Navigator vs. Novice: See Barcelona on Your Own or With Help From a ProBy Anuja Madar
Pedal Badalona in Barcelona on a rented bike like a BCN newbie or get some tips from a Renaissance Navigator to explore like a pro. (Photos: Anuja Madar)
In mid-March I headed to Barcelona, where I caught up with Katherine Burgos, front desk manager and former head Navigator at the Renaissance Barcelona Hotel. The brand’s Navigator program is “a way to bring the local experience to the guest,” Burgos says. “To offer something more than the conventional so the guest can discover places that most of their contacts wouldn’t know about.”
I put her Navigator skills to the test, soliciting recommendations for a few (selfishly) specific categories. And, as a novice, I also found a few places on my own. Burgos’s biggest piece of advice? Plan ahead. “If you’re here for a few days, there’s a lot to cover. It’s a beautiful city and many people come back to it.”
“Granja Petitbo has delicious coffee and a fantastic brunch, which is becoming popular.”
My take: I made a stop here on my last day after a very long walk from Park Güell, picking up a thick slice of banana bread and a café con leche (pictured above left) to enjoy on one of the sun-lit benches outside.
The best coffee (in my opinion) in Barcelona is at Wer-haus (pictured above right and below), run by French entrepreneurs Jean-Antoine Palagos and Nicolas Rossi. The coffee changes regularly but is always roasted locally; Brazilian beans were on offer during my first visit. The former warehouse hosts three separate but seamlessly connected spaces: a small gallery/bookstore in front, the café/restaurant in the middle and a carefully curated boutique with men’s clothing and accessories in the back.
“Art Montfalcon is 100+ years old and carries art, paintings, pens, food and other locally made things, including jewelry from Joie de Art, a Barcelona brand inspired by Gaudi. If you want to create your own pieces, Gratacós has amazing textiles and has been around since 1940.”
My take: I found Art Montfalcon to be overwhelming, but I did pick up two pieces from Joie de Art: a ring for a friend, who put it on immediately when I gave it to her, and a pair of earrings for myself.
I learned about the family-run Tarlatana thanks to the hotel’s Navigators. Open since 1987, the book-binders and paper-makers sell beautiful handmade paper and notebooks (I practiced restraint and only bought three).
Camino carries clothing, shoes and accessories from local designers, including organic cotton backpacks from Thinking MU (I’ve since been toting one around on my travels).
About 40 minutes away, “Montserrat has the most impressive views. It’s really beautiful, and there’s a little hotel where you can open your window and practically touch the mountain. The view from the middle is already impressive, but when you hike up it’s even nicer.”
I spent an entire day biking along the beaches, from Barceloneta to Badalona and back again (25 miles in all). Rent some wheels from Barceloneta Bikes and grab a croissant for the road from Baluard across the square.
“One of my favorites in the area is Cuines at the Santa Catarina Market, which serves tapas, Japanese food and cocktails; their gin and tonics are popular. Mutis was chosen among the world’s best cocktail places but not many people know about it. It’s like an apartment and they sometimes have live music on the weekends.”
Fronted by the Pastrami Bar and accessed through a meat locker-esque door, Paradiso (pictured above) is a dimly lit, beautifully designed bar with cocktails that are creative in both creation and presentation. My friend’s drink arrived in a blue-and-white vase-like vessel, while our neighbors were presented with both a teapot and a treasure chest that opened to reveal billowing smoke.
“In Barcelona it’s difficult to find vegetarian/vegan restaurants, and not every place has options.” (Burgos is a vegetarian herself.) “Everything at Flax + Kale is delicious, and it comes from owners who know the business.” (They’ve run the vegetarian restaurant Teresa Carles since 1979.) “Go for weekend brunch; they have a great grilled watermelon and goat cheese dish.”
My take: I had dinner here (the best part was the appetizer, a colorful mezze platter, pictured above, that included black hummus with activated charcoal and quinoa and vegan “meatballs”) and a snack at the associated Teresa’s Juicery (the Energy Boost, a combination of cucumber, lime, honey, rose petals and bee pollen, is refreshing any time of day).
After a day of delayed flights (thanks French airstrike), I sought out a fresh, healthy meal at Redant (pictured above right). While the cozy spot is known for its noodles, I opted for a seaweed salad and steamed buns with tofu. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I had vegan ice cream (on several occasions) and found Gocce di Latte to be the best.
About the Author: Anuja Madar is a world traveler, youth mentor, wannabe photographer and textile collector. She’s also a content strategist for Marriott International.