We are a busy family. Melissa is the founding editor and CEO of PageDaily. I run my own investment business. We shuttle our children from school to soccer to friends’ houses, in between meetings, errands, homework, doctors’ visits, and more. Finding time alone to vacation is hard enough, but then to decide where to go? If we go to the beach, what about hiking the mountains. If we go to the mountains, what about eating out in some cosmopolitan city?
We recently found out the old adage is wrong—you can have it all if one chooses to travel to Spain and then to France: one trip, three landscapes—city, sea, and mountains.
Barcelona is a lively Catalan city by the sea with extraordinary architecture, food, gardens, parks, and nightlife. For our three-day visit, here is what Melissa and I enjoyed most:
Best Place to Stay in Barcelona: Hotel Pulitzer, a design-conscious boutique hotel on Carrer Bergara, is just off of the popular Catalunya Square. If your room isn’t ready, have coffee, fresh fruit, or gelado (ice cream) at the hotel’s restaurant where chef Fernando Oeschle serves up wonderful Mediterranean cuisine.
Lunch in Barcelona: After you’ve unpacked and freshened up, head to Tapaç 24 on Diputació, just off of Paseo Gracia. Tapaç 24 has some of the most interesting tapas in Barcelona. We loved the McFoie Burger, Bikini Ç24 (ham, cheese, truffles), Gambas (grilled prawns), and Ous estrellats al gust (eggs, fries, chorizo). Indulgent, I know, but remember that you are on holiday in one of the most celebrated gastronomic cities in the world. Be sure to order a beer, cava (sparkling white wine), or one of their fresh juices to accompany your meal. For dessert, if you have room, you must try the refreshing strawberries with whipped yogurt and vinegar. Tapaç 24 is owned by Carles Abellan, the world renowned chef of the restaurant Comerç 24, but it’s a fraction of the price.
The Spanish Sights: After lunch, try to resist Siesta and head to Casa Batlló, the residence of visionary architect Antoni Gaudí. The residence is located on Passeig de Gràcia, lined with high-end boutiques. So enjoy some window shopping, then drop into Nespresso’s retail store for a pick-me-up caffeine jolt. Across the street on Passeig de Gràcia is your next stop: La Pedrera. Also designed by Gaudí, La Perdrera, meaning “the Quarry,” is Barcelona’s cultural center and one of the city’s architectural masterpieces. The roof deck is home to an eerie sculpture garden of with forms that seem to teeter between serpentine and human. During the summer, the terrace has with live music and cava from 9:00 p.m.–midnight.
Skip the Spanish Siesta and Work Out: After La Pedrera, grab your sneakers back at the hotel and go for a run from there to the beach at Palau. Along the way, you will pass soaring gothic cathedrals and a bustling marina.
Our Favorite Dinner in Barcelona: We loved Noti. The hip décor, inspired by ‘El Toreo’, or bullfighting, includes gold panels, red upholstery, burnt carpets, and low lighting with modern jazz creating an edgy atmosphere. And the service? Informal and friendly. The dishes are extraordinary—from duck foie gras with avocado and lamb brochette with spicy couscous and spring vegetables (my personal favorite) to cod confit with tomato concase in thyme, rosemary, black olives and curried chicken with coconut milk, basmati rice and Granny Smith apple chutney.
For Spanish Beaches and the Sea: Costa Brava
Next up, Costa Brava, the Gold Coast of Spain. In our rented Mini Cooper Mini cabriolet, we headed north on the AP-7.
Best Place to Stay by the Beaches in Spain: An hour and a half later, we arrived to sunshine in S’Agaro at Hostal de La Gavina. Gavina, an old-world hotel, is perched atop a hill overlooking the Mediterranean to the west and a bay and beach to the south.
Tip: Ask for a room on the third floor or higher for spectacular views.
Explore This Corner of Spain: Our favorite thing to do in S’Agaro was to walk or run the mile-long path, Camino Ronda, just above the Mediterranean. The path, lined with cypress trees and Mediterranean homes and historic fortresses, is one of the most extraordinary walks we’ve ever taken together. While there are several approaches to the sea, our favorite beach, La Concha, was at the end of the walk. La Concha is a sandy beach with warm, inviting water and a restaurant serving local fare.
And, we were lucky enough to arrive in S’Agaro just before the Tour de France whizzed through the neighboring town of Sant Feliu. Melissa and I sped over to the small hillside town, squeezed our Mini into a makeshift spot, and headed to the town square, where we saw the Tour pass by in a blink on my blackberry’s camera.
Our Favorite Dinner by the Beach in Spain: We suggest you skip Gavina and instead walk along the boardwalk to Maria Rosa, right across from the beach in Playa San Pol and serving excellent seafood. We started with locally baked bread and olive oil along with jamón and olives. And we loved the sole and the turbot and mussels. A must: the sangria.
Tip: Ask for a seat by the beach to enjoy the view.
Mountains in France: Pyrenees Travel
After our time in this Mediterranean paradise, we drove further north through the Pyrenees mountains into southern France.
Best Place to Stay in the French Mountains: We arrived in the mountain village of Molitg-les-Bains and stayed at the 19th-century Château de Riell. Owners Natalie and Michel gave us a warm greeting before showing us our room, complete with soaring wood ceilings and a bathroom with huge stained-glass Gothic windows and copper basins. From our window, we looked out over a medieval castle that had been sacked by the Spanish and some of the most spectacular mountain views we have ever seen.
A Pyrenees Travel Must: After a breakfast of freshly baked breads, unpasteurized cheeses, hot chocolate, coffee, and fresh preserves, I ran south down the mountain to the Thermes Parc at the Grand Hotel and back again. The Thermes is a beautiful park with willows and ponds full of ducks. The hotel prepared a picnic lunch of jamón, cheese, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, and water, and Melissa and I went back to Thermes for a spectacular hike to the Paracolls medieval ruins seen from our hotel window.
Dining French Mountain Style: We had an extraordinary meal at the unassuming Le Royal, in the village and just a 5-minute walk from the Chateau. Dinner was very much like tapas, with sesame lamb, salmon tartare, white fish, and goat cheese.
The next morning, we loaded our Mini and began our 300-kilometer journey back to Barcelona. As we traveled through the French and then Spanish countryside toward the AP-7, we marveled about at our trip having it all.