Picasso, Dalí, Miro, Gaudí. These are the artists of Spain, but there is also the art of Spain itself. Its vibrant cities, its intriguing past, its music, dance, and, of course, its cuisine. We had a taste of it all, and left wanting more after a two-city tour of Barcelona and Madrid.
Barcelona To Start
For more than 2,000 years Barcelona has perched beside the sea, becoming a melting pot for a diverse range of cultures. The city was founded in the first century B.C. by the Romans in what is now called the Gothic Quarter. We joined the Barcelona Walking Tour Gòtic, one of several available through Turisme de Barcelona for a two-hour excursion that took us past Roman walls and columns, medieval and renaissance churches and even a royal palace.
The day before we had taken the Barcelona Walking Tours Gourmet tour and enjoyed all the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of traditional bakeries and patisseries, grocers, coffee shops and the colourful Mercat de La Boqueria, where Barcelona restaurants buy their foodstuffs.
Barcelona Walking Tours are fully narrated with a wireless communication system and are available in English, Catalan and Spanish. Besides Gòtic and Gourmet, tour themes included Marina, Picasso, Modernisme and three different shopping excursions.
Touring around Barcelona you can’t help but notice the fanciful architecture of some of the buildings. This is the work of Antoni Gaudí. There are 14 works of Gaudí in the city ranging from his early work, like the streetlamps of the Placa Reial to his final, as yet unfinished, masterpiece the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. Two sites popular with visitors are the Basilica and The Park Güell where there is not one straight line.
Barcelona is also the home of the Museu Picasso, housing key works in all media donated by Picasso himself, as well has his long-time secretary.
And no trip to Barcelona would be complete without a stroll down La Rambla, a long, pedestrian-only boulevard that is part street theatre, and all activity. La Rambla ends at Barcelona’s waterfront with its beaches, parks, museums and restaurants.
Barcelona As A Base
From Barcelona we headed out on a daytrip to the Vilafranca del Penedés and tours and tastings at two wineries. First stop was Cavas Codorniu and its endless underground cellars. The tour was aboard a mini-train and a tasting was included. Next up was the Torres family winery. Again, we boarded a small train for the cellar tour, then enjoyed a presentation on the family, and of course, samples.
That afternoon we headed to Montserrat and the Benedictine monastery that was founded in 1025. A scenic tram-ride took us to the top of the massive rock and spectacular views of the countryside. The Museum houses in impressive collection of art through the ages, ranging from early works by Caravaggio and El Greco to modern pieces by Renoir, Degas and Picasso. But the draw for thousands of visitors is La Moreneta, a 12th-century carving said to have been found in the Holy Grotto.
The next day saw us back in the car and heading to Figueres and the Dalí Teatre-Museu. On the site of the Municipal Theatre of Figueres, the museum itself is the world’s largest surrealist object and houses a broad range of works that span his career, from his earliest experiences to the works of the last years of his life.
From Figueres, we headed to the coast and lunch at the ancient fishing village of Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava. Now a lively beach town, Tossa de Mar boasts Roman and medieval ruins. The Vila Vella dates from medieval times, while Els Ametllers is a noteworthy Roman villa. Tossa Museum boasts a collection of modern paintings including Marc Chagall’s The Celestial Violinist, and the Mediterranean Lighthouse Interpretation centre takes visitors into the world of the lighthouse keeper.
On To Madrid
Our trip took us from Barcelona to Madrid, via high-speed train in a little over two hours. While Barcelona’s beginnings were Roman, Madrid traces its start to Moorish Spain, and the 9th century arrival of Mohammed I, the fifth Omayyad Emir of Cordoba. Through the centuries kings and queens have ruled the city including the royal house of Habsburg and Bourbon.
Our visit began at the Prado, an art gallery with vast collections that include masterpieces by Goya, Valázquez, Murillo, Ribera and Zurbarán, along with works by Flemish and Italian artists.
Next day we started with a tour of the Royal palace. On the inside, the stairway, Throne Room, Hall of Columns, Royal Chapel, and tapestries and paintings are a highlight. Outside, the Plaza de la Armeria (Armoury Square), the Campo del Moro Gardens and the changing of the guard at the main gate are all worthy sights.
The town of Alcalá de Henares, just outside Madrid, is a World Heritage Site, the site of the first university in Spain (established in 1508) and birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote). It is also a beautifully preserved Renaissance university city. Highlights include touring the university buildings, and the House-Museum where Cervantes was born.
Back in Madrid, we headed to a Casa Patas, a tablao or flamenco club for an evening of traditional food and traditional dance.
Our stay in Madrid ended with a wander through Madride de los Austrias ( a reference to the Hapsburg royal dynasty), the historic old town and one of the city’s most famous areas. Highlights include the impressive Plaza Mayor, the centre of the city for 400 years. Completely enclosed, the square has been the site of public executions, bull fights, theatre, festivals and even royal coronations.
Another Hapsburg legacy is beautiful Retiro Park, with its huge lake, Crystal Palace, and lovely gardens.
For more information on Spain, visit www.spain.info/ca. For more information on Barcelona, visit www.barceonaturisme.com and for more information on Madrid, visit www.turismomadrid.es.