Lost & Found: Barcelona Part Dos
16 - 21 September 2008

After my third visit to Barcelona, I'm still discovering new hidden gems around every corner.

Eat at:

La Campana. An old-fashioned sweets and icecream store and one of the few places that serves proper horchata (tiger nut milk) from metal barrels. A refreshing stop on a hot day.

El Quim de la Boqueria. In my research this tapas bar in La Boqueria was frequently mentioned, and the photos of the moustachioed owner grinning with various unrecognisable celebrities seem to confirm its popularity. I kept circling around it faux-casually while keeping an eagle eye for an empty seat in front of the seafood display (my lack of Spanish meant I had to point to what I wanted). After finally catching the attention of one of the bustling waiters/chefs, I settled down for an early lunch of razor clams (slightly gritty), meatballs (an accidental purchase, I was really wanting fish croquettes) and some great jamon and bread. 23.45 euros.

Granja Dulcinea. Carrer Petrixol is my favourite street in the Barri Gotic because it is known as the chocolate street (as well as being full of art galleries and antique shops). This old school cafe is decorated with dark wooden furniture and serves food for the soul - syrupy hot chocolate (2.60 euros) and sugary churros (1.40 euros).

Espai Sucre. It was my last night in Barcelona and I'd already had many meals alone, so I wasn't sure whether I was up for a potentially awkward solo dining experience. But then I thought "how many opportunities do I have to visit a restaurant which only serves my favourite course" - and Espai Sucre's byline is 'Restaurant de Postres' (restaurant of dessert). They were full on a Saturday night, except that the friendly head waiter gave me the option to sit in the back room adjoining the kitchen which used to house their cooking school. For a single foodie diner, this was a perfect experience. I chatted to the wait staff and the chef occasionally and admired the tautly efficient kitchen assembling my five course degustation menu. As for the food - it wasn't all cakes and puddings, but rather a challenging marrying of flavours which at times I thought was a bit over-ambitious. Flavours would sit together that weren't just unusual and unexpected, but almost on the extremes of the palate - very sweet and very salty in the same dish. Next time I visit Barcelona I will visit their school, as I want to learn how to scoop icecream into perfect egg-shaped dollops. 45 euros for degustation and water.

Shop at:

Sita Murt. This Spanish designer is apparently quite well known and shows at Madrid Fashion Week. I stumbled across the store only because I was attracted to the mannequin displaying a pleated black skirt and structured black jacket (my weaknesses). Inside I discovered a dark palette of fine knits and tailored skirts which perfectly suited my aesthetic.

El Ingenio. This magic and clown shop is one of a series of shops in the Barri Gotic which have a special tile on its doorstep. These tiles indicate shops of historical significance and El Ingenio has been operating since 1838, selling unicycles, juggling clubs, gurning masks and giant shoes.

Carre d'artistes. Carrer Petrixol seems to be art gallery and antique alley, and Carre d'artistes particularly caught my eye because they showed the art in a really accessible way. Inside the cool, dim gallery, each artist's biography was arranged along the wall, and their works were stacked underneath so you could sift through them at leisure.

Caelum. A wonder-cave filled with all sorts of delights produced by Spanish monasteries and convents. I couldn't resist the chocolate (muy buen according to the shop lady) and the flaky sugar-dusted cookies from Convento de la Madre de Dios. There is also a light and airy cafe attached to the shop, a prime people-watching position in a narrow angled corner.

Concrete. A small, hidden and very cool homewares store which typifies the hip aesthetic of the Born district.

Cereria Subira. The oldest shop in Barcelona is a swirling mint and gilt candle-laden shop. I bought two citronella outdoor candles stored decorative tins. These proved to be very useful when I hit mosquito Mallorca, and when gardening in the dark on my patio back in London.

Experience:

Festa de la Merce

. Unbeknownest to me, the weekend was the beginning of a festival celebrating the Barcelona's patron saint and the city's salvation from a plague of locusts in the 17th century. I walked towards the sound of drumbeats at the edge of the Barri Gotic and stumbled on crowds of kids and adults dressed in capes and devilish-looking outfits and brandishing poles with whirling fireworks. It was raucous, festive and a health & safety nightmare - firework-laden dragon floats were wheeled out through dragon-manned gates into narrow alleyways, exploding hot sparks into the dancing crowd to the sound of pulsating drums. The next morning, after no doubt a night of partying, thousands of resilient people limbered up at Placa Espanya to participate in the Cursa de la Merce, a 10km fun run.

Montserrat

. The craggy mountain range, hilltop Benedictine monastery and basilica of Montserrat are definitely worth a day trip from Barcelona. At Placa Espanya train station you can buy a round-trip ticket which includes the 1 hour FGC train journey and a choice of two methods of reach the monastery - a cable car or rack railway, and then two funiculars to reach various other parts of the mountain range. At midday every day the famous Montserrat boys choir sings Gregorian chants and hymns in the Basilica, although any pious atmosphere is negated by the hoards of camera-wielding tourists. The famous Black Madonna is also resident in the Basilica, but frankly unless you're very devout I'm not certain that it was worth the 1.5 hour wait. I think the best thing about Montserrat is the unusual scenery - the pillars of rugged rock formations (its name means 'sawed mountain') are spectacularly strange, and if you like hiking there are lots of trails to explore as well as old hermitages and chapels. Oh, and the chocolate produced by the monastery is very good, especially the dark chocolate with almonds!

Stay at:

Hotel Oasis. The positives: 5 minutes from Estacio de Franca (direct train to airport in 30 minutes for 1.70 euros), 5 minutes from Barceloneta metro station (handy for a Zara pilgrimage to Passeig de Gracia) and 5 minutes to the heart of Born and Barri Gotic (shopping and eating!). Also, friendly staff and very cheap (50 euros). The negatives: the rooms are dingy, the bathroom's ancient, it's pretty noisy and the breakfasts are nothing special. It worked for me, but it's not somewhere I would actively recommend.

La Campana: Princesa 36, Barcelona, 08003

T: +34 933197296

El Quim de la Boqueria. Mercat Sant Josep Paradas 584 - 607
08001 Barcelona

T: +34 93 301 98 10

Granja Dulcinea: c/Petrixol 2 08002

Espai Sucre: C/ Princesa 53
08003 Barcelona

T: +34 93 268 16 30

Sita Murt: Avinyo 18 (and other locations)

T: +34 93 301 00 06

El Ingenio: Rauric 6, 08002 Barcelona

T: +93 317 71 38

Carre d'artistes: Carrer Petritxol 3 08002 Barcelona

T: +34 93 304 36 36

Caelum: C/ de la Palla 8
08002 Barcelona

T: +34 93 302 69 93

Concrete: Volta dels tamborets, 5 Born 08003 Barcelona

T: +34 93 268 19 22

Cereria Subira: Baixada de Llibreteria 7

T: +34 93 315 26 06

Hotel Oasis: Pla Palau 17
08003 Barcelona, Spain

T: +34 933 194 396