Category Archives: Activities

In this category you’ll find posts about some great activities and things to do which you can enjoy in and around Barcelona, along with what happened when I tried them…

We’ve Launched a Craft Beer Tour!

So dear reader (yes the singular was deliberate. And I know I should probably call you “mum”, not reader, but I want to maintain an air of professionalism) you’ve probably been wondering what I’ve been up have you since I last wrote? Well I’m glad you asked, because I’ve got some exciting news. Despite being super busy with various projects this 2015, there was something that I’ve wanted to do for a while now that I decided simply can’t wait any longer… with the help of a few amigos, I’ve finally launched a super original food, drink and nightlife activities brand…. please welcome to the world my new baby, which we’ve christened: Tapas & Beers Barcelona!

Enjoying a glass of artisan ale at one of Barcelona's brew pubs

Enjoying a glass of artisan ale at one of Barcelona’s brew pubs

You might remember that back in 2010 I launched my very own alternative bike cruise of the Catalan capital, called Steel Donkeys. The idea was to offer something completely different to a twenty-person tour around the narrow alleys of the Gothic Quarter (which is what most companies back then were delivering at the time) and take people well and truly off the beaten track to cool districts like Poblenou, Ribera and Raval and simply spend some time with them, treating them like friends not tourists. For this reason of course the tours had to be small group only, and this was the key to our success. In a small group the guides and the travellers can really engage with each other, the itinerary can be bent and/or broken to accommodate a fresh idea or request, and the whole vibe changes – from that of a tourist on the treadmill, to that of a traveller just hanging out and getting under the skin of the city, if only for a day. The feedback from the very beginning was amazing, and we’ve constantly been rated as one of the best bike tours in Barcelona on Tripadvisor.

Meanwhile others have successfully implemented this same small-group, alternative tour mentality to food – and in particular – tapas tours, something I’ve wanted to do myself for a long time. Whilst the Catalan beer revolution has got everyone in the entire city drinking craft ales, and is something that travellers are increasingly interested in trying too! Well, it would be silly to do one and not the other, so the concept of Tapas & Beers was born. In fact so far we’ve only launched the Catalan Craft Beer Tour (the tapas tour is under development however!), and after a deliciously successful test run with our extremely knowledgeable guide (he had so much to say about the history of beer and the Catalan beer revolution that we ended up drinking for 5.5 hours instead of the planned three hours!) we are now open to the public. The tour will be running every Saturday at 17:30 during summer (any maybe longer) in 2015, and includes tastings of five regional beers, some tasty tapas and plenty of expert insight from your crazy Catalan guide. So get your beer-drinking buddies and get in touch! We’re also on the look out for any Barcelona bloggers who can roadtest the activity and share it on their blog!

The project has also created the right space for me to realise another dream of mine, and that’s the launching of an alternative pub crawl of Barcelona…. aka the Hipster Bar Hop. The concept is to offer travellers an authentic nightlife experience that is in stark contrast to the cheesy brashness of a regular pub crawl. Having done it twice already I can confirm that it lives up to my original concept, with a lot of new friends, cool bars and crazy dancing ensuing. Not sure the inclusion of absinthe was such a great idea though…

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Holi Sh!t, That Was A Great Festival

I’ll be honest. I hadn’t heard much about Barcelona’s very own version of India’s Holi Festival of Colours (in fact I hadn’t heard anything about the original Indian version either), and when someone told me it started at the ridiculous hour of 11am on a Sunday morning I was pretty tempted to sleep through the whole shebang. But fighting all my natural instincts I roused myself and my housemates at an ungodly hour this April 14th to trek all the way to Rambla del Carmel up in the Barcelona hinterlands around Horta. Naturally we arrived a good couple of hours late and when we saw plenty of people heading back home already at 1pm, their faces a badly smudged kaleidoscope of coloured powder, we feared we’d missed the main event. However the Bhangra drums were still banging and there were plenty of smiling faces sticking into a cerveza or two so we decided to stick around.

I'm just off to powder my bros

I’m just off to powder my bros

Lucky we did, because on the way back from the offie, we chanced upon a couple of organisers handing out sachets of coloured powder on the outskirts of the festival. Suddenly groups of youngsters were jumping up and down (House of Pain style) whilse one or more of them would spray the open powder packets over everybody’s heads. All you had to do was join the mosh pit of merriment to guarantee a good dose of colour for yourself!

Managing to get our own greasy hands on some sachets I and my housemates were able to fight fire red with cyan blue (and mix in a bit of bright yellow and green for good measure) as we covered all and sundry with a healthy dose of hues. We’d also, with surprising foresight, come heavily armed with waterpistols (two each, and I had a supersoaker-esque machine gun monster for serious battle credibility) which proved to be a big hit with (nearly) everyone at the festival – and a big annoyance for innocent passers-by. Thankfully there were enough similarly-armed folk to round off the day with an awesome water fight, Songkran-style.

Too young to die? Nah!

Too young to die? Nah!

Overall a very fun day out, even if its growing popularity meant some people went home with clean faces (there wasn’t nearly enough powder for all!). I’m looking forward to April 2014 already… although I’ve heard several rumours about a second edition this year during summer! In which case I’ll have to refill the supersoaker a little earlier than expected…

Just discovered that the event is organised by Casa Asia.

Skiing & Snowboarding in Barcelona

I hate skiing.

And whilst some of these reasons are deeply personal, there are some aspects of my hatred that I find hard to believe aren’t shared by others. For example:

1) It’s fucking cold. Who likes to be cold? No one sensible that’s who! That’s why we invented fire, central heating, duvets, tea and you know clothes and that. Don’t spit in the face of science and deliberately subject yourself to cold unnecessarily. That’s what I say.

2) There’s loads of stupid equipment. Those toe-crunchingly uncomfortable boots, ridiculous goggles, day-glo bomber jackets and shellsuit bottoms, those funny stick things plus the unwieldy skis themselves. As for snowboards even worse. They’re like the shackles of the notorious S21 prison. I don’t like sports with a lot of equipment. Makes everything a huge hassle, and makes everything expensive as hell. If a sport requires more than a ball and an open area to play then simply put, it’s a crap sport.

3) Drag lifts. Who in their right mind wants to be dragged up a mountain by a metal pole wedged between their legs??? Apparently this medieval form of torture though is popular with middle class English, Frence and Swiss folk who must get some kind of thrill from the possibility of being castrated at any moment, or of being unceremoniously tossed off a mountain when your skis hit an insidious patch of ice. The humiliation of being dragged 100 metres over snow-packed rocks on your arse, feet in the air, grimly hanging on to said metal pole for fear of your life in front of your fellow wintersportsmen is arguably worse than either.

Video: A week of this? No thanks!

Video: Or what about this painful episode gleefully captured by a fellow skier?

4). It’s dangerous. Any group of more than six people going skiing / snowboarding for a minimum of one week all but guarantees a hospital incident. From nearly having your brains bashed out by a rogue drag lift pole to smashing your fibulas to pieces on a tree trunk, when you decided to charge off the top of something very steep and slippery, with just some fibreglass planks to guide you, it’s no surprise that people get hurt. For beginners in particular a week’s skiing holiday is basically a sadistic physical and mental assault course, where one wrong move puts you in plastercast.

If you’re dumb enough to ignore all those reasons then mosey on over to Barcelona Life where they have a guide to ski resorts in the nearby Pyrenees, as well as weekend skiing trips to Andorra from Barcelona.

The nearest resort to BCN is El Moli and you can check out their website here.

Click here for more activities, tours and trips on Barcelona Freak!

Calcotada… Onions, Wine and Moonwalking

“What the Fr3k is a calcotada?” I hear you ask! Ah well let’s not run before we can walk: to answer that question first I’d better explain what a calcot is… It’s a slightly oddball Catalan onion that is harvested from November to April, looks like a leek and tastes a lot sweeter than those bitter round things you find in Gary Linekar flavoured crisps.

By way of extension then, a calcotada is a feast(/mission) in which calcots are the main dish. Typically they are grilled over an open fire until char-black, at which point you peel off the skin, dip the succulent bulb in some Romesco sauce (a tangy local specialty) and then, holding the veggie by its green leaves, dangle it into your mouth and munch off the edible bit.

Know your Catalan onions

I’ve been hanging around Barcelona for a couple of years now and calcotadas – which can take place any time during calcot season, but most commonly in February in March – seem to take one of two forms. One, an expensive, all-inclusive meal in a posh (faux-)rural restaurant; or two a big outdoors BBQ, either in a designated public place or simply round someone’s house. Both should take place somewhere in the Catalan countryside, outside Barcelona to be considered the real deal.

So far I’ve signed up for the latter option, ever since the Calcotada of 2011 took us to Sant Sadurni D’Anoia in the Penedes region and more specifically the winery of Cava Blancher. Here you can reserve a table for ten people for 17 euros or so, plus a minimum spend of 6 bottles of Cava a table. So another 30 euros. But you do get a great place to grill as many calcots and as much meat as you can carry so it’s not such a bad deal at all…

Textbook use of the porron

The last two years me and my amigos have enjoyed muchas merriment of the primero order and the fact that you can hire a porron from the winery definitely aids and abets the party vibe… these glass vessels make doing the “dentist’s chair” a piece of pie, and before you know it you’re be ordering another six bottles of Cava for your table and wondering why you can’t walk straight. (Hint: you might want to come back this way for a bit of wine tasting!)

As for the calcots themselves… whatever. Slightly overrated IMHO, but they’re just really an excuse for a winter/spring-time BBQ and a great outdoors party. If you want to make your own Calcotada a little more Fr3ky then I suggest throwing in a moonwalk competition and then heading off to the central square of Sant Sandurni D’Anoia to challenge the local kids at football… in which case try not to kill any passing old ladies!

Who's bad? Moonwalk 2012 winner...

Barcelona Boat Party

If I was a politically-minded blogger I’d probably be writing something about strikes, workers’ rights and Mariano Rajoy right now. But that stuff is kinda boring. And when you think that it’s possible in Spain to quit your job and still get paid 80% of your salary by the government for another couple of years, whilst you go swanning off adventuring in South East Asia (I know because more than one of my amigos has done it!) then you have to say, a little bit of reform here and there might be good for the country’s majorly troubled economy. Workers’ rights are nice, but if it means all the companies are ground into the, err, ground by having to pay off cr@p staff who already cost them a tonne in salaries and benefits, then who’s going to be left to employ the workers? It’s the whole chicken and the egg thing really isn’t it…

Well unlucky if you, poor unsuspecting tourist, has some how been caught up in a riot, or simply been a victim of non-existent public transport etc., but I’m writing a quick note to let you know about a little something this weekend that might cheer you up… the launch of the Barcelona booze cruise – ie. the best, and possibly the only regular, boat party in Barcelona!!! Setting sail from the modern marina that is the Port Olimpic, this soiree on the high seas will run every Sunday over summer (or possibly more often, I’m told, if the demand is there) and involves a three hour cruise on the Mediterranean underneath the setting sun, and an open bar offering guests unlimited free beer and sangria. And you won’t here anyone protesting about that! The tickets for the boat party are a fraction pricey at 40 euros, but that includes all of the above plus free nightclub entry to one of the swanky joints on the Port Olimpic, like CDLC, Shoko, Sotavento or Opium Mar Beach Club.

Sounds like summer 2012 is going to be another great one for lovers of nightlife and parties in Barcelona! No doubt I’ll be updating this blog with some more festival reviews (last year I dropped in on Sonar and Primavera Sound!), beach parties and random nights out!

Meanwhile, if it’s water sports that rock your boat (that pun is so bad I nearly deleted it… but since I had to read it back to myself you can suffer too) then check out this handy guide to sailing in Barcelona which features a list of yacht charter companies. Hire a boat and head down to Sitges why not!

Ok sea dogs… see you on Sunday hopefully! In the mean time try not to get hit by a rubber bullet.

Montserrat Day Out!

Right, happy new year to y’all out there. As you might have guessed one of my resolutions for 2012 isn’t to update this blog more often;) But tortoise-paced or otherwise it will blunder through another year of existence perhaps providing a rare moment of entertainment, or usefulness, en route…

The subject of my first post of the annum may as well be a rather pleasant day trip I made with a friend to Montserrat late last November. It had been on the radar for a while, but I was just waiting for a visitor to arrive with some vague cultural/outdoors interests – and as most of my friends are dissolute drunkards that took some time – so that I didn’t have to go on my Sweeney Todd.

Naturally being poor/tight/economical we elected to head to the sacred mountain by public transport – which was not as cheap as it should have been really! The rocks are only 38km out of Barcelona but you have to buy a special ticket which includes one of either a cable car or a windy train (cremallera) up from Montserrat train station to the abbey itself. When packaged together these suddenly become tourist priced! But there’s no way around it as far as I can see. Unless you fancy a very long trek up the mountain… but hiking’s not my game.

Anyway the good news is that it’s damn easy. Get your @ss to Placa Espanya train station, head over to the R5 line, and then there are two kiosks selling return tickets to Montserrat. One with the cable car, one with the windy train. We bought a ticket for the windy train, which also included a further two cable car journeys which you can make, once you’ve made the initial journey up the abbey. This cost about 23 euros. (There was a full monty ticket that also included museum entrance and lunch for about 36 euros).

The abbey of course is nice… it’s basically a big complex of which the most interesting building is the Basilica where you can – should you not mind queuing for ages – line up to see La Moreneta (Black Madonna). A famous religious icon amongst church-going Catholics. Naturally we skipped the icon and took one of the cable cars included in our ticket price down to the sacred cove – now a chapel – where La Moreneta was originally found (shepherds found it guided by a holy light of course). This was probably the highlight of the day out. The walk to the cove, after descending a little via cable car, was very scenic and marked by some impressive statues (commemorating the stations of the cross) and the holy chapel was very serene indeed… head out to the garden in the back.

I then convinced my friend that the small hiking trail we saw would lead us to some cool caves so off we set… however after about 20 minutes of some increasing dangerous trailing it was clear this was not an official path and the caves were nowhere to be seen. It was a nice jaunt, however that meant we missed the last cable car up to the very peak of the mountain… which I was a bit pissed off with myself about! However a bit of an incentive to go back at least.

Overall a great day trip and if you’re too lazy to go by public transport/train then there are tonnes of companies offering Montserrat tours leaving and returning to Barcelona.

Barcelona Wine Tasting

In case you didn’t realise, here in Barcelona, you’re in wine country… and this is definitely a country for old men. And young men too. And women. And children. Well maybe not children. Ok then just a glass for the nippers.

Catalonia is, if not world-famous, then still pretty damn famous as a wine growing region and second only to Rioja in Spain for the quality of vintages it produces. In fact wine-making (not to mention tasting) in these parts goes way back to Phoenician times, and they settled (don’t quote me on this) around 800BC in Spain – so the locals have had plenty of time to perfect the art. Having said that the export industry only really received a boost when some canny Catalan had the smart idea of taking a leisurely holiday to France, duly noting how the French perfected the art of Champagne making and put it into action just outside Barcelona. Hey presto the Spanish sparkling white wine, known as Cava, was born, and has acted as a cheap substitute to Champers ever since… particularly popular with suit-wearing ‘professionals’ in cheesy Late Night London venues in the UK.

Anyway today Catalonia, and particularly the Penedes region, are still busily engaged in harvesting, grape crushing and bottling etc and as well as Cava the region also produces great non-sparkling whites and some highly-regarded, oak-aged red wines. So where to taste these delicious fruits of Dionysus? Well the wineries of many famous Cava producers are dotted about in villages etc. within striking distance from Barcelona. The most famous brands are Freixenet and Codorniu, although you might actually have more fun exploring some of the lesser know vineyards. A typical thing to do in February/March is a Calcotada, which is basically a big BBQ of Catalan onions held at a winery. The idea is you book a table at 15-20 euros, which comes with several bottles of Cava, and then you take advantage of some grilling facilities to toast yourself up a boozy feast. Highly recommended! Anyway we did this at Cava Blancher, and whilst I’m no wine connoisseur the 12 bottles we had definitely did the job.

I digress. For would-be Bacchic revellers hoping to enjoy a day of wine tasting in and around Barcelona there are two basic options. One, choose a winery/vineyard and then work out how to get there by public transport (assuming that you don’t want to hire a car, as that would kind of spoil the fun). Not always that easy but the RENFE (Spanish rail) website is available in English, and if you’re prepared to do that I highly recommend you take a look at this excellent post by Catavino: Wineries you can visit by train from Barcelona.

A feeling of smug independence and a wallet heavy with money you didn’t waste on an all expenses paid guided tour are the pros. Getting there and finding the place is closed, or no one speaks English, is a potential con…

The other option is to splash out on a ‘no brainwork required’ wine tasting tour of which there are many offered by tour operators all over Barcelona. You pay for the privilege of course, but with transport to and from your hotel, and often quite a few welcome extras these are a guaranteed good day out for tourists who don’t want to gamble with their holiday time. They vary a lot in price, but one highly recommended by our friends at Barcelona Life takes you to both the Cordoniu wine cellars for a tour and a spot of tasting, before dropping you off at a ’boutique’ winery where you actually get a full on tasting session (think Sideways), tapas meal with the family owners and a real insight into a small production vineyard. Check out ‘Barcelona wine tasting tours‘ for more info!

If you can’t be bothered to leave the city then there are a couple of great little Xampanyerias in Barcelona itself, such as El Xampanyet and Can Paixano. These authentic little bars serve laughably cheap Cavas and snacks and are a great, if somewhat intense, experience. There’s a good article here on the five best Cava bars in BCN.

So there you have it. Go forth, get tasting and be merry…