Tantalising tours of Barcelona with a local expert
Seeking inspiration for beautiful travel experiences in Barcelona? Susie Marquis spoke to Jonathan Lerner, owner of one of the city’s most exciting tour companies, to discover their most authentic and memorable new cultural and culinary experiences, and shares her tips for the most stunning apartments to rent in Barcelona.
We have always loved our trips to Barcelona, as it’s such an easy city for walking, soaking up the atmosphere, discovering hidden side streets and quiet town squares, delicious local cuisine, and the wonderful architecture … from the beautiful medieval Gothic Quarter to Gaudi’s famous Modernist buildings, including Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, and the Palau Guell townhouse near Las Ramblas…and, of course, the beach. We can’t wait to return! In the meantime, we have been enjoying Barcelona remotely, by talking with Jonathan Lerner, founder of Tailored Tours Barcelona, and dreaming of experiencing some of his tours ourselves soon.Jonathan is incredibly knowledgeable about the city where he has lived for many years now. With his love of art history, ancient history, architecture, music, food and wine, he offers some wonderful local experiences to visitors, as well as planning further meaningful tourism activities in his adopted city. Tailored Tours not only offers visitors an understanding of the region and its cultural history, but also the chance to meet authentic local experts, and be able to take home some wonderful memories of their trip.
I spoke to Jonathan recently to hear more about his favourite bespoke local experiences, including the cultural attractions and local cuisine. My first question: what local experiences do you feel most excited about, now that visitors are returning to Barcelona?Jonathan: So many things! We’ve recently started a collaboration with Xavi Morón, a wonderfully talented emerging chef based in El Raval. Xavi’s space, a 120m2 open kitchen – somewhere between Baroque and Bauhaus – is pure magic. The site was the former atelier of several famous Catalan artists including Antoni Tàpies, and Xavi absolutely carries the torch forward. He has created a universe – of colour, texture, and taste. Here we can host private dinners ranging from 2 to 50 guests and it’s just so much fun. No two dinners are the same. What I love most are all the wonderful collaborations Xavi has ongoing, which he so graciously shares with our guests – including homemade kombucha; distillates; and locally sourced mushrooms to name a few. Evenings here are warm, intimate and memorable – because it’s an open kitchen, guests are encouraged to get up and interact. This, for me, captures the joy of what food is all about: creativity, community, and of course, spectacular food.
You offer a wide range of very different experiences for visitors – rather than just have one niche, so you are clearly very inspired by the city, and have a lot of interests here?Jonathan: I have avoided focusing just on one thing, as Barcelona is a city of inspiration, and my interests span many subjects – art, architecture, Jewish history, food, design, the ancient world. For example, there are so many companies offering “Modernism” or “Gaudí” Experiences in the city so I knew we had to find a way to make the story different – more relevant, personal and memorable. So we started collaborating with Jacob Vilató, the great-nephew of Pablo Picasso, and an artist himself living in Barcelona. We spend a morning visiting the key sites of Pablo Picasso’s formative years in Barcelona (his first atelier, art school, and Els 4 Gats Café). The latter became a popular meeting place for famous artists throughout the modernist period in Catalonia, known as Modernism, where Picasso exhibited in 1901. I take visitors to meet Jacob for an informal coffee and chat and see what he’s working on. For anyone interested in art and history, it is a wonderful experience and immediately transports us to another time, especially as some of the Picasso family’s original photographs and furniture remain in Jacob’s workshop.
I know you also have a particular interest in the city’s Jewish heritage – tell us more about this?Jonathan: Yes, I do. I started by giving walking tours through El Call, Barcelona’s medieval Jewish Quarter. I got to know the neighbourhood and befriended the café and restaurant owners, and others moving into the area – this was several years back when the barrio was just starting to gentrify. One of the people I met, Victor Sorensson, told me about Mozaika, a project he had started with a few friends as a print magazine. Its objective was the revival of Jewish culture in Barcelona in a modern, approachable way – completely open, through the arts, inter-religious dialogue, food and music, comedy, history and tradition. I thought it was fantastic. A few years later Mozaika moved into a brick and mortar house in the heart of the medieval Jewish Quarter – one of the oldest houses still standing in Barcelona which once belonged to the ben Adret family in the 1300s. Victor and his team named the house Casa Adret and the rest is history. Here Mozaika has created a hub – they host dinners, concerts, conferences and rooftop soirées. The house is normally closed to the public but because of our relationship of many years, we are able to bring every guest on our Jewish Heritage Experience inside to see it privately, much as it was more than 600 years ago. It’s a fascinating place that we’re so grateful to be connected with.
I understand that, just before the pandemic, you moved to the countryside. Has moving from the city impacted your business and vision?Jonathan: Absolutely. I could never have imagined just how much it would impact what we do. It has encouraged a major shift in my thinking. I lived in Barcelona for 12 years, and that’s where everything started. Moving to the countryside has helped me realize all the extraordinary talent there is out here, which is so often overlooked, as Barcelona is the end-all-be-all of so many travellers’ agenda. My goal now is to bridge the people and stories between city and countryside, and encourage travellers to get out of the city centre and see this firsthand. I live in Terra Alta, a gorgeous wine region in the southwest corner of Catalonia just over 2 hours from the city. It’s a historically agrarian region and, in recent times, rather forgotten. However, now there is a real revival taking place here among the artisan producers, winemakers, olive oil producers, honey producers, and luxury accommodations. We have designed some really fascinating multi-day experiences here, and it’s my goal to put Terra Alta on the map!
Also, closer to Barcelona – just one hour from the city centre – is El Penedès, the cradle of cava. There we visit a traditional family winery – almost 100 years old and run today by a wonderful father-daughter duo of the original founding family. Their motto is “cava is culture” – and it’s so true – they live, eat and breathe cava. They specialize in Grand Reserve cavas, which by law must be aged for at least 36 months, though they have some aged for up to 13 years! Their 2017 vintage was awarded the best cava in Spain. We descend the family cellars and taste cava in the vineyards with the Montserrat mountain in the background – it’s an educational, emotional, intimate, inspiring visit. In spring and summer, we do a second tasting and picnic under fig and pomegranate trees before heading to Vilafranca del Penedes, the regional capital, for a multi-course country lunch featuring the best of traditional Catalan fare. It’s a wonderful day trip that we can arrange here!
Top apartments to rent in BarcelonaSituated in the famous Passeig de Gracia, directly opposite Gaudi’s Casa Battló, the fabulous 4-bedroom Passeig de Gracia apartment is historically important because the architect, Buenaventura Conill Montobbio, was a good friend of Antoni Gaudi. Located on the 6th floor of the building (with lift), it’s wonderfully spacious (over 220 m2) and has an office space, and a furnished balcony with a direct view of Casa Battló. On request at extra cost (adults only), there is access to a spa centre, which has two swimming pools (one indoor and one outdoor), as well as two squash courts.
Just three blocks from Passeig de Gracia, Carrer Consell de Cent is exquisite 4-bedroom apartment – the perfect base for exploring the city. Beautiful features, here include ceiling moldings and archways, antique furniture and stunning chandeliers, as well as a modern and spacious kitchen and dining area. Moreover, there is a spacious furnished terrace, perfect for dining outdoors.
Although centrally located in Carrer de Balmes, the main street of Eixample, apartment Carrer de Balmes ll is a haven of peace, with double glazed windows preventing street noise. The interior design is a lovely mix of traditional and modern urban concepts, with the high ceilings, large windows, and wooden floors in the living area, giving a feeling of light and space. One of the two bedrooms opens to an enclosed bay window space, with a table and chairs, ideal for relaxing with morning coffee or a glass of wine in the evening.
Situated in the popular El Born area, Calle Commercial is a wonderfully spacious apartment with high ceilings, large glass windows, and three small balconies with views over the city. The living area alone is 75m2, with original brick wall and beamed ceilings, as well as being decorated and furnished very stylishly. The apartment is on the third floor, with lift access.
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