Catalunya – The Unknown Culinary Tourism Corner of Europe

CataluynaWe have found ourselves in a somewhat special place.  A corner of Europe that many Europeans are clued into, but the Americans aren’t.  It’s not over touristy.  It has beaches and mountains.  It has an up and coming wine region.  And, for us, most important, it has a gastronomy history that rivals any other culinary region in Europe.

Where are we? In Costa Brava, Catalunya.

Where is the Costa Brava?

Everyone knows Spain, and tourists flock to Madrid and Barcelona.  If they look to explore beyond the big cities, generally they might head to Andalusia, Southern Spain, Sevilla, or Malaga.  But, Costa Brava?  Many people have never heard of it.  That’s a problem we are here to solve.

Costa Brava is a stretch of land that runs from just north of Barcelona up to the mountainous Catalan border of France.  It is a coastal area, whose name translates to rugged or wild coast.  Costa Brava is part of Catalunya, a region of Spain that has been struggling for independence for years.  The people here are fiercely patriotic, and many are quite vocal in their desire to separate from Spain as a whole. I will not get into the politics of it, or share some of the viewpoints I have heard thus far.  But, what I will say, is that this is a corner of Europe that is very different from many other areas, in quite a number of ways.

The Coast of Catalunya

CatalunyaThus far, we have seen a stunning coast line, quaint fishermen villages, and crystal blue waters.  Decades ago, a concerted effort was made to encourage tourism to Costa Brava.  A temperate climate most of the year helped to aid the destination as a go-to place for Brits and northern Europeans. 

Although still a little breezy, and with chilly waters in early May, we have started to enjoy the coast of Costa Brava.  We’ve sat at cafes, enjoying a cortado, with amazing views.   A cortado is my new favorite Spanish coffee; essentially an espresso with a small amount of milk.  The cortado has become my drink of choice. That is when we are not knocking back a glass of cava on a balcony, again, enjoying the view and the crisp sea breezes.

The Cuisine of Catalunya

CatalunyaThe people here are not only patriotic, and proud of their region, but they carry with them an enthusiasm for Catalunya, a pride in the nature and the countryside, and, most important to me, the food.

If anyone knows anything about Catalunya cuisine, it is probably because of Ferran Adria, and El Bulli.  The top restaurant in the world for years, El Bulli was set on top of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, outside the town of Roses, in Costa Brava.  Over the years, Adria has trained dozens upon dozens of young chefs who have gone out and spread high end gastronomy around the globe.  More than that, though, he inspired chefs who have stayed in Costa Brava, to open their own high quality restaurants.  He and his brother have opened a series of restaurants in Barcelona, including Bodega 1900, where we dined on traditional tapas with a modern twist.

Gastronomy is top of peoples’ minds in Catalunya, not only because there are more Michelin stars per capita in Costa Brava than any other region in the world, but because there is a history of local production, of farm to table, of living off of the land, and appreciating the fresh local seafood.  Food and wine are a way of life here.  It is not just high-end gastronomy, but local food traditions, that form the backbone of Catalunya.  There is a depth of cuisine, from cured meats and cheeses, to seafood and fish, to meats and vegetables, all within this one small region.

In our first few days in Catalunya, we have eaten a traditional seafood meal prepared by a group of chefs, including a Michelin star chef, in an old fishermen’s house along the coast.  We’ve had a seven course meal inspired by molecular gastronomy and local ingredients.  We have been to a local bar, kind of dark, with casino machines against one wall, which has the most amazing bocadillos, or sandwiches, with local cured meats, pork, and garlic aioli.  We had dinner at a chef’s house, with his wife and his goat.  This was all in the first week.  These are all stories you will see shortly about eating in Spain.

CatalunyaThe people we have met in the hospitality industry, thus far, have gone above and beyond.   We met so many people during a three day blogger tour of Costa Brava who wanted to show off their town, their hotel, and their restaurant, capitalizing on often generations of history and tradition, while working within the new environment, and this new world of culinary tourism.  I can’t wait to learn more of the stories behind the Catalan cuisine. 

The Wines of Catalunya

CatalunyaEveryone knows champagne, which is the sparkling wine that is only produced in the Champagne region of France.  Everything else is sparkling wine.  Spain has its own version of sparkling wine, called cava.  I love cava, everything about it. I could drink cava everyday, and while in Costa Brava I plan to. 

Before arriving in Costa Brava, though, we knew so little about the other Catalan wines.  I know cava, obviously. It practically runs through my veins when touring Spain.  I know some other Spanish wines, like Rioja and Tempranillo.  But, Catalan wines?  That’s a whole different story.

During our first few days in Costa Brava, the Tourism Board hosted us on a three day press trip with a group of other bloggers.  We probably tasted about twenty wines in about four or five days, all from the Catalan wine region called Emporda.  Of those twenty wines, we had only one that we didn’t care for.  That’s a pretty strong record.  I was eager to explore more of the Emporda wine region.

We’ve been doing our research, though, and plan to visit several wineries while in Catalunya. I want to learn what makes these wines so good, and yet why do they remain so unknown out of the region.  I want to learn about the grape varieties, which are not common in other wine growing areas.  More importantly, I want to learn the stories behind the wines, and meet as many wine makers as we can.

Culinary Tourism in Catalunya

There is more to the Catalan coast than the sun and beach, which has been the draw of tourism to this region for decades.  For us, it is about learning the stories of the products, the people, and understanding the gastronomy of the region.  It’s about exploring this unknown corner of culinary tourism in Europe.  This includes eating the foods that are in season, shopping at local markets, and using food as a social connection.  These concepts are not all that unique within Europe, a land that places an entirely different focus on food than Americans did historically. 

It also means we need to work on when to eat in Catalunya, something that is a bit different.

We will be spending a total of five weeks exploring the culinary tourism of Catalunya, and hope to become experts in the food and the wine.  Please follow along in real time on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram, with the hashtag #InCostaBrava.

We are being supported by Costa Brava Tourism during our time in Catalunya, but my views are, as always, my own.

For more tips and stories on Spain, check out the With Husband In Tow Spain Food Travel Guide!

3 Comments

  1. That fish looks delicious! So colourful! I’ve never tried food from Catalunya, but you make a very strong argument for a trip purely for that reason. I’m intrigued to know whether that goat actually lived in the house! haha.

    Reply
    • The fish here is amazing, and we have had such tasty seafood too. As for the goat, there will be a post out soon about the goat, so stay tuned!

      Reply
  2. It sounds like such a fund adventure. It combines my two passions. Traveling and trying new food.

    Reply

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