I’ve tried to like the Catalan capital. Barcelona does have some great things about it (not the purpose-built Barceloneta beach though). After 20-odd years I found the Hotel Miramar and its touristy but very nice neighbour, Martinez, on the slopes of Montjuïc overlooking the city and the sea from a happy distance. You don’t have to worry about pockets being picked up there and it’s high enough that you can see the unwelcome cruise ships and their daily invasion forces of screens with people attached, marching to occupy the city. From this lofty hide I can range in and out of the city, pick my destination and strike at the right time, then retreat.
Driving north, my safe words are Mas de Torrent in Pals, a five-star hotel that was a Catalan farmhouse. The coast here is gorgeous and feels like northern California. There are tourists but they are at peace with locals. Locals who are obsessed with food, as are most of the visitors, if they have any sense.
Three charming brothers put the town of Girona on the map. I’ve eaten a few times in El Celler de Can Roca. This class of restaurant, which I love, mostly falls into two categories – look at me food and look at you food. Can Roca nearly feels as much in the past as the late departed El Bulli in nearby Roses, the list-topping restaurant that first put the whole region on the map.
The Costa Brava is studded with places serving the local treasure, Palamós prawns. One place shines bright near the gorgeous original Vichy Catalan building, home to Europe’s finest sparkling spring water. Restaurant Els Tinars is a family-run restaurant, open 41 years, which on any given lunch service does about five different menus. Normally that’s an invitation to run for the hills, but not here. I might want something gutsy and old school. You want a procession of edible ornaments. I want a history lesson that I can eat and get schooled by – you are here for a local wine list that is as smart as it is affordable. You want a buzzy restaurant full of all shapes, sizes and ages, from dreamy dates box-ticking their Michelin list to a well-behaved Spanish kid’s quinceañera party – so do I. Els Tinars is big, 170 covers big, rocking and definitely not a silent chef peep show. Go alone, with your significant other, or 50 of your closest friends and you will have the craic.
It has a Michelin star and the theatre to go with that accolade. It serves a potato dish originally called patates Tinars that makes me embarrassed, being Irish, and never having thought of it. I think about the patates Tinars at least once a week. The car park has regs from all over Europe. It is the only way you’d know there were tourists inside.