If you’re thinking of heading to Uzes this summer, or anywhere else in the south of France, check out flights to and from Barcelona. Then grab a train.
When friends talk about visiting the south of France, I always suggest they look at airfare and consider coming in through Barcelona. It’s only a short train ride to some of the most visited places in France. Now that I’ve spent a couple of days in Barcelona, I’m going to really emphasize the idea. The city and the Catalan area of Spain shouldn’t be missed. In just two days I sampled some of my favorite things — astonishing architecture, food and shopping.
“Modernisme” at its best
The first time I visited Barcelona was 1966 with two college girlfriends from North Carolina. The three of us were on a “Europe-on-$5-a-day” tour in my new “fastback” VW. We’d picked up the car in London and traveled around for nearly two months before arriving in Barcelona. Our mission was to attend a bullfight and to eat paella. That’s all we knew about Spain, even though I had picked up some of the language in university Spanish classes.
Little did I know that I would return to Barcelona 50 years later and find the city almost unrecognisable.
What a shame we didn’t do a bit of homework before our 60’s tour and learn about Antoni Gaudi and his magnificent architecture. On the other hand, I was thrilled 50 year later to discover some of his most famous masterpieces.
The Basílica de la Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona that started construction in 1882 under the auspices of the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph. Architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano began the project but he resigned and turned it over to Catalan Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi. The Spanish Gothic/Modernisme/Art Nouveau structure has been steady work for architects and builders since its first stones were laid. The centuries old basilica and adjoining rooms, still being executed according to Gaudi’s plans, is expected to be completed in 2026.
I hope to be around to see it!
Casa Batlló, also known as Casa dels osseous (House of Bones) is a landmark building in the center of Barcelona. The house was remodelled by Gaudi in 1904 as part of a trend in modernisme in the city’s wealthy residential district during the late 1800’s . The revitalized downtown area, known as “mansana de la discòrdia” or “block of discord,” features three re-constructed houses, each of contrasting designs — Casa Batlló by Gaudi, which is next door to Casa Amatller by Puig i Cadafalch, and down the street is Domènech i Montaner‘s Casa Lleó Morera.
Not one to “stay within the lines,” Gaudi had a vision for Casa Batlló that included rounded version of everything — from windows to hallways.
Perhaps the most breathtaking parts of the house, to me, was the “servant’s quarters” on the top floor, the stairway to the rooftop … and the incredible views.
The theory about the rounded features Gaudi created for Casa Batlló is that he envisioned Saint George, patron saint of Catalonia, plunging a dragon with a lance.
Casa Amatller was the first of the homes to be updated by neoclassical architects of the time in the “mansana de la discòrdia” section of Barcelona. Owned by chocolatier Antoni Amatller Costa, the mansion was built in 1875 and redesigned in 1898 by Antoni Puig i Cadafalch, one of the most prolific Catalan architects and town planners of the early 20th century. Inspired by traditional Catalan and Gothic styles, Puig was influenced by European trends of the time — exposed bricks, tile and wrought iron.
Antoni Amatlier was a renowned industrialist, famous for the introduction of a revolutionary system that allowed for the quick and large scale production of chocolate. He was also an avid collector. The home still contains original family furnishings and collectibles. Antoni Amatller died in 1910. His daughter, Teresa, continued the business of chocolate until she sold Chocolates Amatller S.A. After her death in 1960, the home was turned into a museum under the guardianship of the Barcelona City Council and became the Fundació Institut Amatller d’Art Hispànic (Amatller Institute of Hispanic Art).
If you aren’t familiar with Chocolates Amatller, a lovely store is on the ground floor of the museum — complete with all types of chocolate treats to enjoy on the spot, or to take out. Need I say that some of that sweet chocolate for the hot chocolate found its way into my suitcase?
Casa Lleó i Morera was refurbished in the late 1800’s by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner , commissioned by wealthy divorcé Francisca Morera Oritz. Unfortunately Oritz died before living in the mansion. Her son, Albert Lleó i Morera, and his family took charge of the house, hence the name. Just recently opened to the public, I viewed the mansion from the outside only. Next time I won’t miss it!
Food to die for!
Tapas, pizza and cafes galore fill the streets of Barcelona. My quest was to try as much of it as possible. What better way than to go for tapas? These were some of the best.
Shop in style
You don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy shopping in Barcelona. (Although I’m sure you will find something you love, if you’re like me!) The shops are a treat in themselves.
Here’s a shopping guide to show you the way.
Logistics for a 2-day visit to Barcelona
Arriving into the airport in Barcelona, there are several means of transportation into the city. The article linked here describes a number of choices. My suggestion is to take a train from the airport terminal and come into the Barcelona-Sants train station (Sants Estació) in the centre of town. You can board the train directly in front of Terminal 2 at the airport. If your flight arrives at Terminal 1, there is a free shuttle to Terminal 2. When you arrive at the downtown station, there are dozens of taxis that can take you to your Barcelona destination. The bonus is that it’s the same station where you’ll take your train when you take off to France. You already know your way!
Barcelona city tour
One of the first things I do when traveling, especially in a large city, is take a city bus tour. There are several ways you can go about it, from a scheduled van or bus tour to a hop-on-off bus. I prefer the hop-on-off variety. Barcelona is such a big and varied city that some bus companies offer a one-day ticket with three routes. My hotel was in the middle of a major downtown area, within close walking distance to the sites I most wanted to see, so I chose the two-hour Red route — to the former Olympics Games site, the beaches and the port of Barcelona. Next time I visit, I’ll see more. (Click on image to enlarge)
Where to stay in Barcelona
Depending upon the length of your visit to Barcelona and the Catalan area, there are tons of options for places to stay. On this short visit, I was thrilled with my choice in Barcelona – Hostel Casa Gracia Barcelona. The hotel/hostel is on Passeig de Gràcia, right in the center of a bustling business, tourist and restaurant section of town. Except for the hop-on bus tour, I walked everywhere!
Trains to the south of France
The destinations that you can visit in France with the Renfe SNCF trains are: Perpignan, Narbonne, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Béziers, Adge, Sète, Montpellier, Nimes, Avignon, Aix en Provence, Marseille, Valence, Lyon and París. Stops you might want to make along the way in Spain are Barcelona, Girona and Figueras. Go by train!
In the next series of posts on Barefoot Blogger, we’ll go to some of the places I’ve visited on the route. Hopefully I’ll get to them all for a first-hand review.
Stay tuned …