First established in the early 13th century, La Boquería market located off Barcelona’s famed Ramblas pedestrian boulevard is regarded as Europe’s finest. Spain has the largest variety of fresh produce on the continent, stacked high among the crowd here, with Iberian ham and exquisite Andalusian olive oils next to fresh seafood from the entire Med, exotic African fruits and heady Asian spices.
Groups can explore the 330+ stalls with local DMC ICONO Cultural Services, who will pair professional chefs with groups to help choose ingredients for the evening’s dinner. Up to 25 participants can then gather in the nearby kitchen at Cook & Taste, a professional “cooking workshop” that specializes in corporate teambuilding. Dishes range from poached Spanish mackerel to paella, with the very finest ingredients like fire-roasted piquillo peppers from Navarra and saffron from a small family-run farm in La Mancha.
“La Boquería is very special to me because it’s not a tourist attraction,” says Juanita Carvajal, director of sales with Miami-based Fine Wine & Gourmetravel (FW&G). “About 70 percent of the people working there are women, which is not typical in Spain, and they’ve made friends with the locals.”
Carvajal also escorts groups throughout a wealth of Medieval-era environs and wine estates within 1-2 hours of Barcelona, such as the 900-year old Món St. Benet monastery in Bages. The church, cellar and cloisters house a museum that relates the history of Catalonia, while the 78-room urban modernist Hotel MÓN houses the newly Michelin-minted Restaurant l’Angle.
Heading west, the rolling hills reminiscent of Napa define Penedes, one of Catalonia’s best wine regions. It’s enoturisme (wine tourism) trail includes the 4th generation J. Miquel Jané Winery, producing high-end wines and sparkling cava—the Spanish equivalent of champagne.
“These are small wineries where you can meet the owners who will explain the types of grapes, talk viticulture and lead tours through the fields and barrel rooms,” says Carvajal. “These places are not very crowded, so they’re much more customizable for groups versus, say, Rioja. If you want to spend all day at the winery and interact with the owner, his family and workers whenever you want, you can.”
Caravel has a special place in her heart for owners like Joan Pages, who breeds Arabian horses on the Buil & Giné wine estate near Tarragona, an ancient city dating back to the Roman era. Likewise at Bohigas Winery. Vintner Jordi Casa Novas Bohigas hosts groups for tastings, tours and dinners in his 13th century farmhouse. During dinner with the 70 year-old Bohigas, he expresses his passion for family, food, wine and his hopes that his daughter shares those passions. It’s a brief, unfiltered and fortunate glimpse into the life of a wine dynasty.
The night ends with a stay in the exquisite 24-room Hotel Molí Blanc, a restored 1750 paper mill with heavy timbered cathedral ceilings and beautiful designer bathrooms. It’s these types of bespoke lodgings customary with FW&G itineraries, where one-of-a-kind experiences are daily occurrences.