Catalonia with the kids

We ran away as fast as we could.  We needed to be warm.  We needed some sun.  The temperatures had gotten warmer in Norway, but not warm enough to don a swimming suit without worrying about hypothermia.  For a variety of reasons, a trip we’d been planning to Stockholm did not materialize.  And who were we kidding?  Leaving Scandinavia for some sun and warmer temperatures was clearly the better idea.   We would visit Spain.  More specifically, we would visit Catalonia in Northeastern Spain.  The plan was simple.   We wanted beach time, great food, and to see a few historic sites.  I read blogs, talked to friends, researched, planned, booked, and RSVPd.

I flew into Barcelona with my two little kids, ages 6 and 8, and my two older kids, ages 19 and 21.   We had endured a 5 hour delay at Gatwick and arrived later than anticipated. Tired and hungry, we gratefully drove off in our manual drive rental car, not caring the backseat was a bit too crowded for two little kids and a big brother.  We flew up the coast along E15; even the multitude of toll stations would not detour us.

Tossa De Mar

Even at 1030pm, Tossa de Mar was a site to behold.  The restaurants and street lamps were aglow.  The Tossa de Mar Castle was illuminated. This ancient fishing village seemed small and quiet, yet it was lively.  People were out walking and eating as we drove along the harbor drive to our hotel.

I’d booked three nights at Premier Gran Hotel Reymar & Spa.  The rooms are well appointed and comfortable with balconies, lots of towels, and extra blankets.  The staff is extremely helpful and friendly.  The lobby is spacious and welcoming.  The bar is well stocked.  Unfortunately, we arrived just after the kitchen had closed for the evening.  Before any tears of exhaustion and defeat were shed, our car was valeted and our bags delivered to our rooms.  Off we went to Da Giovanni (Carrer Sant Ramon de Penyafort, 13) for some pizzas and patatas bravas.  All was again right in the world.

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Our first morning was gorgeous.  It completely justified my choice of accommodation and the desire to drive from Barcelona to Coast Brava.  The Reymar restaurant patio overlooks the Castillo de Tossa de Mar, the rocky beach, and the harbor filled with boats.  We dined on donuts, fruit, meats and cheeses, granola and yogurt, coffee, pastries, bacon, eggs, toast, and tortilla de patatas (Spanish omlette) with the warm, Spanish sun on our skin.  It was spectacular and all very delicious.

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The view inspired the kids to walk to the castle before we hit the pool.  Castillo de Tossa de Mar is a short walk along the harbor street and up the Passeig de vila vellato to the castle ruins, moorish tower, and lighthouse.  On our descent, we took a detour and walked along the medieval city walls.  We eventually found ourselves back in town meandering through touristy gift shops and past cafés and restaurants.

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The Reymar pool is not big, yet it is quite adequate.  There were many other families.  My little kids were thrilled. Conveniently, there is also a shop nearby for pool floats, goggles, sun lotion, and flippers.  We spent 6 hours at the pool the first day.  There is a hot tub and ample deck seating.   Reymar even has a kids play yard and basketball and tennis courts.  It was wonderful to relax poolside and order snacks and drinks from the bar.

That evening we dined on the terrace at Marítim.  What a treat. We tried a variety of things at the suggestion of the host – carpaccio, salmonete (fish from their boat), steamed mussels, mountain rice, and some fried yumminess.

Our second morning, we drove 45 minutes to Girona.  We strolled across Pont de Sant Feliu, through the cobblestone streets, and up the 90 step staircase to the gothic Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona.  It was gorgeous, impressive, and worth the trip. We finished our short time in Girona walking along the Passeig de la Muralla and then grabbing some tuna fish sandwiches (hadn’t had one in years) and frappes at Cafè l’arc.

Back in Tossa, we played at the pool till it was covered in shade.  In an effort to stretch our water time, we followed the sun to the nearby beach Platja de la Mar Menuda.  It’s rocky but has a really cool little cove.  The kids relaxed on their pool floats, waded, threw rocks in the water, and even did some rock climbing.

Around 8pm, we walked along Passeig de Mar past Casa Sans and saw arcade lights.  I was intrigued.  Our final meal was at El Xiringuito (Passeig del Mar, 35).  We quickly realized we’d chosen well.  The tapas are incredible.  Our table on the patio faced the beach and Castillo de Tossa de Mar.  Me and my kids laughing and sharing a meal near the beach in Spain.  This is why we came.

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Barcelona

For our final day in Spain, we returned to Barcelona to see La Sagrada Família, eat paella, hang out on a rooftop terrace, do some shopping, and eat more tapas.

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It all went as planned, EXCEPT we slept in, took too long eating brunch, didn’t drive fast enough down the coast on E15 from Tossa to Barcelona, got hung up at several toll stations, and could not find a parking garage near La Sagrada Família.   Once we finally parked, we ran to the entrance.  30 minutes late.  I’d read the blogs.  I knew if we didn’t arrive during our prescribed entrance window they would send us away, and they did.  It was still extremely disappointing.  Simce we were there, we spent sometime just looking at La Sagrada Família.  The outside of the building is strange, dramatic, and mesmerizing.  Someday.  I will go inside.

I dried my tears and pressed on with our schedule.  Off to the beach from some paella!  Xiringuito Escribà is a quirky, bright, beachfront restaurant.  I’d made reservations for 1300 (right when they open) and sat near the breezy window people watching as our paellas and mussels were prepared.

We had two rooms at a funky hotel, Casa Bonay. Comforting details, warm colors, friendly faces, and great coffee. The location can’t be beat.  Situated on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes in Eixample Dreta, it is within walking distance of Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla, and Mercade de La Boquería. My favorite thing about Casa Bonay is its rooftop terrace.  I could spend days lounging up there (and ordering food from Libertine).

I had reserved a table at the famed tapas restaurant Cal Pep.  After squeezing by hopeful diners in the bar area, we were taken to our table in a tiny back room with 5 other parties. We were served a variety of dishes – each delicious and beautifully presented. It was an experience to be sure.

The location even gave us a chance to walk through the park to Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona on our way back to our hotel.  An unplanned treat.

We spent our last morning in Spain relaxing on Casa Bonay’s sunny rooftop terrace with treats from Satan’s Coffee Corner.  It had been the relaxing, sun-drenched trip I’d hoped for.  Thank you, Catalonia.

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Lessons learned: We could have used three or four days in Tossa De Mar instead of just two.  Tossa is the perfect hub for short excursions to Girona and other points of interest.  An extra day would have allowed us to visit the Municipal Museum, Roman villas, Sa Riera Park, and the Cadiretes massif reserve.  More time in Girona to see the Dalí museum would have been nice too.  

I should have arrived AT LEAST one hour prior to my La Sagrada Família tour start time.  Things happen.  I know this.  I’ve requested a refund for my missed tour and I will return to Barcelona again someday to tour the tower on the Nativity facade.  

While our dinner at Cal Pep was good, it was expensive (€200+ for the 5 of us) and not necessarily better than the tapas we’d eaten in Tossa at El Xiringuito the night before.   I wish I had returned to Casa Bonay and eaten at Elephant, Crocodile, Monkey (or at one of the many other restaurants in Eixample Dreta) instead.

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