Thursday, February 26, 2015

Barcelona trip - part 1 Barcelona and Penedes

Sunset from Hotel Rey Juan Carlos I

I love planning new trips and adventures - I even sometimes joke that I have more fun in planning the vacation than I do in actually taking it! There is just something I love about getting to research a new place. When I am going to take a trip, I spend time looking at all the local activities and searching for the perfect restaurants. To me, trying to figure out the perfect off the beaten path locations makes visiting a new place even more fun.

This trip to Catalonia, Spain was no different. Even though it started out as a work trip I was quickly able to extend it into a bit of fun. My husband joined me at the end of my work conference (definitely work but still a lot of fun too!) and we had a chance to check out some of the areas outside the city of Barcelona. We both visited Barcelona years ago but we needed to take a quick peek at the progress on Sagrada Familia. The basilica is due to be completed in 2026, one hundred years after the death of Gaudi.

Nativity Side of Sagrada Familia 

After a few days of working, it was finally the weekend and time to get our vacation started. My husband and I decided to rent a car to journey both to the North and South of Barcelona. We even lucked out and got to spend not only Valentine's Day there but also Carnival! It was a fun coincidence to be traveling for Valentine's Day again like our trip to Copenhagen back in 2008 (also on a work trip extension) - why is it always so cold when we travel!


Prawns in Garlic (Paco Meralgo) 

Our first night we tried a restaurant suggested by his co-worker who lived in Barcelona for over a year.  Paco Meralgo was pretty popular and unfortunately we couldn't get a table but lucky for us there was room at the bar when we arrived. For Spain, we eat very early (9 PM) so we were one of the first to sit down but by the time we left there wasn't a seat in the house! This time we were so impressed by all the local seafood in the fresh display on site. We started with Grilled Razor Clams, Fried Baby Squid, Prawns in garlic sauce, and ended with the Bomba, a spicy fried meatball. Even the desserts, a Catalan Custard were amazing. This was a fabulous start to our week! To cap off the night, we also stopped for a drink at the Dry Martini. With the cozy banquettes to cuddle up on and excellent freshly made martini and mojitos, we were able to watch a lot of other couples with the same idea! 
Unused Cork at MasTinell

The next day was actually Valentine's Day so we took our first adventure out of the city to the Cava producers in the Penedes Region. After a late night out we were a little slow to get moving but when we got to Sant Sadurn√≠ d'Anoia we were glad that we had made the trip. The first stop was the Codorniu Cavas. We explored their old caves and the underground labyrinth which still holds some of their most aged (and expensive!) cavas. We topped that off with a visit down the road to the tasting room at Friexnet. While they mainly export lower priced cava in the US, their premium products on site were really delicious! We tried the Reserva Real and it was so unexpected as it was blended with the more minerally and bready taste of their aged wines.
Yeast swirling around a bottle of cava during en rima process 

Our last stop was in Vilafranca about 15 minutes away at the Mastilnell Cava and Hotel. This winery is much younger than the others at about 25 years and they have a gorgeous modern hotel on site to stay for the night. We took our third cava tour here and saw a more modern approach to doing things. It was interesting to see how some of the processes are still pretty much the same, while others are helped by modern machinery (like forklifts instead of hand turning bottle after bottle) Since this was an actual working winery we saw Cava bottles in the many different stages and were able to taste quite a few options. Surprisingly our favorite tasting wasn't a Cava at all but their muscat Clos Sant Pau! It wasn't overly sweet or cloying - just the perfect balance to end a day of tastings! We ended up sneaking home a bottle of this through customs and can't wait to enjoy it.

Front of Cava & Hotel MasTinell

We ended the day at Mastinell with a seven course tasting menu at the onsite restaurant En Rima. This name is taken from a process during cava making where they have to store the bottles for at least 9 months to age it properly. The special menu was so good (and cheap!) that we were able to taste a few more of the products from the winery. I really appreciated the chef being able to sub out one of the tasting dishes for me. 

Beet Risotto (En Rima) 

We started with a artichoke soup with truffle oil then a salad (modified from the original menu). We moved on to a beet risotto served with lobster and Iberian ham that had a great earthy sweetness to it contrasted to the salty brine of the ham.  Next was Turbot with sea urchin sauce for the fish course and then finally the lamb chops with a celeriac and truffle cake. We finished off with a warm molten chocolate cake which the chocoholic in me will never turn down! We were also lucky enough to have breakfast included the next morning with their fabulous house made juices and jams

Roasted Turbot with Sea Urchin Sauce (En Rima) 

I really loved the restaurant and wish that we could have been there in the spring or summer. The whole region was so pretty but I missed all the green grapevines covering every inch of land. Next time we will have to be sure to come during the growing season! This was such a great place to visit and I really hope to get back to this hotel again. 

View from breakfast table to vineyard (En Rima)

Next post will be the rest of our trip which headed over to the Carnival celebration in Sitges and then heading north to Girona and Figueres