Category Archives: Spain

Spain’s Hidden Gem – Majorca

That is a direct quote from my 5 year old sister – she stayed there last year with her Spanish aunt and uncle and, it appears, had a really nice time. She suggested it when I said I had a bit of writer’s block yesterday and couldn’t think of any more articles to write. So, here we are.

When I asked Holly about her highlights for Majorca, she listed a few. They’re here, in full, below:

Playing with her cousin
Playing on the beach
The fish
The other food
Going on a boat (I’m not certain this actually happened)
Playing with her aunt and uncle
Playing at the house
Playing elsewhere

I wish I was 5 again… Majorca is a lovely place to visit, even if you don’t have family there and aren’t a 5 year old girl (though it does seem to help). One of the undeniable highlights, if you can afford it, is the fishing and boating opportunities around the island – renting a boat isn’t the cheapest thing to do in the world, but it’s not the most expensive, either, at about 600 Euros a day and 3500 Euros for a full week. And it’s great, great fun.

If you’re not into the nautical side of things, Majorca still has a fair amount to offer, and the sights can be properly covered in about three days, if you do it quick, or four if you’re a bit more leisurely (I suggest leisurely; quick doesn’t really suit Majorca). Among the sights is the enormous and imposing Castell de Bellver – the views over Majorca and Palma are stunning and the castle’s history is fascinating; it was built in 1300 as a residence for the Spanish Royal Family, but was rarely used. In 1717 it was converted into a prison and you can still see the prisoner’s graffiti etched into the stonework in some parts of the castle.

Other sights include various ruins from Majorca’s Roman and Arabic conquerors, and the beautifully designed Joan Miró art gallery. Make sure to visit the Son Boter farmhouse, just beyond the gallery, too – it was owned by Miró, and has plans for his famous bronze sculptures drawn on the walls over the house; very artsy.

The main attraction in Majorca, though, according to by proxy 5 year old, is playing. Fortunately for me, that can be interpreted as doing more or less anything that you find fun. So, consider visiting one of Majorca’s beaches, which are atypical of “the” perfect beach, with white sand, turquoise waters and a merciful lack of overexcited 5 year old girls. Now. The largest beach of Cala Millor gets quite packed full of tourists, but the smaller beaches and coves surrounding their mother are happily deserted, and so head for those if you can.

And, my proxy’s final highlight, the food. It speaks for itself, really, but if you haven’t guessed; it’s basic, fresh, carefully cooked Mediterranean food, heavily influenced by the fish that are so plentiful in the waters around the island. Weirdly, though, the best thing to try is the lamb. Rick Stein, the famous TV chef, has suggested a restaurant called Es Verger that did the best lamb he’d ever tasted. Good luck finding the restaurant.

Your Guide to Gaudi in Barcelona

Anyone with a love for Barcelona will know about the influential architect, Antoni Gaudi, and if you have never heard of him, you should read on. Born in 1852, he has had a massive effect on Barcelona’s reputation, with much of his work scattered across the Spanish city for you to follow.

By booking yourself into one of the Barcelona hotels in the heart of the city, you will be within easy access of the main Gaudi pieces, and with the help of this Gaudi trail, you will be able to see his art nouveau masterpieces for yourself.

Start at the Placa Reial, just off Las Ramblas – a major street in the heart of the city centre. Some of his first works included designing the lampposts and lanterns that can be found in this prolific square, which you could gaze at whilst enjoying a coffee or a beautifully flavoured ice cream.

Next on the list is Casa Batllo on the Passeig de Gracia, redesigned in 1904 by Gaudi, which is colloquially known as the House of Bones, because of its almost skeletal appearance. Much of the façade is decorated in mosaic tiles, without a straight line in sight. You can pay 20€ to see the interior too, if you’re feeling flush.

From here, head over to the Casa Mila, a few blocks walk away in the Eixample district. Also known as La Pedrera, it consists of various twists of concrete and a pretty impressive collection of rooftop sculptures and chimneys that you can see close up by paying the 17€ entrance fee.

Of course, a Gaudi tour wouldn’t be complete without Barcelona’s most famed landmark, the Sagrada Familia. Despite starting the project in 1883, it’s still not finished, with continued work expected to finish in 2026, the centennial anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Take the time to really admire the various facades – you can see the distinct works of the various architects and designers who have worked on the minor basilica over the years, adding to the rich history and immense beauty of this iconic piece.

Once you’re done here, hop onto the Metro and head for Parc Guell to absorb the various pieces of beauty within. Gaudi’s work is a major draw for visitors to Barcelona – see for yourself on your next city break.

Vegetarian Restaurants in Barcelona

I took a long week-end in Barcelona a few days ago, and was a little disappointed with the city itself. It is so busy and noisy, and felt very polluted, particularly in the summer heat. But there are still some great aspects of the city, and it is possible to find some quiet side streets where everyday life is going on away from the constant rumble of traffic.

I stayed in the Grácia neighbourhood, in the north of the city, very close to the Parc Güell, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. The neighbourhood has become very popular with Barcelona’s younger generation for its many bars and night-life. Up until the small hours of the morning, you will hear the chattering and ringing glasses of the people on the square, practising the typical Spanish activity of the botellón (big bottle), i.e. socializing in public spaces while drinking alcohol. It’s really nice to see so many people out on the street so late, taking advantage of the fresh night under the trees. Grácia is a nice neighbourhood, a little quirky and full of funny details.

My challenge, as always when visiting a new city, is to find a place where they serve vegetarian food. But I’m looking for something good vegetarian, not the default lettuce leaf with a couple of tomato slices and a pickle. I first started with the traditional tápas, but quickly realised that they are mainly meaty, except for the patatas bravas, a wonderful invention of garlickey, tomatoey oven roasted potatoes. Beautiful. Eventually, I discovered to places to have really good vegetarian food, although they are quite different from each other, in terms of food, setting and price.

The first was a new café in the Poble Sec neighbourhood, a residential area through which runs a long pedestrian street full of cafés and bars. On a side street, away from the noise and chatter, I found the Café Mandacarú. It was a great find. The food was great, a completely vegetarian menu of tápas made of locally sourced ingredients, combined into mind blowing combinations. It has also good wine, and great service. The setting is refined, and if you are travelling on a tight budget, this might not be the best option for you. It is a little bit expensive, but I think the value for money is pretty good, considering the Mandacarú is using and promoting local ingredients, which, paradoxically are always more expensive than imports… They also have great music, especially jazz acts. That night, I saw the Jairo Ortega Quartet playing some beautifully rearranged Chopin.

The second place I went to for veggie food was in a completely different vein, but was much more affordable and almost dangerously good. Its a place called Maoz, which US nationals and travellers to North America might know. It is basically a vegetarian fast food chain. The one in Barcelona is just a falafel place, and for under 5€ you get a pita bread full of falafel. It is then up to you to fill it up with any salad items you want, the salad bar is free and unlimited. The choice is huge, from fried cauliflower to olive tapenade, coleslaw or stir-fried veggies, jalapeños and dahl, and the list goes on. Great stuff – I felt greatly stuffed after walking out, and had to go down to the beach and sit for a while before I could do anything else…

Close to Maoz, you can find the cathedral and its small side streets and courtyards, where you can also go and sit in the shade and digest.

Hidden Beauty in Majorca

Sun, sea, sand, sights, shopping, siestas… when it comes to getaways, whether you’re looking for cheap holidays or non-stop adventures, magical Majorca has got them all. This Spanish gem, one of the popular Balearic Islands marooned just off the east coast of the mainland, is a hive of activity and a haven of things to see and do.

If you’re into non-stop holidays where the emphasis is focused squarely on lively days and big nights out, head for the buzzing resort town of Magaluf. Based within a short distance of the island’s capital, Palma, energetic Magaluf is the place to be for nightlife of just about every description imaginable. From DJ booths and strobe lights to cheesy discos, English pubs and cocktail bars, Magaluf has got it all. So if you’re after a bit of 18-30s style mayhem, this is definitely the place to be.

If cheap holidays are on the agenda, take your pick. Most of Majorca’s major resort towns like sprawling Alcudia, bustling Palma Nova, manic Magaluf and lovely Puerto Pollensa offer great money-saving deals on summer getaways, especially if you book a late departure or travel outside of the peak season.

As for family holidays, the island really is your oyster. From activity-packed resorts and child-friendly hotels with all the kids’ clubs and swimming pools you can ever wish for, to laid-back resorts for low-key family fun on the beach, Majorca is nothing if not a family-orientated holiday destination.

Oh and for the shoppers and sightseers among us, you can’t beat a day in Palma. The island’s beautiful capital is a stylish city that’s packed with shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, and of course great places to visit. One must-do is a visit to Palma Cathedral to take in its gothic architecture and splendid interior, before heading to the waterfront for a relaxing coffee in the sunshine.

From big nights out to snoozing on the beach, holidays in Majorca are magical, deliciously diverse, and simply unforgettable.

Gaudi in Barcelona

Barcelona is one of those rare cities that has a bit of everything. It has the high hills, the beautiful sunny beaches, great nightlife and culture in abundance. In short, it is on of my favourite cities in Europe and a great place for a weekend break or a weeklong escape.

Gaudi

One of my favourite things about Barcelona is the architecture, or rather one particular architect. Gaudi. In less than 100 years he has imprinted himself into the very soul of Barcelona. It is a testament to his genius as an architect, the way he thought out of the box, that just the mention of Park Guell through to the iconic yet uncompleted Sagrada Familia Cathedral, you automatically think of the Catalan capital, Barcelona.

gas building

I’d like to think that the architecture that Gaudi created, the Casa Battlo and other colourful and mischievous creations, have given the city a bit of its quirky character; that looking at these buildings, new generations of artists and architects have been inspired to express themselves a bit differently. Certainly as I explored the city I got the feeling that the planning officials in charge of the city were open to different designs.

Gaudi, Lizard

This artistic inventiveness and respect for such a great figure, is expressed in Barcelona in other smaller ways, in the graffiti that you find on the street corner for instance. A new take on an old idea; that should give you something to think about next time you’re sitting in a small bar in Barcelona eating tapas and drinking an ice-cold beer.