Fringed by mountains to the west and beaches to the east, Barcelona’s setting provides a scenic backdrop to a food-filled city break. In its old town, a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and medieval plazas lead to a Gothic cathedral; and among the neat, grid-lined streets of the Eixample district sit Modernist architectural masterpieces. Barcelona’s gastronomic landscape is just as inspiring: we’re in Adrià brothers’ territory here, but the century-old bodegas, family-run seafood restaurants and Mediterranean markets that safeguard Catalan culinary traditions are just as treasured as the city’s Michelin stars.
Stay Set in the former headquarters of Barcelona’s Cotton Textile Foundation, close to boutique-lined Passeig de Gràcia, the magnificent Cotton House Hotel pays homage to the golden age of Spain’s textile industry. Catalan designer-du-jour Lázaro Rosa-Violán weaves a cotton theme throughout the neoclassical building, blending bold artworks with original period features. In the library and restaurant, rosy-cheeked cherubs smile down from frescoed ceilings. Contemporary bedrooms are adorned with canvases and sketches of the ubiquitous fluffy cotton flower while oversized beds come with the finest cotton sheets. For views of the Sagrada Família, climb the spiralling 1950s staircase to the rooftop pool terrace.
Eat When it comes to seafood, you’re spoilt for choice in this city but don’t leave without trying La Mar Salada, a fifth-generation restaurant near Barceloneta’s sandy shores. Its excellent-value lunch deal includes dishes like cuttlefish, razor clam and artichoke paella, or red mullet gnocchi with saffron.
Back at the hotel, a dining room of wood-panelled walls and parquet floors leads onto a conservatory-style space with a tropical vibe at Batuar restaurant. In the centre is a long, marble-topped bar. Sit outside on the leafy terrace with a cocktail before tucking into a gourmet Catalan tasting menu: shrimp croquettes, Iberian bellota ham, sardine escabeche and more – all paired with Penedès regional wines. Breakfast is as sumptuous as the surroundings, every surface piled with home-baked cakes and pastries, mini salads and sandwiches, cured hams and smoked fish.
Do The hotel’s concierge service, gossypium, can make miracles happen, including an exclusive dinner for two in the cathedral’s tower, but make sure you visit a Catalan market – colourful La Boqueria is the obvious choice, but the lesser-known Mercat Santa Catarina and Mercat del Ninot make interesting lunch spots too. For walking tapas tours away from the crowds in up-and-coming areas such as Poble Sec, contact The Barcelona Taste. In the same district, climb verdant Montjuic hill to its 17th-century castle and enjoy spectacular views of the city, its harbour and the blue Mediterranean beyond.
Return flights from a range of UK airports to Barcelona cost from around £65 (vueling.com). Double rooms at The Cotton House hotel start from €250, b&b.
More info barcelonaturisme.com
Sète’s sandy beaches are thronged with visitors during summer, but the peninsula has bigger fish to fry than tourism – it’s the largest fishing port on the French Mediterranean coast, and behind it is the oyster-filled Thau lagoon. It’s picturesque, too – from the hillside ‘Little Naples’ district to its boat-lined canals, the 19th-century facades are an attractive reminder of the town’s prosperous wine-trading heritage.
Stay Le Grand Hotel retains much of its belle époque charm. Velvet curtains and chandeliers set the scene for market-fresh ingredients at Quai 17, the hotel’s opulent restaurant; try the signature lobster risotto with bisque sauce, or local speciality bourride, a monkfish stew with aïoli. The bright bedrooms are spread across three elegant floors – go for one that overlooks the canal and gaze at the shimmering image of buildings and boats reflected in the water.
Eat Local recipes – such as octopus-stuffed tielle pie – have stood the test of time, many brought by the Italian immigrants that settled here in the last century. The best seafood restaurants are along Quai Maximin Lucciardi near the harbour, where you’re likely to spot fishermen unloading still-writhing stock. At Coquillage & Crustace (13 Quai Maximin Lucciardi, 00 33 467 436 550), try sea snails with homemade aïoli, light sardine carpaccio and seabream in lobster sauce. In the town centre, L’Épicerie is a gourmet deli and lunch spot. Or grab a stool at the popular Halles & Manger bistro in the indoor market next door which also hosts regional cooking classes.
Do On a gourmet walking tour of Sète (southernfranceluxury.com), you’ll meet market producers and taste local delicacies, such as rum-soaked frescati cake. Work it off by hiking up Sète’s Mont St. Clair for views of vineyards, mountains and the lagoon. For a closer look at the distinctive oyster beds, head to Le Mas de Jeanne in nearby Marseillan. Here you can discover how the bivalves are cultivated before eating them with a wedge of lemon and glasses of crisp local picpoul.
Return flights from various UK airports to Beziers cost from £55 (ryanair.com). Double rooms at Le Grand Hotel start from €125, b&b.
More info destinationsuddefrance.com
Santorini is the poster-boy of the Greek islands: blue domes, white windmills and pastel houses line soaring cliffs. A volcanic explosion thousands of years ago left just a crater rim gazing down into the Aegean. Fittingly the island is now one of Greece’s culinary hot spots. Not least because volcanic action also created a mineral-rich soil that produces superb wine – the ideal foil to traditional local dishes like chicken souvlaki and tomato fritters.
Stay The loveliest part of the island is the pretty cliff village of Oia, home to a café, Lotza, and a complex of cave-houses, Oia Old Houses, that have been turned into smart little self-catering cottages. Fresh breakfast basics
of bread and coffee are delivered every morning. Furnishing is simple but cheerfully painted and the dramatic caldera view is literally on your doorstep. Sunbathe, read and watch the ships come and go till it’s time for dinner.
Eat Down at Ammoudi Bay Dimitris Taverna has the best sunset views on Santorini. It’s a simple, brightly painted fish restaurant on the quay, where fishermen mend their nets. When owner Dimitris started this restaurant he used to spear the fish himself, but now his friends bring in the seafood while his wife, Joy, shops for the best local courgette, white aubergine, capers and beets.
You get a different flavour of the island high up on Oia’s cliffs. Here, Lycabettus claims even more spectacular views with tables that seem to float over the sea. This is Santorini fine dining with a seven-course degustation menu that offers dishes such as sea urchin risotto, scallop carpaccio and lamb with rosemary (all matched with Santorini’s superb wines).
Do There’s no need to sign up for an organised wine trip. Hire a car and follow the maroon Wine Road signs from Sigalas vineyard in the north of the island to Hatzidakis in the south. There are 12 private wineries on Santorini and they’re all very welcoming and keen to explain how they grow and harvest grapes in such a hostile environment.
Return flights from Gatwick or Manchester start from around £70 (easyjet.com). Car hire costs from around £95 per week (rhinocarhire.com). Cottages at Oia Old Houses cost from €160 per night for two.
More info visitgreece.gr
The limestone coastline and sandy coves of Portugal’s Algarve fringe a foodie region. Seafood is a highlight, but black pork, sheep’s cheese, olives, oregano, tomatoes and oranges are also cultivated locally – and are easily found at local farmers’ markets, beach shacks and restaurants. Homemade piri piri chicken or shrimp, an Algarve speciality, is everywhere and, in the mountains beyond the coast, you’ll find aromatic pork stews, slow-cooked wild boar and honey cake.
Stay Vila Vita Parc, a five-star resort on the coast at Porches, 40 minutes’ drive west of Faro. The sound of birdsong and fountains complement the hotel’s Moorish slant – a lantern here, a rug there, 180 balconied bedrooms with azulejo blue and white tiles and, outside, a verdant mosaic of palm trees and lawns. Even fully booked, the hotel is serene, as guests enjoy its 54 acres of land.
Eat On the hotel’s café terrace, sip chilled vinho verde – Portugal’s bright, minerally, white wine. Munch on tapas of olives, 30-month cured acorn-fed pork from the hotel’s own farm, fresh clams or são jorge cheese. Ocean is the hotel’s gourmet beacon, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant with wild-boy Austrian chef Hans Neuner at the burner. Go for a three- or four-course taster menu, rather than six, as there’s an abundance of amuse-bouches. Highlights include ray with parsley and jerusalem artichoke, and stuffed octopus with limpets and black pudding. Neuner’s Instagram-ready creations are full of flavour and key ingredients shine.
Do Go to Porches to buy inexpensive blue and white pottery. Or to Lagos for a pastel de nata, the custard and puff pastry staple. Feeling flush? Head for Rei das Praias restaurant, a favourite of José Mourinho’s. Or hop aboard the hotel yacht and ask to be dropped off at a local beach with a champagne picnic, or at the hotel’s beachside fish restaurant, Arte Nautica.
Return flights from a range of UK airports to Faro cost from around £65 (monarch.co.uk). Double rooms at Vila Vita Parc cost from €200, b&b.
More info visitalgarve.pt
Fly over Menorca and it’s easy to see why tourists began flocking here in the 60s: clean turquoise waters lap against golden beaches, while lush greenery borders the picture-perfect homes that are dotted along the coastline. But unlike parts of the costas on the Spanish mainland, or the neighbouring party isles of Ibiza and Mallorca, this small Balearic island has managed to stay relatively unspoiled – in everything from the landscape to the food and culture.
Stay The island’s capital, Maó, is only a 10-minute taxi ride from the airport. Hotel Petit Maó opened here, two years ago, in an 18th-century former manor house, minutes from the town’s heart, on a street that leads down to Maó’s busy harbour. It has six spacious bedrooms, each with cool tiles underfoot and tall sash windows but no TVs – Menorca is a place to indulge in slowness. Breakfast is made by the hotel’s owner, Nina. There are soft buns coated in powdered sugar with fresh fruit, toast served with wafer-thin slices of mahón cheese (made with strong cow’s milk), salty sheets of air-cured ham and sieved tomatoes with Spanish olive oil.
Eat As in mainland Spain, tapas is big here. The most famous dish is caldereta, a Menorcan lobster stew that’s cooked and served in an earthenware pot. These local shellfish, in season from April to August, are sweeter than their Atlantic cousins and this dish, which starts out with a classic Spanish sofrito, does them justice. If there’s a group of you, chef Richard Tejada, who owns and runs Can Bernat des Grau close to the fishing village of Es Grau, where his boats haul the lobsters, will show you how to cook the dish in his kitchen before eating supper together.
At cool, late-night café Pipet & Co (00 34 971 36 63 68) back in Maó we eat sobrasada (cured sausage), drizzled with honey, and spread on toast. At Can Joanet (00 34 971 36 03 07) we’re served bowls of baked pig’s trotters with potatoes. And don’t miss recently re-opened Mestre D’Aixa (00 34 971 96 68 01) for its Galician ‘old cow’ sliced wafer thin and topped with mahón cheese, caramelised onions, herbs and breadcrumbs (you roll them together like a cigar).
On the west side of the island, in Ciutadella, we settle in for a late lunch at S’amarador (00 34 971 38 35 24), snaffling red scorpion fish and prawn croquettes and crisp local wine before heading back into Es Mercadel in the centre of the island to fill up on brossat (a sweet bread/cheese pudding), and rubiol (the island’s version of empanadas) at Casa Sucrer.
Do Go gin tasting at the last remaining distillery on the island, Gin Xoriguer (a leftover from the British presence here) for a taste of the island’s many herbs: it’s served with lemonade in a pomada, a local cocktail.
Return flights from Liverpool, London and Bristol to Mahón cost from around £60 (easyjet.com). Double rooms at Hotel Petit Mao cost from €85, b&b. More info spain.info
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