos with homemade guacamole (portions are small), melt in the mouth croquettes and whatever drink you want. Inside there are huge sofas to lounge on, low tables, colourful cushions.  There’s music but it’s not too loud.  It just puts you in the mood for a drink.  It’s as far from Nikki Beach as you’ll get, and I love them for it.

Gallito, BarcelonaGallito, BarcelonaGallito, BarcelonaGallito, Barcelona
This is really the place to head to after you’ve had enough sun, when your skin feels salty and your face feels warm.  It’s the perfect 5pm place, when you’re craving the day’s first drink.  Where you can slowly unwind if you want, or get the party started.  Where you can watch the sun set, and let the time slip by as you discuss plans for the evening.  We had some of our best times at Gallito that weekend, and I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Side note: we did try out the neighbouring Pez Vela chiringuito, as it’s the newest addition underneath the W Hotel.  But while the interiors were slick, we found it lacking the atmosphere and the buzz that Gallito had.   Pez Vela is perhaps a good lunch place, while Gallito is better for lounging and chilling.

Pez Vela, Barcelona

Gallito

Paseo Mare Nostrum, 19 -21,

08039 Barcelona

Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Llamber, Barcelona – EAT

September 6, 2015
Llamber, Barcelona

It’s not hard to find good tapas restaurants in Barcelona.  But it is hard to find one like Llamber.  In the popular district of El Born and around the corner from Passeig del Born, I was expecting it to be fairly touristy.  But it felt as local as it could be.  That, coupled with very stylish interiors, exposed brickwork and up-cycled wooden tables, made it the perfect venue for a Friday dinner.  During the day you can enjoy lunch on their terrace too.

Llamber, Barcelona

We sat at a high table, ideal to observe the restaurant from, and waited with anticipation for every tapas plate to arrive.  This is not your standard tapas.  Every dish was beautifully, and creatively presented.  Their cod croquettes were light and fluffy, and were served in the cutest dish.  Their tuna sashimi was so fresh it melted in your mouth.  I loved their sardine meatloaf, which was something I would never normally have ordered.  Lastly, the thinly sliced beef was served in the most original way, with ‘edible coals’ (we saw it served at a neighbouring table and promptly ordered it), but we found the beef not as tender as it could have been.

Llamber, BarcelonaLlamber, Barcelona

If you want to try the local cheeses, order one of their cheese boards.  They line up the cheeses (goats on one side, dairy on the other) in order of strength.  The strong ones were unbelievably overpowering (to the point of drying out your mouth), but it was fun to try them all.

Llamber, Barcelona

The service here was also surprising.  I can’t say I have found the Catalans to be the friendliest, yet here the staff were wonderful. They were warm and helpful – letting us try different wines to see which we preferred, advising us on which tapas dishes were best and generally really adding to our evening.

Llamber, Barcelona

We stumbled out of the restaurant past 1 in the morning, a food coma not adequate to describe how we felt. Luckily for us there were a whole host of bars still open on Passeig del Born a few minutes’ walk from the restaurant, so we ended up drinking vodka, soda and lime for a few more hours at the originally named bar El Born.

Book ahead and don’t miss this place.

Llamber

Carrer de la Fusina, 5

+34 933 19 62 50

Photos a mixture of Llamber’s own and mine from Instagram.

 

Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Barcelona: An overview

August 29, 2015

Barcelona is not the prettiest city Europe has to offer.  If Gaudi doesn’t do it for you, then some of its architecture may not appeal, nor some of its main sights (i.e. the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell).  But – bold statement I know – it is perhaps one of Europe’s funnest cities.  So lively, so vibrant, so cosmopolitan.  And it may also have been one of the best foodie weekends I’ve had in a while (well, since Bordeaux!).

Barcelona

Here are my top tips for Spain’s favourite city (though I maintain that Madrid gives it a good run for its money), with more detailed blogs to follow:

TO DO

I’d been to Barcelona a few times before and covered the main sights then.  This time my weekend was spent largely hopping from cafe to bar to beach.  But here are the sights worth seeing if it’s new to you:

*The Sagrada Familia is not my favourite cathedral (read: not a fan of Gaudi), and think it looks a bit like a melted candle.  But it is still worth seeing, purely because it is so unique.  And some people love it!

*Park Güell, right in the north of the city on Carmell Hill, and certainly a bit of a schlep up (there are escalators) is colourful and admittedly quite fun.  It’s a great place for photos of the city.  If you want the signature photos with the lizard then you need to pre-book tickets to get in.

Barcelona

*Apart from that I would enjoy walks through the older areas of Barcelona like Gothic and El Born, or Segway tours are also a very popular way of seeing the city.

*Lastly, the fact that Barcelona has a (very easily accessible) beach is of course a massive bonus.  Head to Barceloneta and soak up some rays, or grab a glass of rosé at one of the many beach bars (more on that later).  It does get very crowded in the summer, but that just means plenty entertaining people watching.

GETTING AROUND

The Metro is excellent (and quick), and, at 1 euro per journey, very cost effective.  It means that if you stay in slightly further afield areas like Gracia, you can be in the city centre within 10 minutes.  But, as the locals will tell you, Barcelona is a city of bicycles.  So renting a bike may well be worth it.  I walked a lot, and find you discover more of the city doing so.  But I appreciate that in 30 degree heat this may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Barcelona

EAT

Once upon a time I was not a fan of Spanish food.  This changed a few years ago when I went to Madrid and tried ‘real’ tapas.  Barcelona has so many fantastic restaurants and cafes I found it hard to choose which ones to try, but I was very pleased with my selection.  Here are a few highlights:

BRUNCH/LUNCH:

*For the healthy ones amongst you, there is no better place to go than FLAX & KALE, a beauty of a ‘Flexitarian’ restaurant, with a mind-boggling array of cold-pressed juices, inventive salads and fantastic tuna/salmon burgers. I’m still craving their blueberry quinoa muffins, and need to go back for their raw cheesecake.

If you’re looking for other healthy options, try Mother and Press & Reset.

Flax & Kale, Barcelona

*For those of you looking for a more ‘classic’ brunch, then FEDERAL CAFE (in Gothic or Raval) is a must go.  From the beloved smashed avocado on rye bread with poached eggs and all the sides you can dream of, to their very popular (I can see why) French toast with pears, bacon and maple syrup – this is a brunch no-brainer.  Their design is cool, and you can expect huge open windows allowing light to stream in.  Service a bit offish.

Federal Cafe, Barcelona

*For something a bit more upmarket (though their service needs working on), CORNELIA & CO transports you straight to Manhattan.  This chic eatery serves delicious small plates perfect for sharing, and is also a good choice for dinner.  They serve breakfast too (but sadly not in August).  Their shop is worth a browse, it has some lovely bits and bobs (I loved their copper salad bowls).

Cornelia & Co, BarcelonaCornelia & Co, Barcelona

DINNER:

We didn’t really hold back when it came to dinner, and Llamber and Boca Grande may be two of my new favourite European restaurants.  Both serve tapas, but not like the greasy, oily, carby mess I once knew.  This is as sophisticated and inventive as tapas gets.

*LLAMBER is more laid back, a little edgier, and slap bam in the trendy El Born area.  Beautiful interiors with red brick walls and a nice terrace outside too. Our favourite dishes were the asparagus and prawn ‘sticks’ with fondu, and the cheese (some of which were very strong) and meat sharing plates.  I also loved their tomato bread.  After dinner head to Passeig del Born for a few more drinks to end the night.

Llamber, Barcelona

Llamber, Barcelona

*BOCA GRANDE is an assault on all your senses (but in a good way).  The smell, the noises, the beautiful people, the food.  I could people watch for hours, but it was more the incredible intricate interiors of the place that properly fascinated me, with countless mirrors, rows of colourful bottles and dim lighting.  As garish as this sounds, they’ve made it look very tasteful.  Their squid ink risotto with cuttlefish was delicious, as was their tuna and avocado tartar.  Their gazpacho was the best I’ve had.  This is the perfect Saturday night dinner date place.

Boca Grande, Barcelona

DRINK

*Barcelona nails its rooftop bars, and the TERRAZA DEL PULITZER was by far our favourite.  While you’re not here for the views (below average), this leafy, trendy bar is clearly a favourite amongst locals.  I absolutely loved its vibe.  By 9pm on a Friday people were dancing like it was 3am in a London club.  But the music is chilled rather than too pumping, so it’s perfect for a pre-dinner drink and catch up with friends. Other rooftop bars like La Terrassa at Hotel Villa Emilia and the Sky Bar are apparently also worth going to.

Pulitzer Terrace, Barcelona

*LA VINYA DEL SENYOR: known as Barcelona’s best wine bar.  Located right opposite El Born’s Santa Maria church, this is the place to come and try a number of their excellent (and very well-priced) Rioja’s, while enjoying a beautiful view.  They’re open until 1am, after which you can stumble on to one of the many bars that El Born has to offer.

La Vinya del Senyor, Barcelona

*As if dinner at Boca Grande wasn’t good enough, heading upstairs to their famous cocktails bar BOCA CHICA is a must-do.  Reminding me a little of London’s super fun Mr Fogg’s (if you have not been, go), this glamorous, extravagent bar is the ideal place to start – or end – your night. It is ludicrously expensive, but totally justifiable.  Oh and check out their loos: an experience in itself.

Boca Chica, Barcelona

boca g

*GALLITO – our favourite ‘Chiringuito‘.  Barceloneta’s beach bars cannot be missed, especially for day time drinking. We visited a number, some disappointed (MOMA – don’t bother) but one became our favourite hangout of the weekend (Gallito).  We checked out the newer nieghbouring Pez Vela, but found it more uptight, more expensive and less fun than Gallito.  Gallito just gets it right.  It’s not too touristy at all, and has a large shady terrace, though even sitting inside on their large loungy sofas is appealing.  Their house rosé (18 euros a bottle) is delicious, as are their sharing plates (though the nachos and guacamolo are a little on the small side).

Gallito, Barcelona

STAY

We stayed in an excellent Airbnb in Gracia, with a lovely outside terrace (perfect for pre-drinking).  Admittedly probably the best (and most central) areas to stay in are El Born/Gothic/Eixample.  If you prefer hotels to apartments, then I absolutely loved HOTEL BRUMMELL.  In the quieter Poble Sec neighbourhood, this brand new boutique design hotel has everything you need.  The rooms aren’t massive, but they use the space cleverly.  With super comfy beds and rain showers and the penthouses have large terraces, you’ll be very comfortable here.  I adored their small pool and sunbathing deck, as well as their courtyard terrace.  You have access to yoga classes at the next door Garage, and can rent bikes and buy souvenirs at their cool little boutique. Plus, from rooms starting from 100 euros a night, it’s ridiculous value for money.

Hotel Brummell, Barcelona

Hotel Brummell, Barcelona

Other affordable hotels worth checking out are the Praktik hotel chain (Praktik Bakery being my favourite), or, if you want to splash out a bit, I’ve heard very good things about the stunning Cotton House Hotel.  You’re spoilt for choice.

Watch this space for more detailed blogs to come about my favourite Barcelona hangouts or check my instagram for more photos.

Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Flax & Kale, Barcelona – EAT

August 26, 2015
Flax & Kale, Barcelona

I thought London had nailed healthy restaurants; The Good Life Eatery, Tanya’s Cafe and Farm Girl are all favourites of mine.  Until I went to Flax & Kale in Barcelona’s Raval district.  This is healthy eating to the maximum, but with beautiful New York inspired interiors.  London really has nothing like it.  This is a place you could potentially drag boyfriends to who despise the idea of kale or chia or quinoa, because as healthy as the menu is, it is varied.  And options like a tuna steak burger can’t be that offensive to those anti the eat-clean craze.

Flax & Kale, Barcelona

Don’t get me wrong.  This restaurant, the first ‘Flexitarian’ restaurant I’ve been to (Flexitarian meaning: a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish), is most definitely not for those looking for a greasy fry up.  You almost feel lighter stepping inside the airy, high-ceilinged space, with a whole wall covered by a fridge full of cold-pressed juices (their ‘Vegan Vampire’ is fantastic, and is served with a chilled glass), baskets of fresh vegetables and fruit, and a counter full of spelt croissants and quinoa & blueberry muffins (after mine I am craving them).

Flax & Kale, BarcelonaFlax & Kale, BarcelonaFlax & Kale, Barcelona

Admittedly, it is the ideal place for a girly brunch (minus the Bloody Marys).  Having said that, we saw children happily gobble up the salmon mini burgers (accompanied by sweet potato fries).  We enjoyed a range of salads (some more ‘out there’ than others), the presentation is original and colourful and while they don’t use refined sugar or much dairy the dishes were full of flavour.  I also tried the spelt ravioli with pumpkin puree which was so good (but with these things I always find the portions too small).

Flax & Kale, BarcelonaFlax & Kale, BarcelonaFlax & Kale, Barcelona

Service is a bit hit and miss, but perhaps we were a fairly over-demanding group of English girls with bad (read: no) Spanish.  They also serve dinner (though no alcohol, apart from local beer), and weather permitting you can enjoy this on their lovely roof terrace.

Flax & Kale, Barcelona

Flax & Kale is the second restaurant in the Teresa Carles group, the first being a recommended vegetarian restaurant around the corner named after the owner Teresa Carles.  One on the list for next time.

Flax & Kale

Carrer dels Tallers 74

They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner (the latter two bookable).

Photos mostly mine

Blog, Spain

Hotel Brummell, Barcelona – STAY

August 24, 2015

I love Airbnb, I really do.  But when you get the grand tour of a hotel like Hotel Brummell, you sneakily wish you were staying here instead (especially when you find out that they also offer three bedroom apartments).

This brand new boutique design hotel is everything you need for a weekend break in Barcelona.  In the up and coming, quiet area of Poble Sec, you’re less than half an hour walk from the beach (I walked it) and from areas like El Born and Gothic.   Or you can take the super easy Metro.  It’s more local than touristy, and I really enjoyed strolling through its quiet, residential streets.

Hotel Brummell, Barcelona

With 20 rooms (and two 3-bedroom apartments) and the Brummell Classic rooms starting from €100, it’s a complete bargain as well.   They say they’re a three star, but I find rating boutique hotels like this pretty impossible.  I’d stay here as willingly as I would at any five star.

The charming Alma – enthusiastic and spilling with love for the place – showed me around.  From the cool and shaded courtyard terrace, Box Social (their restaurant/cafe) to the welcoming and chilled ‘lobby’.

Hotel Brummell, BarcelonaHotel Brummell, Barcelona

She also showed me a number of their rooms. Their ‘penthouse’ rooms (two) were my favourite: small but with large terraces (and city views) and outside baths.  Heaven.   All the rooms have large rain showers and lovely Malin + Goetz products.  While space is not a luxury Brummell has, they use the limited space very cleverly.

Hotel Brummell, BarcelonaHotel Brummell, BarcelonaHotel Brummell, BarcelonaHotel Brummell, Barcelona

I adore their use of grey, white and cream shades, and the contrast of the bright yellow umbrellas by the pool.   The pool is another little highlight.  It’s not huge, but it’s perfect, with a terrace and sun loungers for sunbathing.  There is another larger outside terrace, ideal for lounging in the shade, as well as their own organic vegetable ‘patch’.

Hotel Brummell, Barcelona Hotel Brummell, Barcelona Hotel Brummell, Barcelona

They have just started working with the next door yoga and pilates studio called ‘the Garage’, owned by former model Veronica Blume.  She was lovely when I met her and she told me about how they do special work shops and yoga classes for all abilities. A great way to start a healthy weekend: a yoga class with Veronica in the spacious and airy ‘Garage’ and then off to Flax & Kale for brunch, followed by the beach.

Hotel Brummell, Barcelona

Take me back (book very early to avoid disappointment).

Other affordable places to stay are any of the Praktik chain (Praktik Bakery sounds best), or the Cotton House Hotel if you want a step up in terms of standard (and price).

Hotel Brummell

Hotel Brummell
Nou de la Rambla, 174
08004 Barcelona

+34 931 258 622
hola@hotelbrummell.com

 Photos a mixture of mine and Hotel Brummell’s

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