Writing this now in December, as my trip to Barcelona is cancelled for Christmas, it seems incredible that I was able to be in Barcelona back in July. And while Covid-19 was very much rampant in the summer, there was a small glimmer of hope for a few weeks in June and July in Barcelona. Case numbers had dropped since May and plateaued at a relatively low rate. The UK was also not too far behind, so Victor and I decided to take the opportunity to travel to Barcelona to visit Victor’s parents for two weeks. And what a glorious two weeks it was. Of course, all hell broke loose pretty much from the moment we left Barcelona as cases in Spain began to rise again. But for those two weeks, time seemed to stand still in pure bliss.
And so, I hopped on a plane for the first time in five months.
The whole experience was actually not as bad as I had prepared myself for it to be. We landed in Barcelona, safe and sound, and spent the rest of the day walking around the city. The next day we packed up our beach bags and headed to Calafell for a week of true summer vacation.
The Town of Calafell
The small village of Calafell is located along the Costa Daurada, the “Golden Coast”, in the province of Tarragona in Catalunya. It relies heavily on tourism, both domestic and international visitors. Calafell is only an hour drive south from Barcelona, so many Barcelona residents have a second home in this town or somewhere along the coast. Victor’s parents have had an apartment there for more than a decade, but they still enjoy visiting during the summer months as a way of escaping the chaotic city life.
Calafell is not particularly exciting, however, it’s exactly what I needed to relax and unwind. The apartment is in a great location, just minutes from the beachfront. I always enjoy walking down the boardwalk at dusk as the restaurants start to come alive. We also always stop for some gelato or orxata at La Valenciana.
Speaking of restaurants, it was here in Calafell that I went to my first restaurant since lockdown. On our first night, we found a nice terrace with tables spread out at El Veler de Calafell. It’s a typical Spanish restaurant, sure, but it has a Cuban flare because one of the owners originally came from Cuba. It’s great because you get all the traditional Spanish dishes, but also some fun Cuban ones through into the mix. We started with sardines and baby squid croquettes.
We also had puntillas, “lace”, which are lacey-like battered squid, and battered salted cod, and finally a Cuban tapa that translates to “stuffed potatoes with old clothes”. Everything was delicious, yes, but we also felt incredibly safe in the crazy Covid world. Everyone’s comfort was the number one priority and I’m just so incredibly happy that we got to go out to eat.
On another evening we went out for an even more special meal at Vell Papiol. This traditional seafood restaurant originally opened in 1997 and has been serving customers ever since. They only use local seafood so whatever is available in the sea is what you can guess is available on the menu.
We were served three courses. I chose squid with wild mushrooms and then rice with scallops. I should mention that they are quite famous for their seafood rice dishes, but both of my dishes were exquisite.
As a result of Covid, the restaurant opened up its inner patio which was perfect for us. I am still not quite so comfortable eating indoors as of yet! For dessert, I had black hazelnut mousse which was just divine. The texture, the flavour, the sweet bread served with it… I was truly impressed!
Alright, enough about the town and eating. We came to Calafell for the beach! The coast is called the Golden Coast because of its long, wide stretches of beaches. It’s great because you can find a spot all on your own very easily, so heading to the beach was another perfect way of being Covid-safe.
I love doing my little dance of warming up on the sand and then jumping into the water and going back and forth again. I brought my kindle along to enjoy some reading on the beach, a favourite activity of mine (if only I had more opportunities to do so). This time around I was reading The Overstory by Richard Powers. It’s an eco-fiction novel, structured as different stories about how five trees and nine Americans are brought together to address the destruction of forests. It’s a great read!
Back to Barcelona
Our beach vacation soon came to an end and it was back to Barcelona for another week. The city was quite different because you could really see and feel the Covid impact. Just as we landed in Spain, it became mandatory to wear face masks at all times when in public places (so yes, while walking around as well) unless you’re eating or drinking. While a bit of a pain because wearing a mask to blistering summer is quite difficult, we managed to make it through by having gelato pretty much every day. My favourite gelato place in Barcelona is OGGI — seriously, you have to try it!
In the middle of the day, we stayed in the apartment to stay cool. We enjoyed the long, hot afternoons by cranking up the air conditioning and watching film noir movies. And then, in the evening we ventured back out again for a walk.
Of course one of the goods things of travel at this time is the lack of tourists. I got to revisit so many of my favourites sites without the crazy crowds that normally plague Barcelona in the summer.
And even though wearing a mask in the Barcelona summer heat is not ideal, the beauty of the city still distracted us. It felt so good to walk down La Rambla again. It’s amazing how quickly I realise how much I miss this city.
A Day Trip to Montseny
For a change of pace, we decided to go on a day trip to the Montseny Natural Park, a mountain range west of the coastal hills north of Barcelona. It’s a stunning area that is perfect for hiking and mountain biking.
The Park was designated in 1977 by UNESCO as a protected biosphere reserve. UNESCO created the biosphere reserves as ‘learning places for sustainable development’. They are “sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity”. There is only one UNESCO protected biosphere reserve in Catalunya, being Montseny, so it is quite a special place.
As a group, we’re not hikers, but we decided to check out the town of Montseny and go on a walking trail. The mountains are truly beautiful and it was fun to get out of the city again.
As you can probably imagine, there are tons and tons of trails through these mountains. In addition, several of the longer trails that go through Catalunya run through here too. You’ll see a lot of trail markers throughout the mountains, which is slightly confusing, but you just need to have the key! GR (Sendero de Gran Recorrido) is for long-distance trails, spanning often hundreds of kilometres and marked with white and red markers; PR (Sendero de Pequeno Recorrido) is for shorter trails, marked with white and yellow markers; and then there’s SL (Sendero Local) for short, local paths, often linking together the longer ones, markers in white and green.
Montseny is also the namesake of a small village. It has a population of just over 300 people, but it is the cutest village to walk around.
We also visited some other towns on our way out of the mountains. Next time I hope to spend more time here as I’m sure each town has its own history and charm to discover. For example, I particularly loved an old-fashioned bakery.
These two weeks whisked on by so quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Calafell and Barcelona, and am so happy Victor and I took the chance to visit his parents. We were incredibly safe and Covid-conscious but were still able to enjoy our vacation.
Want to explore more of Catalunya, outside Barcelona? Check out my other posts here.