Four easy trips around the Spanish capital
Don’t let the architecture of Gaudi, the fresh fish from La Boqueria, the Picasso museum or the characters on La Rambla sweep you off your feet so that you forget to explore what lies just beyond Barcelona’s vibrant borders. Here are four easy trips we recommend:
1. Ruins with a view in Tarragona: This medieval city has a wealth of ancient ruins. Begin a walking trail (and a guide is essential) through Tarragona at the Plaça del Pallol. Inside these hallowed portals is a comprehensive table model of a Roman city that acts as trailer to the larger-than-life city ruins you’re about to walk through: The remains of the Forum dominated by imposing columns; the Amphitheatre where gladiators battled each other; the aqueduct — popularly called the Devil’s Bridge; the old Roman Circus, believed to be among the largest and best preserved in Europe. But it’s really the tales of the locals, — whose houses have been built around and within these ancient mausoleums, — that turn Tarragona into a living museum. In a quaint twist, you can see the city on a very modern transport, the segway. Like a bicycle but perfectly balanced on two wheels, it takes about three minutes to master and allows you to go at just the pace you need — as you window shop for Roman outfits, or whizz by golden beaches.
2. Dream World at Port Ventura: A world full of theme parks would be Dantesque hell. But the occasional visit, especially in a land that’s brimming over with ancient cultural history, is excellent respite. Port Aventura has you regressing into a six-year- old not able to decide between a meal of hamburger and fries or a ride on the Shambhala — Europe’s highest and fastest roller coaster with a drop so long chances are you won’t keep that hamburger down.
It’s hard not to smile when posing in Betty Boop’s arms, tough not to dance when Polynesian or Mexican dancers are beckoning you onstage for one of the many cultural-specific shows, difficult not to be exhilarated when, in the midst of a hearty Texan meal, there’s a staged-but-dramatic mock shoot-out in the archetypal simulation of a wild-west café, or be entirely in the present and let all fear loose as you go screaming along on the emblematic Dragon Khan, one of the myriad roller coaster rides.
3. High spirits at Codorniu Cava Cellar: What’s marvellous about the Codorníu Cava Cellar is that you don’t have to be a fan of Cava (bottle-fermented sparkling wine made by the traditional champagne method) to visit. The Codorníu family’s cava-making business goes back to the mid-16th century. The building itself is a national monument of sorts having been designed by the celebrated architect Puig í Cadafalch — a student of Antonio Gaudi. The Cellar Gran, a vast area surmounted by a Catalan dome — once used for fermentation and now used for social and artistic functions — is as remarkable to experience as the train ride through the vast functioning cellars below to see where the cava ages. Top this up with a stroll through the lyrically lovely gardens, accompanied by a generous sampling of the cava — and you’ll have a rather high-spirited day.
4. 24-hour party at Sitges: Amid whitewashed buildings, beaches, coves, marinas, beach bars (known in these parts as chiringuitos) and terraces to soak up the atmosphere of the old town, Sitges celebrates life as it is, rather than as it should be. Gay couples are out pushing prams containing their adopted babies, folks who would be classified as senior citizens anywhere else are out partying on Calle del Pecado (Sin Street) until the clubs close around 3.00 a.m.
Sitges is known for its packed calendar of yearly festive events: now a film festival, then a gay parade, soon a religious pilgrimage.
Sitges is also worth visiting for its quaint museums, artisanal boutiques selling carefully-curated textiles, jewellery and ceramics; restaurants by the waterfront that turn out seafood platters and Malvasia (sweet wine particular to the region) that make it the subject of odes.
Barcelona to Codorniu: 61 km, 50 minutes driving time
Barcelona to Port Aventura: 124 km, One hour 15 minutes driving time
Visa: Spain requires a Schengen Visa. The tourist visa to Spain works out to Rs.4,277 for adults and Rs.2,495 for children over six. Children under six at the time of application are free. The additional VFS charge is Rs.1,426.
For more information, visit: http://www.vfsglobal.com/spain/india/
Tarragona: Hotel Ciutat de Tarragona: Walking distance away from the old ruins. For more information: hotelciutatdetarragona.com/en/
Sitges — Hotel Melia: A short run from the historic centre, overlooking the marina. For more information: melia.com
Codorniu Cava Cellar and Port Aventura — Are best done as day trips from Barcelona. In Barcelona, Hotel Diagonal Zero is a clean, neat option. For more information, hoteldiagonalzero.com
Useful Websites — Port Aventura: portaventura.co.uk/theme-park
Getting there: There are several two-stop flights to Barcelona depending on your budget and where you’d like to fly through. Swissair’s one-way flight to Barcelona begins from Rs. 43,000.
From Barcelona you could buy a RENFE train pass to get to any of the places mentioned in this piece. The places are also within driving distance and cars for rent are available at multiple service providers.
Barcelona to Tarragona: 100 km, Almost an hour by road.
Barcelona to Sitges: 42 km, 40 minutes by road.