I’ve been to French Riviera and Provence in the past. For me it seems like it was during a completely different life, in fact, it couldn’t be more than 4 years ago. Me wasn’t me, the one I know today. I had no idea about how to plan holidays, how to do research, I only knew (thanks to Coco Chanel’s biography) that there is a magical town in the hills above Cote d’Azur. It’s called Grasse (amongst other melodious French town names, not the most attractive one, isn’t it?), and that’s the place where Chanel №5 was created by Ernest Beaux. That’s where the capital of world perfumery is located, since the town has the best natural resources for scent creation.
That’s why after landing in Grenoble, and spending there a short day, I was absolutely sure that I want to visit Grasse 🙂 Do you have these insane moments when a tiny, needle sized detail makes you sure that there is a place where you should be. And there is no other option rather than accomplishing.
Those years I had no clue about ‘activities’, I didn’t know about workshops around, cool local places, authentic things to do. What I knew is that I can create my own perfume in one of the perfumery factories in Grasse. Which I did and that’s how my ‘Liberté’ was born in Galimard – a perfumery founded by Jean de Galimard Lord of Seranon, who supplied King Luis with essential oils and perfumes.
I’m still getting excited remembering Grasse. So I’m planning to repeat my journey to the most beautiful part of Europe – French Riviera. But this time I’ll use all the knowledge gained in lots of previous trips – I’ll cover both mountains and sea, I’ll spend time on local agriculture, but won’t forget about fancy yacht trips, I’ll see the lavender fields in bloom, but I also exctract lavender oil in a small distillery, I’ll go cooking to Nice and visit a 2000 ha lake, maybe I’ll join a painting class in Luberon, but at the end, I’m sure you’ll find me wine-tasting in Chateau Sainte Roseline…
Would you like to join me? At the moment I’m just looking for attractive plane tickets for July/August 2018 🙂
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Other than that …
⇒ If you wish to plan your trip on your own – use the menu on the top right corner or just below in the Read More section. You’ll find out about ALL the possible activities in the region, then some authentic places to stay and eat, and also information about Nice Airport.
⇒ If you want me to tailor you a Provencal trip which will suit your personality, occassion, mood and purpose of travelling, then leave your note at Customised Tours page. I”ll reply you almost immediately 🙂
Barcelona already impressed me by the diversity of activities available even on the distance, when doing pre-trip research. But that’s half the trouble! Once you are there, you actually understand that you won’t be able to do all planed – because it’s Spain, it’s siesta, it’s mas o menos, and the cava is so sparkling… that even a wine tasting can occupy half of your day!
So my advice to you: regardless the quantity of time you’re going to spend in Barcelona, plan not more than two activities per day. Leave yourself time to follow the Spanish unpredictable nature, to aimlessly walk around the Gothic quarter, to end up in a bar which wasn’t marked in your itinerary and be happy with staying there too long to wake up early in the morning for another scheduled tour.
I believe I am a successful planner and controller, but despite my hard efforts I couldn’t control the whole universe around. Well, let’s see what I managed to accomplish out of my plan and what appeared in my trip as serendipity. Be both, my guest and judge in one.
That’s where I left time for magic on purpose 🙂 However, even this wasn’t enough. Finding ourselves in one of the most famous tapas places/restaurants in Barcelona – Els 4 Gats – and then in a very popular but quite hidden bar which is located on the most unhidden place of the city – Rambla, Boadas cocktail bar – the oldest bar in Barcelona (read about the places below). The night finished for me with a very upset stomach (and I don’t blame any of the places we went to), so there was no way to wake up for the booked Segway Tour starting at 11 am. Luckily I bought it from direct provider and they were understanding enough to take us in the afternoon. And by the way, the tour was private, though it wasn’t mentioned in the description.
Els 4 Gats – the restaurant opened in 1897 and became a very popular place of bohemian gatherings, I guess, a tavern, where you must hang out if you consider yourself being artistic. Picasso was a frequent visitor since the age of 17, then, he carried out his first exhibition in the big hall of Els 4 Gats. Big names like Gaudí and Rusiñol were not a surprise to see among the restaurant’s guests. I advise you to read the history of the place before visiting, so you can experience the atmosphere consciously once there.
Boadas Cocktails – opened in 1933 by a very charismatic person, Miguel Boadas, who was raised up in the bars of Havana and a quiet fishermen town – Lloret de Mar, at the same time (right, Lloret wasn’t a popular tourist destination a hundred of years ago). After settling down in Barcelona and meeting his future wife, Miguel started his own cocktail heaven in a tiny place on the Rambla corner.
Visit it – it is a spiritual place, because Miguel, and later on his daughter, they loved it as their home, Miguel died having a vision that all his friends are in the room and said to his daughter: ‘We must make a cocktail for all these people’. He died giving the glass mixer to his daughter and handing the Boadas Cocktail Bar to her hands. Today the bartenders are still wearing tailcoats and serving you a real masterpiece in glass. Average price: 10-15 EUR/cocktail
Besides Els 4 Gats we wanted to visit Bar La Plata – one of the oldest tapas place in the city. However, believe me or not (and if you knew me, you would!), there was no way to find it, whatever maps we tried to use. So maybe you’ll be luckier!
So passo por passo recovering after the night out, we found ourselves near the Arc de Triomf and La Ciudadela Park having a delicious Spanish brunch on the terrace of La Ciudadela Hotel Restaurant.
The Segway afterwards was amazing! Luckily I managed to learn it immediately and feel comfortable along all the 90 min (they also have 120 and 180 min tours!) Well, the best thing about it was the riding itself. For those who never tried, let me mention that you don’t have brakes, the eco-vehicle moves and stops based on your body-movements.
Some of the views were quite impressive – I really loved Ciudadela park and especially the fountain – disagree with me, but I’m so convinced that the fountain is much more beautiful as a whole composition than even Di Trevi in Rome. The guide was a good Segway rider, but not a guide – we didn’t get too many explanations about the places, stories behind their creation, local gossips etc. But generally he was a lovely guy performing magic tricks to entertain us. A very nice experience!
On our way to Segway we noticed a place with Asian mango ice-cream and other delicacies, so once again good fortune brought us to a worth recommending place – Tasmango Dessert – the visit in general can be called: ‘mango, mango, mango with a hint of coconut’.
If these words make you melting like white chocolate, than you are a my type of person! Besides the mango ice-cream (I would rather say sorbet), we had those rice-flour mochi cakes popular in Japanese places. And again – with mango!
In the morning before the Segway ride we bought a voucher for the Barcelona treasure hunt. I’ve chosen the Gaudí secrets in Park Güell. This is where we failed (and it was my fault, not the provider!). So the treasure hunt is a quiz online which leads you through hidden gems of Park Güell (in our case) by asking questions and making you answering them. And we walked up till the park 🙂 Already tired, I realized we need tickets to enter – no problem, I told myself! Trying to buy the tickets directly from the dedicated machine I was stopped by a staff guy, who didn’t let me and said that there are no tickets left for today. We could walk in the park itself – the greenery part, but not in the monumental area – which is the Gaudí-made park Güell! I lost my mood immediately, anger fulfilled me and of course the quiz is taking place in the monumental park, not among the trees.
So 15 EUR and an evening plan lost, and my email to the provider proofed that there is a note on their website stating that you’d need admissions for the park to do the treasure hunt. Well, based on this experience I can advise you a couple of things:
preferably choose any other treasure hunt path, so you won’t be tied to the availability of tickets to Park Güell (besides this they have 5 other routes available)
if you still want to do it in the park be sure that you bought the tickets in advance, because the treasure hunt is always available, but the Gaudí masterpiece on the Catalan hills is not
and definitely, with the treasure hunt or without you should see the park. The entrance before 8 am and after 9:30 pm is for free (at least the staff said so), normally the tickets costs 7 EUR
separately you can purchase tickets for the Gaudí house (5,50 EUR) – which wasn’t too impressive though. I would prefer to visit a house-museum which has all the furnishing left as it’s been in reality, but when it’s 80% empty – that’s not fun at all
And even without the monuments the park is lovely. If I lived in Barcelona I would just come here as often as possible in a peaceful hidden green corner, with a dog or a laptop 🙂
The day finished for us in a Spanish restaurant with amazing paella, again a not crowded place, located at the very end of the restaurant line in the port, too far for an average tourist to get there without being dragged over to a touristy place with a usually southern-oriental guy screaming about the best ‘cava, paella and whatever’. El Gangrejo Loco was a politely place, as I call them 🙂
Price and book:
Segway Tour – private tour 90 min – 45 EUR/person – Arc de Triomf – from Eco Moving Rent
Unpuzzle Barcelona – Secrets of Gaudí, discover Park Güell – 15 EUR from Unpuzzle BCN
Park Güell – 7 EUR/admission or 14 EUR/admission + tour or a private guide on request – buy in advance, online!
Casa Museu Gaudí – 5,50 EUR/person (located in the free zone of the park), online purchase
El Gangrejo Loco – the restaurant in Port Olimpic where we had a Spanish dinner with seafood paella and cava. Make a reservation online!
Second day was supposed to be very saturated – morning pick up of the rented car, then trip to Pubol – the Gala Dalí Castle, wine-tasting with vineyard, cellars and a castle visit in Perelada, finishing the day with a trip to Port Ligat and Dalí’s house. Grand plans! And I’m so proud I could arrange it all before the trip happened. However, human interaction is always unpredictable, so you never know for sure where you will spend double of the planed time.
We found a vintage looking Fiat 500c Cabrio in Europcar’s catalogue. The negative side of the story was that we couldn’t find rental office – we didn’t receive any email confirmation about the rental, so knowing only it’s Barcelona Sants didn’t help too much (maps showed only the parking place). The other problem was that when you are returning the car in non-working hours, you just leave it on the parking with all the documents. We brought it with full tank (and spent half an hour on finding a gas station in the area), however Europcar charged us for refueling, saying that they had to add fuel for 40 EUR. What a lie and unpleasant experience!
NB!: For some magic reason, the cabrio Fiat can’t be found on the desktop web-site, but is easily found in the Luxury & Fun section of the mobile web-site. Also if you want the pick up to be in Barcelona Sants, the Europcar office is inside the railway station, behind McDonald’s.
Price and book:
Europcar – The price depends on the day, we paid approx. 90 EUR with basic insurance included. Book online
Let’s leave negativity behind, Tavsan Surat is on a road trip in his little cabrio! We bought some pastry, fresh orange juice, coffee and water in the Sants station near Europcar’s office, so it sweetened our way to Pubol!
It took us around 1,3h to get to the Gala Dalí Castle – a beautiful place in a medieval village, far away from civilization even now. Actually, Dalí bought this castle to Gala because she was in need of a refuge and peace. The best part of the castle-museum is the garden with extravagant sculptures, lots of trees and hidden paths and a fountain.
Gala is buried in the castle, even though she passed away in Port Ligat. That was the reason Dalí had to get fake documents stating that the place of death was Pubol.
You will visit the bathroom with the dressing room and a fireplace in it, the kitchen, her bedroom and the guest room. Most of the furnishing is there, which makes you much closer to the Dalí couple’s life in their castle. Besides that – retro cars in the garage, the little park where you feel get lost. And the empty medieval village itself – perhaps, we were lucky to come in rain, so there were no tourist hanging around the streets 😉
Price and book:
Gala Dalí Castle (Castle of Pubol) – you can buy the ticket online – the admission is 8 EUR, admission + tour – 10 EUR
So let’s have a walk in Gala Dali Castle!
Another remarkable spot in the village was a medieval cathedral – you will definitely notice it when entering Pubol! We wanted to see it, however – shower-rain, no parking place around the cathedral, so we gave up 🙂 Send us some photos once you get there!
So we headed to our next destination – Perelada winery & estate – this is a huge project of a Catalan businessman Miquel Mateu. He bought the Perelada castle from noble inherits; he started a casino there, kept the former monastery transforming it into a museum of his antiques and a library, planted the vineyards and started to produce his own wine. I planned to spend twice less time here, but there was surprisingly too much to see.
We had the wine-tasting & visit scheduled at 4 pm, however as we planned to visit the castle and were ready with Pubol, we arrived a bit after 3 pm. We were told that the Perelada castle opens only at 4 (weird, isn’t it?) so we have to visit it after the wine-tasting. Okay, Tavsan Surat didn’t mind having some snacks in the meantime.
For the vineyard visit we needed the car – to arrive there from the wine-shop (the starting point). Afterwards our guide took us to the cellars where we’ve seen huge barrels and old dusty bottles with precious wine. By the way, one of the collections was not for sale – that’s Centenary Dalí – wine made of the first harvest from their most precious vineyard finca Garbet in 2000 – all the few bottles are dedicated to the Dalí Association, since Salvador Dalí and Miquel Mateu were good friends.
Finalizing the Perelada experience we joined the wine-tasting of 2 red, 1 white and 1 cava, however, unfortunately, the wines didn’t impress us at all. Tastes differ of course, but I guess if they made the tasting more expensive and would serve their best wines, like the ones from Garbet (100-200 EUR/bottle), it would make the visit more special and encourage clients to buy their most expensive wines in the boutique afterwards. Agree?
Coming back to the castle. We bought our tickets at the wine-shop, arrived to the castle and the security guys pointed toward Plaça del Carme, saying that this is not the entrance we need. Okay, arriving to Plaça del Carme we understood that it’s a monastery, not a castle, and even worse it’s closed. I didn’t give up – if the ticket is bought I will enter, I don’t care about locked doors, so I did my best to unlock the entrance door, but failed. However I was so notable, that a guy from the balcony of one of the houses on that Plaça, tried to explain something in Spanish and pointing somewhere right side. Which was a bench with old people, one of which said ‘siete’ – so seven… It was six, I still planned to get to Gaudí’s house in Port Ligat with last admission at 20:10… We tried to decide, Tavsan Surat voted for the monastery (even though not being religious), and I agreed – since we are already here, wasted a lot of time on ‘research’ and the place looks enormous, let’s wait a bit more to see if it was worth. And we had enough of Dalí that day in the Gala castle.
Just imagine my reaction when at 6:55 I saw people leaving the monastery with a guide – I run after the lady asking to let us in!
So now the explanation: the castle itself is a private property which you can’t access, it belongs to Miquel Mateu’s family. Part of the estate now hosts a casino – which you can access, of course. And the monastery also belongs to the family, and is now a museum where you can see one of the biggest antique – glass & ceramic – collections and libraries in the world. The entrance is each hour (so at 4, or 3, or 6, or 7 – or whatever else) – but be precise, otherwise the door is closed! The tour is private – only you and the guide, available in English, Spanish and, I guess, in Russian.
Even though it’s only a museum, it has a history of full castle value! The first fortress was destroyed in the 13th century during a war with France, after which the viscounts of Peralada decided to build something more spacious instead and the land of the destroyed fortress was given to Carmelite friars to build a convent there. And now the fun starts: the Carmelite monks were moved out during the confiscation of church properties in Spain. For twenty years the convent was empty, after which three brothers of the count family relocated there from Paris and faced a medieval, run down, out of fashion estate. Reconstruction, removal of the heavy baroque decoration, the brothers brought the first books to the now renowned library, after which they established a school for children from the village. One of counts was a teacher himself. However the next owner of Peralada didn’t have that progressive mentality and Peralada was waiting for its next wave of prosperity – under Miquel Mateu.
A passionate collectionair who finally found a spacious depository for his treasures. Nowadays the most notable part of the museum is the Glass and Ceramics collection – it is, in fact, the most important glass museum of Spain containing more than 2500 pieces. It’s worth to mention the jugs collection – or ‘porro’ in Catalan, which is a traditional wedding present in Catalonia, when the bride and the groom are getting separate ones, a male and female version. Besides that various drinking vessels, perfume (and sometimes opium) bottles, and even milk extractors.
The library contains around 100 000 books with the most spectacular collection of Cervantes, one of the best private collections in the world. The library and archive are open for researchers in the mornings and it must be really a once-in-lifetime experience to touch the books ageing back to XVIII century.
It’s definitely worth that one hour you’ll spend in the museum, and especially because you’ll have a guide to lead you through the history of the place. Without the very well-trained guide we had, it would end up being a sightseeing with lots of photos, without any understanding of the story behind those glass & ceramic ‘toys’.
Price and book:
Option A: vineyard visit + ageing cellar + tasting of 4 wines – 10 EUR/person, book in advance
Museu Castell Perelada – admission is 6 EUR, prices and tour options here
The original plan for the evening was to visit Dalí’s house-museum in Port Ligat and spend an evening on a beach I found in the internet, named as one of the most non-touristy and beautiful place in Catalunya. Well, being persistent, I wanted to follow the plan and at least get to the beach. In fact, it was a rocky place with many stones in the water and actually no sand. So for security reasons we stayed dry that evening and instead book a local hotel, had a great dinner on the coast and hoped to swim on the next day. There were a couple of reasons encouraging us to stay, but the most important was that Cadaques (Port Ligat is just nearby) is such an impressive white-blue housed town, all built on hills above a little bay, with many many boats (I guess their quantity is higher than the inhabitants’), that you just can’t resist staying there overnight!
My experience says that an accidentally opened door leads to uncovered miracles! That is why I’m so obsessed about whatever is closed 🙂
Price and book:
Salvador Dalí House – Portlligat – 11 EUR/person for House and Olive garden visit, and the web-site says that it must be always reserved!
Platja S’Arenella – not worth going for swimming, but I guess is nice if you have a boat rented. By the way, the island itself – Isla S’Arenella – might be an interesting spot, I found information that you can rent it out!
Hotel Sol ixent – a very beautiful B&B in Cadaques. Imagine you go on your terrace and see (and smell!) lavender all around, it has a great pool with sunbeds, restaurant which we didn’t manage to visit. It was a perfect last minute deal on booking.com – instead of 260 EUR/night price at the hotel’s direct web-site, it was 156 EUR on booking 🙂 So check out all, before you book!
Xiringuito la Sal – the beach terrace restaurant where we had our dinner upon arrival to Cadaques. First time in our lives we ate paella with ink (octopus ink), it’s so interesting, not like any other kind of paella at all. Make a reservation, they are quite busy, though we were lucky to get a table!
We couldn’t swim though 🙂 All the so-called beaches in Cadaques are not actually beaches, but slippery stones in the very shallow sea. The only way you should get wet in Cadaques is renting one of those shiny catamarans and deep diving on a solid distance from the town.
Instead of it, let’s go for lunch. But not as obvious as yesterday – somewhere hidden in those tiny-shiny white streets with climbing roses on their walls.
Cadaques – my new Catalan love!
I don’t know how, but I swear no google, no tripadvisor, just my 37-sized feet brought us to a restaurant located on the 1st floor of one of those white houses around, with sophisticated fine menu and some tables on their little balcony drowning in rose bloom. And they even run after us when I forgot my famous hat on the chair after we left. Amazing experience, that moment when unplanned impresses more than the whole carefully worked out itinerary (but you know only the one who worked hard deserves to be luckily surprised!)
We didn’t give up and tried to get another beach! Led to Bagur – the story says that Costa Brava was baptized on one of its beaches 🙂 I’ve chosen a beach club called Mar I Vente with extremely good reviews. We arrived and while staying in the queue to the public parking, I noticed the beach club’s private parking – which was closed. An A4 sheet on the entrance saying that they won’t open this year, but will be happy to see us in 2018…
The public beach downstairs was ‘fully booked’, no space even for a kitten, not to mention us with Tavsan. Both beach-restaurants saying that they are closed (!). Anyways we arrived, so we found a third restaurant, which also didn’t serve food – they started the sentence from saying that they’re closed, but served sangria which was good enough. So only their kitchen was actually closed.
Well, the beach was very nice – again a bay in the rocks, but now sandy. But quite small as for me, so you don’t feel spacious enough (if it’s not April, when there are no tourists). Next day we understood, that the best beach is in Barcelona, especially when you have no time for trusting online sources and facing the opposite of what expected. Or when you are not a solo-traveler, but a couple (or family) in need of comfort and hygiene (talking about sunbeds and showers).
So we headed to Barcelona, passing the famous Platja d’Aro and I’m sorry we were too exhausted to check it out, but as a bonus I can recommend you a restaurant there, it’s owned by an Armenian lady I know from an expat group 🙂
Price and book:
Restaurant Es Balconet – the super authentic restaurant we had our early lunch in Cadaques. Unique interior, blooming balconies and fine cuisine – all on a first floor of a hidden house on a tiny street! To get a table on the balcony – book in advance!
Mar I Vent, Aiguablava in Bagur – in case you go in 2018, tell me how was it, if it’s a nice place, okay? And call them, not to end up in our shoes!
Mediterrani restaurant at Platja d’Aro – owned by an Armenian lady whom I know from a common group. Have never been there, but Armenians cook well)) – Avinguda de s’Agaró, 117, 17250 Platja d’Aro, Girona (no web-site)
The last day in Barcelona. Actually not a full day to enjoy, because the end of it is bittered by the departure time blinking on my phone screen. But still we managed a lot!
Sunday morning we started at Camp Nou with their experience tour. I could never believe we’ll spend there two hours and that’s really something to see if you are not bored by football.
Very well thought out tour, a smart environment, just as I like. On each step when you would need guides to lead you – you have them there before you even think. Extremely high tech interactive materials – projectors, screens, touchscreens, headsets with the anthem sang on all the players’ native languages, tour to the pitch, press box, VIP-zone, changing rooms, and all the way long the staff is taking photos of you with a CL cup, at the entrance, with a player at your choice (they photoshop him:)
And guess what, the photos are ready and packed in albums when you are exiting – perfect strategy, when it’s in your hands already, packed in FCB album, you should really appear ugly on those pics not to buy it! You can buy the album with 3 photos for 39 EUR, one single photo, no album costs – 20 EUR, or have all the photos with the album for 59 EUR. A great business they do over there!
After the stadium we went for tapas in a nearby restaurant – apparently, where all the fans snack before games. And not only the food was authentic, but we had a bottle of white from Bodegas Iniesta! The blaugrana spirit didn’t leave us alone even outside of Camp Nou.
I was obsessed about seeing some more Gaudí places and since it was time to check out, we went to the one closest to the hotel – Palau Güell. I can’t say it wasn’t interesting, but it’s either me being not a fan of architecture and museums at all, or simply too dark and monotonous. Right, you see a couple of flours with rooms (again) where most of the furnishing is gone, only the walls left, then the famous roof with Gaudí chimneys, and yes, the ceiling in the guest room was made of gold (and had special holes to see from upstairs what are the guests doing), but it didn’t catch my attention for too long.
Price and book:
Camp Nou Experience: Tour & Museum – 25 EUR/adult, additionally you can purchase a guide or an audio guide option. Book in advance on the official web-site!
Bodegas Iniesta: el Vuit Barcelona – even though we were in another restaurant, I just can’t find it on the maps to advise you. So to continue the FCB experience Tavsan Surat suggests you a Barca fan restaurant with Bodegas Iniesta wines. Check it out and tell us how was it!
Palau Güell – the admission on the first Sunday of the month is free, general ticket (includes audio guide) is 12 EUR/adult. Buy online, or keep in mind that you can pay only cash on spot, no cards accepted!
So we finished with Gaudí and… wanted to go somewhere high!
As an option I had the Mirador de Colom – but the weather was greyish and I was upset I wouldn’t take nice shots. Then I’ve seen cable cars – why didn’t I know about them before! Going from Montjuic to the Port Vella they are an always exciting experience wherever I was before. But maps showed too far to get there, which was not completely true – it was shown that you can enter from Montjuic only, but in fact there is an entrance in the Port Vella.
The last option was the sky bar at W Hotel – certainly, one of the most noticeable, remarkable buildings in Barcelona. So we ended up there on the 26th floor with the shower-rain starting behind the windows. But what a beautiful place to watch Barcelona getting wet!
Soon after – waiting in the taxi line in front of the hotel and staying in the traffic on our way to the flamenco show. Yes, I know that Barcelona is not a flamenco place, but it was Tavsan Surat asking for dancing girls. What I loved about staying in traffic in Barcelona is that a car in front of you can be just a motorboat moving from one port to another 😉
Even though I lived in Andalusia – the birthplace of flamenco, and used to be kind of a flamenco dancer myself (even a bit performing), I was pleasantly surprised by the level of dancers and the show itself. They started from an introductory movie, then with a flamenco experience – we were asked to stand up and learn some basic steps and claps (golpe and palmas), and only then the show commenced. Sometimes flamenco, sometimes traditional Spanish dance & ballet – I even teared remembering my days on the dance-floor. Definitely recommend!
And, of course, as predicted our day ended up in the airport El Prat – on our way back home, to prepare for our next adventures and discoveries (that’s how I call home-staying!).