Seeking Summer in Spain? Here are 8 things you don't want to leave off the itinerary.
Now that I have officially relocated to Prague, I have all sorts of daydreams about seeing more of Europe. Germany is but a four-hour train ride away. Italy -- less than an hour and a half by plane. And then there is Spain! My partner, who spent most of his life in Tuscany, has never been. As someone who has been to Barcelona three times, I can't get my head around this. Nevertheless, we are going. Soon.
Looking for inspiration, I called up my not-so-long-lost friend -- Yasmin Malhotra. She has been to Spain countless times and, unlike myself, has toured the country extensively. Here's what she said about Barcelona and beyond.
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Primavera Sound 2014 / May 28 - 31
This annual music festival pulls in some heavy hitters to perform at Barcelona's Parc Del Forum. Nine Inch Nails, Haim, Canada's own Chromeo and Arcade Fire, as well as some DJ hijinx will keep the party going late. The programme actually starts on Monday, May 26th so you can get your groove on all week long. I'm noting that a few of the Wednesday concerts are free.
And when the scene gets too crazy, Yasmin recommends 4 Cats Café (Carrer de Montsió, 3) for a wind-down. "This was Pablo Picasso favorite haunt in his teens, as well as the site of his first art exhibition."
To get far from the madding crowds, and for extraordinary city views of Barcelona, get yourself up Montjuic Mountain. "Such a hidden gem for those looking for a retreat, lush gardens, or tranquil natural surroundings. Laribal Gardens and Cactus Garden are two favorites."
What was a fortress in the 1700s is now a culture vulture's paradise. Museums, lush botanical gardens, and a cemetery containing 20th century luminaries -- all make for an interesting visit.
Once known as a rough and seedy barrio, El Raval has maintained its bohemian flavour and become a cultural hotspot. Standouts are the MACBA contemporary art museum and the Filmoteca art-house theater.
"I could share an endless list of reasons why El Raval is my number one spot in Spain, but the places dearest to me are La Central de Raval bookstore and Holala Plaza. The former fulfills my passion for academia, aesthetically pleasing architecture, and hip coffee shops. It was once a chapel, so it's not just an impressive collection of literary works, but truly a marvel to look at.
And, simply put, Holala Plaza is a goldmine for vintage shopping enthusiasts...funky furniture and clothing galore!"
The area is filled with bespoke boutiques and enough colourful cafes to keep curious travelers satiated both day and night. Speaking of which, it's worth noting that this 'hood is situated between two of Barcelona's famous food markets -- La Boqueria on Las Ramblas and Mercat Sant Antoni.
Casa de Madrid
Moving on to Madrid, and a boutique hotel that will charm your socks off.
Casa de Madrid is a converted 18th-century townhouse that is centrally located on one of the city's most unique avenues. Here guests are spoiled for choice as they can skip off to the old part of town, or stroll through the gorgeous gardens of nearby Campo del Moro. Or savour the fact that you scored one of the seven luxury rooms styled-out and inspired by the owner's trips to Japan, Persia and India. "Be sure to order a drink at The Club bar".
Madrid's most popular flea market focuses on antiques, but the real gem is the atmosphere. "It's a bit like a carnival, and similar to Las Ramblas in Barcelona, but in my experience it's less congested with tourists. Thus far more enjoyable." Find it along Plaza de Cascorro and Ribera de Curtidores, between Calle Embajadores and the Ronda de Toledo. Open for business every Sunday and public holiday.
Parque del Retiro
Marble monuments and expansive lawns make Madrid's version of Central Park a special place to take a time-out. If you've got a thing for gardens, this serene park is not to be missed.
"Have lunch at La Gallette -- a cool, elegant spot with artsy decor and an intimate vibe. Try the Pear and Goat Cheese Ravioli and any of their tasty desserts. Best part: their daytime special is just 11 euros for an appetizer, entree, dessert and beverage!"
Las Alpujarras Mountains
Over to the province of Granada and the region of mountain villages known as Las Alpujarras. Imagine deep, sheltered valleys and gorges running towards the Mediterranean. "This is some of the most spectacular hiking you can do in Europe."
Not feeling fit? Plan to stroll through one or two of the hamlets that dot the Poqueira Valley. The most picturesque villages are (from top to bottom of the valley) Capileira, Bubión and Pampaneira, which bustles at the bottom with craft shops and restaurants.
The Cathedral of Burgos
In northern Spain, the capital of Castile awaits for medieval history lovers. The foundation Cathedral was laid in 1221, and made even more glorious over the 15th, 16th and 18th centuries. It is the city's crown jewel and also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Get inspired and listen to summer jams -by some of the artists who will be at Primavera Sound 2014 -- on Yasmin's Spotify playlist.
Air Canada Rouge is offering Summer deals to many European destinations so check AirCanada.com for details. For deals on air, rail and trains, check out GoEuro.com.
Photo credits: Primavera Sound, 4 Cats, MACBA, Casa de Madrid, Tourism Spain and Photopin.com. Parque del Retiro by Jean Luc Renaut, courtesy of photopin.com. Town in the Alpjarras Mountains by Lopezia Sorokin via photopin.com.