La Merce 2014

As summer draws to a close here in Barcelona, as kids return to school and the holidays come to an end, the city prepares to celebrate its annual festival, La Merce.

This year locals and visitors alike will be able to partake of over 600 free outdoor activities (weather permitting!). La Merce starts today and will continue over the weekend, right through to Tuesday when the firework takes place marking the actual day of the Mercè, co-patron of Barcelona. This year also sees the celebration of a 1714-2014 tricentenary.

The legend behind La Merce is not widely known, but goes as follows: legend states that on September the 24th, 1218, the Virgin appeared to King James I (known as Jaume I here) and his knights Pere Nolasc and Ramon de Penyafort and asked them to found a religious order to rescue the Christians imprisoned by the Saracens. However, it was not until 1687, when the city suffered a plague of locusts that the date acquired significance, when the Consell de Cent (city and regional council) instructed the Virgen de la Mercè to swing into action and save the day, but it was not until almost two centuries to that in 1868, that the pope ratified the decision to make the Virgen de La Merce a saint, and it was not until 1902 that the day became an official festival.

La Mercè 2014 will have two main stages. One will be at the Moll de la Fusta in the Port vell, as always. For the first time, a stage next to the sea will be used, at Bogatell beach. Montjuïc Castle, will be used for circus performances, and the Ciutadella Park will host the Mercè Street Arts (MAC).

In total, more than ten thousand people star in the Mercè this year, and the guest city this year is Stockholm, where Catalan artists were participating in the Festival of Culture last month, and it is now the turn of Swedish artists to come to Barcelona and perform.

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Sun, Sea and Ski in Barcelona

Barcelona, sun, sea, tapas, design, fashion, football. And skiing. Well not yet, but hopefully you will be able to soon. Barcelona’s claim to be a city with everything will soon be bolstered by the arrival of an indoor ski slope. Dutch firm SnowWorld has announced a plan to build a 300 metre indoor ski slope in Barcelona’s Zona Franca within a sports complex dedicated to winter sports.

Winter sports are of course already possible in Barcelona thanks to the proximity of the Pyrenees and Andorra, which can be reached in no more than a couple of hours by car. Up until now however there have never been any winter sports facilities in the city. The proposal has received full support from the Catalan Federation of Winter Sports.

While the initiative has not yet been given the green light from the city council due to issues surrounding the redefinition of the current land use, it seems highly unlikely that it will be refused as it will stimulate an area that badly needs investment and job creation. The key stumbling block in the proposal is that there is a Food Bank on the proposed site which feeds some 150,000 people. However, Sander Laudy, spokesman for SnowWorld, has stated that the company is willing to give a space in their facilities for the Food Bank to continue operating from.

So watch this space, and who knows, next year you can pack your skis when you come to Barcelona.

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Craft Beer in Barcelona

Spain has not traditionally been a big beer producing country. Beers such as San Miguel and Estrella Damm tend to be cheap and strong; Spain has always been more of a wine producing country.

However the recent global hipster craze for craft beer is changing things and Catalunya seems to be leading the way, as the number of local craft breweries and craft beer drinkers steadily increases.

Since 2008 the number of craft beer brands and microbreweries based in Catalonia has rocketed from about 10 to almost 200. Jordi Expósito and Joan Villar, the authors of Guia de Cerveses de Catalunya 2013, a guide to Catalonian beers attribute this increased interest to the Catalan passion for cooking and long tradition of producing wine and other alcoholic spirits. They also point to global recession which has hit Catalunya hard and encouraged many to broaden their horizons and look for new ways to make a living. Beers made in Barcelona and Catalunya feature a distinctly local flavour using indigenous ingredients such as citrus fruits, peppers, figs and even mushrooms.

Barcelona’s craft beer craze has also led to the creation of Barcelona’s own international beer festival, the Barcelona Beer Festival. This year over 10,000 visitors enjoyed 300 different beers from 150 international producers, of which 55 were from Catalonia.

This is a recent trend that has sprung up in the last few years. The first true craft beers in Catalonia were made in 1996 by La Cervesera Artesana, a brewpub in Barcelona’s Gràcia neighbourhood. Since then the number of similar establishments has increased dramatically. Here are our favourite picks.

La Cervesera Artesana

This is a large pub with a slightly English feel, where you can see the production area through a glass wall. Brewing under the name Iberian, the pub serves seven delicious beers made on the premises, often with eccentric local ingredients such as Catalan mushrooms.

La Resistència

La Resistència belongs to the owners of Rosses i Torrades craft beer shop. An enormous space where you can enjoy some of the finest international beers. Kegs are rotated every week so variety is not an issue. Of course, this is Spain, so there are tapas on offer as well!
Reptilian

Another microbrewery combined with a pub, Reptilian produces many an interesting craft beer, including Thymus, a medium-bodied white beer made with organic spelt and enhanced with thyme and other spices. Also of interest is a Garnatxa Beer, an ale cuvée incorporating the grenache grape (garnatxa in Catalan), which gives it some delightful fruity notes.

La Cervecita

A trip to Barcelona is not complete without visiting the beach. Once you have had a swim and are feeling in need of refreshment, head over to La Cervecita. It’s very close to the Selva de Mar beach, and it has five taps on the bar, as well as plenty of bottles of Catalan and imported beers you can take away with you.

La Cerveteca

A great place to quaff a few local and international beers. Located behind the Post Office building in the Barrio Gótico (close to where Picasso grew up), La Cerveteca offers close to a hundred different beers from around the world, many of which are on draft. From these, 14 are Catalan craft beers, including popular contemporary classics such as Birra 08, Guineu, Ales Agullons, Almogàvers and Garnatxa. Again, mouth watering tapas can be combined with the beers at La Cerveteca.

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Tomatina 2014

This week some 22,000 people and some 140 tonnes of tomatoes came head to head at the Tomatina in Buñol. The Tomatina festival is now famous worldwide, and people travel to this small village 30km from the Mediterranean to take part in the tomato-chucking mayhem.

La Tomatina 2014 started at 10.58 hours on the 28th of August. First comes the smell, then shouts and the shrill honking of incoming trucks loaded with tomatoes. Within but a few minutes, the cobbled street is transformed into a thick red carpet and a collective madness.

Said to have begun with a minor scuffle after part of the local carnival went wrong, the festival, lost some of its innocence and become a global event with increasing safety issues for the participants, and increasing commercial exploitation of the event.

This lead to a legal reduction in capacity by more than half (in 2012 more than 45,000 people, attended) Changes brought by the City Council have resulted in the limitation of crowds in attendance, signage and access, and have this brought the event under control. Some say however that in doing so, the original spirit of fun and spontaneity has been lost.

Certainly, the carnival aspect is less visible. There are fewer costumes on display and traditional headgear such as watermelon helmets or straw hats are conspicuous in their absence, it is now more common instead to see mobile video micro cameras with watertight covers and.

One thing that has not changed however is the hospitality of the people of Buñol, who open their doors during the festival today as they have done always.

Perhaps the only figure that remains unchanged is that of the tomatoes, no less than 140,000 kilos, all gone splat in the space of just an hour!

The village of Buñol can be reached by train from Plaça Catalunya in Barcelona in 4 hours and 45 minutes.

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Cultural Events in Barcelona this weekend

This weekend, the last August, also sees the end of many cultural events that have delighted the city this month. The Mas i Mas Festival sadly comes to an end, with a closing concert by the new international folk-soul sensation Aloe Blacc today at the Palau de la Musica.

Over this weekend there are still dozens of performances happening however, with a line-up including home-grown talent The Sweet Vandals. This is the third consecutive summer that Barcelona’s modernist gems have been made more accessible to its citizens, with half price discounts at until September 15th. This year the Bellesguard House and Leon Morera House have been added to the initiative.

Night time is another opportunity for some great events in the city. Summer nights are the perfect setting for dining outdoors and see the city from a new perspective. The Fabra Observatory offers you the chance to see the stars at a marvellous outdoor dinner dining experience that should make a great romantic date.

The Egyptian Museum of Barcelona also opens its doors when the sun sets. You can explore ancient Egypt through guided tours at night, and even sample some products that were part of the Egyptian diet!

Plenty to see and do! But do not fear, though August is coming to a close the Autumn promises many new exciting cultural events in the city.

Posted in Activities - Summer, Areas - The Eixample, Art in Barcelona, Barcelona Gastronomy, Barcelona nightlife, Barcelona Walking Tours, Barcelona's Museums, Gaudi architecture | Leave a comment

The 5 best parks offering shade in Barcelona

University Central

The University Central Garden is a fine emergency shelter when it gets hot in the downtown. This is a green island in the middle of an urban area where the Ciutat Vella and Eixample meet. The garden of the University was created with the dual purpose of being an educational garden, showing more rare botanical species, as well as a place of recreation and rest.
A walk through this interior courtyard garden provides tremendous relaxation. Out on the busy street it may be over 30 degrees, but the trees create the ambience of cool, calm and quiet.

Monterols
If you are caught out in the heat up in Sant Gervasi, one of the best options is to enter Monterols Park, where you can cool off under the shade of pine trees, the tops of which form giant parasols.

This park is simple and very well maintained, and is situated on top of an old estate owned by the Gil family. Its circular path, and small corner squares hidden amidst lush greenery offer all shades of green, amongst which you can spot rosemary and lavender, and oaks and pines. This is a fantastic spot for reading, chatting, and being alone in the middle of the city.

Laribal

A walk through the gardens of Laribal offers a new panorama over the city at every turn of its meandering path, which begins its descent near the Miro Museum on Montjuic. The gardens were designed by a man called Forestier for the 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona. The gardens are heavily landscaped as they are built on a steep hill. Explore pergolas (beautifully restored), small ceramic benches, areas for rest and a monumental gazebo created from cypress tree turned into sculpture, a perfect shady spot. Within the park lies the famous Font del Gat restaurant serving delicious Catalan cuisine. The terrace affords magnificent views over the city.

The Old Botanic Garden

Since the Botanic Gardens were built on top of Montjuic in 1999, the much smaller old Botanic Garden has been rather overshadowed. Tucked away behind the Palace of Montjuïc, the old Botanical Garden lies within an old quarry, which naturally means it is very shady.

The garden was created in the 1930s by Pius Font Quer. It is accessed via a path that culminates at the bottom of the former quarry pit, lined with trees and shrubs first cultivated in the 1930s. The garden contains the tallest trees in the capital, as well as a small stream that trickles peacefully and creates a sense of calm and escape from the city.

Pedralbes

The gardens of the Palau de Pedralbes are a wonderful place to visit on the heat of summer, or at any time of year. Nicolau Maria Rubio i Tudurí designed the gardens, transforming an existing garden belonging to the Güell family (of Park Guell fame) for the 1929 exhibition, in honour of the Spanish monarchy.

His landscaping combines formal open spaces with thickets of cedars and bamboos. The uneven ground was overcome by creating a fountain and transforming the old avenue of limes with a carpet of ivy, one of the most beautiful parts of the garden.

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Autumn Art

The summer sun is still here in Barcelona but our minds are starting to turn towards autumn and hopefully some respite from the heat! This autumn Barcelona will be hosting some interesting exhibitions and cultural happenings, just in time for the end of summer.
An exhibition on Barcelona during the First World War, an exhibition dedicated to Carles Casagemas and another by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei are just some of the highlights.

From the 24th of October until February 2015, the Joan Miró Foundation will be exhibiting “Barcelona, neutral zone (1914-1918),” which will be about Barcelona during the First World War as depicted in formats such as: art, photography, illustrations, magazines, postcards, advertising, cards and film.
Also in October, “On the Table” will open at the Palace of La Vicereine, a comprehensive retrospective designed by Ai Weiwei that will reveal his artistic career, from his beginnings in New York of the 1980s to today.

The National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC) opens an exhibition on Carles Casagemas in late October. Casagemas was a close friend of Picasso who committed suicide in 1901 in Paris, very beginning of the twentieth century and has never been presented in a museum monograph friend.

The goal of the exhibition is to simply exhibit the work of Casagemas and Picasso together and confirm the place of both artists together in history.
Also on the theme of Picasso and his acquaintances, from October the 2nd, the Picasso Museum will be displaying a set of photographs s the second sample photographs donated to the centre by the international photographer David Douglas Duncan, another close friend of Pablo Picasso.

More traditional work is on display at the CaixaForum, which is hosting an exhibition of the “Treasures of the Prado” until the 5th of January next year. Old masters such as Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, Rubens, Titian and Hieronymus Bosch that are usually only seen in Madrid will be on display at the foot of Montjuic.

At the MACBA in October the work of Italian artist Carol Rama will be on display. His career spanned over seven decades (1936-2006).
From November the CCCB present “Piso Piloto” which explores the parallels between town planning in the Colombian city of Medellin and Barcelona, cities of comparable size, with a long relationship of mutual collaboration.

The CCCB proposes the audiovisual installation “Under Siege”, in the framework of the commemoration of the tercentenary of the Bourbon troop’s siege of Barcelona during the War of Spanish Succession, and reflects upon the contemporary aspects of the besieged cities.

Something for everyone is on offer in this diverse and fascinating set of exhibitions. Do not forget to check out the permanent collections of Barcelona’s museums as well, as the artistic and cultural offering here is superb.

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Running tours of Barcelona

Exercise is a great way to relax and a novel new way to see Barcelona has just been launched in the form of running tours. These guided running tours are in many ways like the traditional walking tours, stops are made along the way as you pass by important cultural sites, which a guide then explains, and, including stops, tells the story of the city while he was running from one place to another. Though in the case of the running tours, the guides explain the culture, architecture and the social atmosphere of the places while on the go as well.

Joan Brull of 360 Running Barcelona says “we are passionate about running and also our city. What we do is mix both to show the city while running”. Brull says the idea came about jointly with Jaume Pedregosa, another of the founders of the organization, together they had always enjoyed “running throughout the city, relaxing and losing ourselves”.

The tours are aimed at tourists who want to see the city in a different way and to take part in some sporting activity while on vacation. It is not important to be a professional runner, 360 Running emphasise that the routes are always adapted to the level of the participants so that everyone can keep up with the tour.

The team of 360 Running Barcelona offers tour routes ranging from coast to mountains – along the beach or in Collserola National Park at the back of the city, as well as routes crossing the Old Town, the Eixample and Passeig de Gracia and the Gothic Quarter.

Besides passing main attractions such as the Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas or the Palau de la Musica Music, other less known but interesting areas, such as Sant Pere are included. The tours usually take place early or late in the day and can be from 5km to 25 km long depending on the participant’s wishes.

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Festas de Gràcia 2014

Every August Gràcia hosts Barcelona’s biggest street party, La Festa Major de Gràcia. This summer the Festa takes take place from the 15th to the 21st of August, and is set to be a bigger party than ever before. Plaça de les Dones has been added to the Festa, and Providència Street will once again be a part of the proceedings as also. decked in its editing and more preventive security measures spaces.

Traditionally this has been very much a neighbourhood party for the residents of Gràcia. However, the president of the Festa Major de Gràcia Foundation, Carla Carbonell, announced at a press conference on Monday that more and more tourists are attending the Festas each year, and so the this year leaflets will be distributed in Catalan and English in Gràcia explaining the values of the Festa. Locals rightly fear that otherwise tourism will takeover their party and alter its identity.

New safety measures are being introduced this year due to this greater interest from tourists, and ensure the safety of all. This is a multi generational party with small children and great grandparents taking part, a true Spanish family affair.

Gràcia district councilor, Maite Fandos, has explained that to minimize the effect of the large number of people at the party a one-way street system will be implemented in seven of the busiest streets in order to prevent overcrowding. First aid teams will be on hand during the festival as well as marshals whose job it will be to provide advance warning of ‘correfocs’ (street level firework displays) to those with sensitive hearing. This year there will also be noise level restrictions for the first time, aimed at the 100 live music performances taking place.

Technology is being incorporated into the Festa for the first time. A downloadable Festa de Gràcia App is being developed. This interacts with Google maps where events are plotted, and allows users to set reminders for any performances or events they do not wish to miss, and then to navigate their way there. As well as the App, this year QR codes will be placed streets and squares, allowing party-goers to access information and the program of events via their phone.

Enjoy the Festas de Gràcia!

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Kitesurfing in Castelldefels

Castelldefels, for those who have not visited, is a charming seaside town no more than 20 minutes train ride to the south of Barcelona. Castelldefels boasts an expansive and beautiful sandy beach, and it is here that Barcelona’s first dedicated kite surfing area has just been created. The sport is popular in Spain, where year round sunshine and safe waters make for perfect kitesurfing conditions.

However kitesurfing is banned in many areas for safety reasons, including along the shores of Barcelona. The sport consists of strapping ones feet to a board, much like surf or windsurf board, which is attached to a large kite that pulls the board along at great speed. Obviously this can be very dangerous in area where there are bathers in the water, or even where other water sports are taking place.

The area for kitesurfing in Castelldefels is found at La Pineda beach, where there is a newly opened office from where kite-surfing is tightly managed. If you want to kite-surf at La Pineda, first you will need to go to the office and obtain a permit as well as a special coloured lifejacket to ensure your safety by making you highly visible to life guards as well as other people on the water.

Kitesurfing at Castelldefels is only permitted in the afternoon from Monday to Friday and not at the weekend, and only when conditions are suitable – i.e. when there is a wind speed greater than 15 knots.

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