Where to Go Next: Catalonia, Madrid, Galicia | Spain
Barquet TARRAGONA Two things draw visitors to Tarragona, an hour's train ride from Barcelona: Roman ruins and romesco, the region's famous sauce, made from garlic, nuts, fried bread and dried, mortar-pounded local chiles. Young chef David Solé—the city's premier romesco specialist, who has written a book on this subject—features the sauce in virtually every dish, including a mushroom carpaccio, endive and white asparagus salad; a traditional monkfish and potato stew; and a soupy paella with fresh tuna and squid. The food is so delicious and the dining room so inviting, one might linger too long at the table—and miss the ruins. DETAILS Gasómetro 16; 011-34-977-240-023.
Ca l'Enric LA VALL DE BIANYA At this restaurant near the medieval town of Besalú, chef Joan Junca earned a Michelin star for his sublime riffs on Catalan country cooking. Dinner might involve black-olive fritters, a "sandwich" of foie gras and apple chips, hare in a rich sauce and fabulous almond cakes with a molten center, all served on pottery specially designed for each dish. DETAILS Crta. Camprodón s/n; 011-34-972-290-015.
L'Aliança ÀNGLES Contemporary but not cutting-edge, chef Lluís Feliu's cuisine is worth a trip to the nowhere town of Àngles in the Girona province. In an ornate 18th-century building, Feliu presents seared scallops in a blood orange reduction with a surprising accent of licorice; a stunning dish of yellow and red rice (tinted with vegetable juices) with asparagus tips; goose barnacles and sea urchin; and a refreshing lychee soup spiked with fresh cheese, pomelo and passion fruit seeds. DETAILS Jacint Verdaguer 3; 011-34-972-420-156.
Gran Hotel Balneario Blancafort LA GARRIGA Spa hotels are a trend in Catalonia. First, there was Hotel Golf Peralda near the Costa Brava, which opened a spa specializing in wine-based treatments like Muscat and Merlot baths. Now comes the luxe Gran Hotel Balneario Blancafort, in the town of La Garriga, about 25 minutes from Barcelona. At the hotel's Thermal Center, guests can soak in the region's sulphate-rich waters (a therapy used since antiquity) or try the Vichy showers and Asian treatments. Many of the 156 rooms have terraces, gardens, Jacuzzis and solariums. Another attraction: La Garriga's Art Nouveau architecture. DETAILS Doubles from $290; Carrer Mina 7; 011-34-938-605-600 or balnearioblancafort.com.
Hotel La Plaça MADREMANYA Owners Jaume Vidal and Assumpta Puig—scholars of Spanish regional cuisine and interior decorating buffs—have created such an adorable inn, locals book it months ahead for the peak season. The hotel is folded into a 14th-century farmhouse complex flanked by fields of poppies and sunflowers. The 11 simple rooms have terra-cotta floors and cool white furniture. The restaurant, headed by chef Vidal, is legendary for lusty dishes like duck stewed with olives and prunes, and partridge braised in vinegar and olive oil, both specialties of the Ampurdan region. DETAILS Doubles from $125; Sant Esteve 17; 011-34-972-490-487 or laplacamadremanya.com.
Mas de Torrent TORRENT This converted 18th-century farmhouse near the Costa Brava's beaches is the Catalan country hotel against which all others are measured. Guests lounge around the dreamy swimming pool, stroll the lush grounds, or nurse drinks on their own private terraces or balconies. Though the new deluxe bungalows are spacious and comfortable, the antique-filled rooms in the main building have more atmosphere. DETAILS Doubles from $395; 17123 Torrent; 011-34-972-303-292 or mastorrent.com.
Torre del Remei BOLVIR DE CERDANYA Barcelonans escape to the Pyrenean La Cerdanya region to breathe mountain air, hike in the parks, pick mushrooms and tour ramshackle Romanesque churches. So it's a surprise to find an urbane hotel like this 21-room Relais & Châteaux. In addition to showcasing original details, like the domed skylight, the owners have outfitted the place with chic furniture and whirlpool baths in each room. At the restaurant, chef Josep Maria Boix uses Catalan game and vegetables from his garden for dishes like a quail salad with a honey and coffee vinaigrette or an emulsion of local potatoes perfumed with vanilla and topped with caviar. DETAILS Doubles from $265; Camí Reial s/n; 011-34-972-140-182 or torredelremei.com.
Azul Profundo Fans of Andrés Madrigal's cooking at Balzac rejoiced when he recently opened Azul Profundo in the trendy Chueca area. His tasting menus offer haute tapas like rosy venison slices with three vegetable purees, and bacalao gazpacho. The 35-euro menus are such a terrific value that Azul Profundo is one of the hardest reservations to get. DETAILS Plaza de Chueca 8; 011-34-917-010-183.
El Ventorrillo Murciano This tiny spot in the Lavapiés neighborhood is a real discovery, a surprise even to most Madrileños. It serves the most authentic paellas outside Spain's Levante region (the home of paella). Not to be missed are the paellas with rabbit and snails, the Murcian rice with vegetables and the meat pie with North African spices (the cooks, who come from Morocco and Latin America, often sneak in their native flavors). DETAILS Tres Peces 20; 011-34-915-288-309.
Santceloni Hotel restaurants are all the rage in Madrid, but the two-star Santceloni in the Hesperia Madrid Hotel, an outpost of Santi Santamaria's Catalan restaurant, is a standout. The precise cooking proves you don't need avant-garde tricks to excite the palate. Skilled waiters carve a tender shoulder of suckling lamb, pour zucchini broth on a langoustine and lug a table laden with some three dozen cheeses to your side. DETAILS Paseo de la Castellana 57; 011-34-912-108-840.
AC Santo Mauro This discreet 51-room hotel, favored by the likes of Bill Gates and Madonna, fuses Belle Epoque opulence with modern artwork. Rising-star chef Roberto Limas recently moved his restaurant, Faisandé, to the hotel, where he now serves dishes like lobster lasagna with sweetened tomato. DETAILS Doubles from $410; Zurbano 36; 011-34-913-196-900 or achotelsantomauro.com.
Bauzá One of the city's first boutique hotels, Bauzá became an instant hit when it opened in 1999. Its minimalist look, gentle prices and cool amenities (a pillow menu, a book delivery service) proved so popular, its owners are branching out with Hotel De Las Letras, scheduled to open this month. DETAILS Bauzá: Doubles from $210; Goya 79; 011-34-914-357-545 or hotelbauza.com. Hotel De Las Letras: Doubles from $210; Gran Viá 11; 011-34-914-357-545 or hoteldelasletras.com.
Casa de Madrid Aristocrat Marta Medina first made her style statement with Casa de Carmona in Andalucía. Her new Madrid hideaway is acquiring cult status. Full of eclectic antiques—but not fussy—the hotel is meant to make guests feel as if they're crashing with a blue-blood relative. DETAILS Doubles from $305; Arrieta 2; 011-34-915-595-791 or casademadrid.com.
Casa Marcelo SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA Marcelo Tejedor, who trained with Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak and the great French chef Jacques Maximin, doesn't believe in written menus: Guests get a degustation of whatever he feels like cooking that night. Whether it's a sweet leek soup with goose barnacles or a sardine in a "bloody Mary" sauce of vodka and tomato water, chances are, it will be brilliant. DETAILS Rúa Hortas 1; 011-34-981-558-580.
El Crisol O GROVE This traditional marisquería (seafood restaurant) in the fishing hamlet of O Grove is run by Carmen Digna Prieto Devesa, who has been cooking for more than 50 years. All the Galician seafood classics are here: piles of goose barnacles and sweet boiled shrimp; cazuelas (earthenware bowls) of soupy rice with lobster or clams; seafood empanadas with a filling sweetened by masses of slowly cooked onions. DETAILS Hospital 10-12; 011-34-986-730-029.
Pepe Viera SANXENXO At his restaurant, Xosé Torres Cannas works with brawny flavors—glazed farmyard chicken with Albariño grapes; pressed pig's feet with seared scallops—arranging his food in modernist compositions. His deconstruction of Michel Bras' famed chocolate cake with a liquid center resembles an avant-garde sculpture. Last year, Cannas's brother, Xoan, won Spain's most coveted sommelier prize for Pepe Viera's well-edited wine list. DETAILS Plaza de la Constitución 2; 011-34-986-691-749.
Parador Conde de Gondomar BAIONA Some travelers construct entire trips around stays at the government-run hotels called paradors, many of which are housed in landmark buildings. The parador in Baiona is among the most sought-after in Spain. The draw is the location inside a medieval fortress overlooking the sea (this is where Columbus's Pinta landed in 1493, bringing news of the discovery of the New World). The 122 rooms are appointed with somber grandeur; ask for one with a sea view. DETAILS Doubles from $150; 36300 Baiona; 011-34-986-355-000.
AC Palacio del Carmen SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA Opened in 2002, this 74-room hotel is a stylish alternative to Santiago de Compostela's always-booked parador, the spectacular Hostal de los Reyes Católicos. The Palacio del Carmen is in a former convent, which has been remodeled with soaring public spaces and an indoor pool. Boutique-hotel habitués will love the frosted-glass sinksand complimentary minibar. DETAILS Doubles from $160; Oblatas s/n; 011-34-981-552-444 or achotelsantiago.com.
Pazo Cibrán SAN XULIÁN In a farming valley outside Santiago de Compostela, this 18th-century country house has vine-covered walkways and a kitchen specializing in Galician breakfasts of filloas (crêpes) and farm-fresh eggs. Ask owner Carmen Iglesias Gaceo for her help when planning your routes, and don't miss her delicious ring cookies called rosquillas. DETAILS Doubles from $90; San Xulián de Sales; 011-34-981-511-515 or pazocibran.com.