Listed in The Telegraph’s 50 greatest art, food and culture holidays on Earth.
Food is at the very core of Catalan existence, and the glorious variety of Catalan gastronomy reflects both the universal passion for food and the diverse cultural history of Catalonia. Food culture, husbandry and interest in medical and dietary matters reach back to the period when the Greeks first settled at Empúries to worship the healing image of Asklepios. The Carthaginians followed, bringing lentils, chickpeas and fava beans; the Romans introduced the vine and olive.
Four centuries of Moorish domination brought a passion for sweetmeats, spices and aubergine. The Catalan larder expanded further in the late Middle Ages when control over Mediterranean trade routes brought pasta from Naples and the discovery of the Americas introduced the key ingredients for the Provençal and Catalan table: tomato, potato and paprika.
The Barcelona food markets are among the most beautiful and enticing in the world. Set out in cartwheels under ceilings of Art Nouveau stained glass, the stalls fan out from their fresh fish hub. Marble sinks soak the milky salt cod; cornucopia of fruit and vegetables are displayed with the subtlety of a still-life; butchers offer specialities and recipes upon request; the mushroom man has thirty varieties, fresh and dried. At the outer edges are the dealers in nuts and artisan cheeses that never find their way out of Catalonia.
In the city of the exuberance and riotous colour of Antoni Gaudí’s architectural confections, it is but a little way to the tour de force of a zarzuela fish stew, shot through with a firework display of saffron, bright red peppers and the creamy smooth burnt allioli sauce. The mar i muntanya dishes – the original surf and turf – marry together a remarkable blend of game, fowl or rabbit with langouste, enriched with a subtle chocolate sauce.
The pioneering Nouvelle Catalan cuisine offers new tastes and complex techniques which find their echo deep into France, even to the Lycée Palace. The chefs that create them are some of the most talked about in and outside Barcelona. Jordi Cruz mixes tradition and creativity at his 3-Michelin-starred restaurant ABaC in Barcelona. Michelin-starred chef Nandu Jubany grows his own fruit and vegetables to serve in his restaurant, a converted farmhouse near Vic. Disciples of Ferran Adrià, chef Xavier Sagristà and maitre d’ Toni Gerez have been working together for over 30 years. Now in Peralada, they continue to create a contemporary vision of Empordà cuisine.
There is far more to Catalonia than Barcelona, and historically the region extends into France. There are the fishing ports and the countryside, the Pyrenees and the Vallées Orientales, and the wines: Priorat, rich and tannin-steeped; Cavas which demonstrate brilliance and clarity; sweet Moscatel, peasant foil for the great Gewürztraminer experiments of the last decade; Penedès reds, as good with meat as slightly chilled with fish. Catalan wine is enjoying an extraordinary renaissance.
Barcelona. Fly at c. 10.45am from London Heathrow to Barcelona, capital of Catalonia and cosmopolitan market place. Take an afternoon walk and visit a chocolate emporium. Dinner has a 1900s theme with recipes from the gent de bé – Barcelona’s legendary good families – in the modernist dining room of Fonda Espanya, designed by Domènech i Montaner. First of three nights in Barcelona.
Barcelona. Spend the morning in the Art Nouveau Boqueria market with its extraordinary displays of fresh produce. The Barri Gòtic, the most complete surviving Gothic quarter in Europe, is still the location of some of the finest eating establishments and food suppliers in Catalonia. A wine tasting includes rarities from the Priorat and Penedès. In the afternoon visit the Palau de la Música, the highly ornate concert hall designed by Domènech i Montaner and Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, the vast, still unfinished church which is one of the best-known buildings in the world. Dinner takes the form of a tapas walk.
Barcelona. On the slopes of Montjuïc are the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, which houses the greatest collection of Romanesque frescoes in the world, plus fine Gothic and modern collections, and the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion. Lunch in the gothic quarter is based around classic Catalan dishes and seasonal local produce. In the afternoon visit Gaudí’s La Pedrera building of 1906–10.
Barcelona, Peralada. Take a morning walk in Gaudí’s Parc Güell before sampling Jordi Cruz’s 3-Michelin-starred, avant garde cuisine at ABaC. Leave Barcelona and drive up the coast to the outskirts of Figueres. First of three nights in Peralada.
Girona, Vic. Girona has a compact medieval Jewish quarter and Gothic cathedral towering over the river. Important illuminated manuscripts and tapestries are displayed in the chapterhouse. Lunch is at Michelin-starred Can Jubany, a converted farmhouse serving home-grown produce.
Collioure (France), La Selva de Mar. Drive into France to the pretty port of Collioure, a favoured retreat for Matisse and the Fauves. Light lunch of anchovies, a key local industry. Return to Spain, and the coastal town of La Selva de Mar to visit the vineyard of one of the Empordà’s finer producers. Dinner at Michelin-starred Castell Peralada, our hotel restaurant, where Xavier Sagristà makes his mark on Catalan classics.
Figueres. Free time in Figueres to visit the Dalí museum. Drive south to Barcelona for the flight to Heathrow, arriving c. 4.15pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,410 or £3,220 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,890 or £3,700 without flights.
Flights (Euro traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach and some use of the metro in Barcelona; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 5 lunches and 4 dinners (including 2 light ones), with wine, water and coffee; all wine and food tastings; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
NH Collection Gran Hotel Calderón, Barcelona: a centrally-located contemporary 5-star hotel. Hotel Peralada: a 5-star spa and golf hotel situated in the Albera mountains with an excellent restaurant.
The tour involves a lot of walking in Barcelona – some of it over uneven paving – where vehicular access is restricted. A good level of fitness is necessary. It should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Meals can be long and large and dinners tend to start at 9.00pm, so expect some late nights. Average distance by coach per day: 52 miles.
Are you fit enough to join the tour?
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.
'The lecturer was excellent. What a man of many skills, talents and finesse! I particularly appreciated his combining history, culture and food and so many aspects that create a 'people'.
'Most of meals were superb and, of course, reflected the region we were visiting. They were so good I probably could not have handled one more day!'