Returning to two cities I had already visited wasn’t high on my list of travel adventures for 2023. I love both Barcelona and Vienna for different reasons, but I had a lot of other destinations I wanted to see as a priority. An intriguing concept, however, and a chance to see both locations in a different light managed to pull me back in. Here’s how one hotel brand is bringing the best local cuisine and culture to its properties whilst mastering the art of the humble city break.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
I knew the Almanac style from a previous visit to their Prague property, so the smart design, art-forward touches and attention to detail were expected. What I might have missed when researching this trip (yes, a journalist who does some research shocker!), was the location of the property. My previous visits to Barcelona had taken me to the beach and away from the centre, so to actually be based within walking distance of the main tourist sites was a bonus. The dreamy rooftop Azimuth bar comes complete with a small pool and is an excellent hangout with the views of Sagrada Familia are incredible. The signature cocktails are perfect for warm evenings and like pretty much everything here they are made from locally sourced ingredients.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
This local concept is best sampled at the restaurant on the ground floor. I was lucky enough to be staying at the hotel when one of their Showcooking masterclasses were on with local superstar chef Rodrigo de la Calle and his team creating culinary delights in front of out very eyes. The mostly vegetarian dishes were exceptional and the relaxed nature of the evening meant that any tastes could be catered for. You can also opt for a Foodie Package where a the plant-forward menus at VIRENS will whet the appetite alongside a similar tour to the one I took (see below).
The rooms are quiet, something of a surprise given the location. You get everything you expect from an Almanac property, and I recommend making the most of the excellent tips from the concierge team to make the most of a short break. I only had two days, which might not seem like a lot but the hotel is close enough to the airport that journey times don’t eat in to your time on the ground. The Almanac Barcelona has 91 chic, generously proportioned rooms, an impressive 30 suites (spanning up to 210 sqm) with private penthouse terraces and multiple bedrooms and living / dining rooms.
Exploring Barcelona’s Vibrant Food and Culture Scene
As soon as I landed I was off on a local evening tapas tour with Mark Planellas Witzsch. The hotel did a spot of match-making here, knowing what I wanted to see and experience, and they could not have picked a better guide. Combining food knowledge, an informative walking tour and great company, I was able to learn a lot about what makes this city one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
We started with one of the oldest tapas places in Barcelona. Casa Alfonso serves a variety of wines, cheeses and light snacks as is Spanish style in early evenings here. Tapas originated further south when small plates of food were placed on drinks to keep out annoying insects from getting a free sip of your beverage. The trend is now popular around the world and some of the dishes I tried included Anoxes de L’Escala (fried anchovies and tomato bread), Manchego cheese and croquettes de sepia (black ink squid croquettes).
Our walking tour took us through Barcelona’s three oldest districts, namely La Ribera-Born, La Puntual and the Gothic Quarter. These areas are full of vibrant people and beautiful old buildings and with a guide you can easily navigate yourself to some outstanding foodie spots. Make sure you visit La Chinta, an olive oil specialist store where you can sample different types of local produce. Makes a change from every travel journalists favourite activity, the ubiquitous wine tasting afternoon. There’s also Bubó which serves an award-winning chocolate cake (Xabina) that is an unmissable treat for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Having seen the Sagrada Familia from afar on many trips before, I thought I had to visit it on this occasion. Mark had told me how the building had divided opinion in the city, with some residents calling for it to be demolished. Sentiments towards it have calmed down in recent years, and even though it still remains one of the most elaborate building sites in the world, there’s no denying its breathtaking beauty.
The interior is actually a surprisingly sedate affair. It is still full of splendour and elaborate arrangements, but the desired effect of making the visitor feel like they are stepping into an indoor forest is mostly achieved. Book tickets online and in advance if you want to visit as it gets busy and queues can be long if you don’t get to your allocated slot on time. The team at the hotel will be more than happy to help you with making these arrangements.
Where to Stay in Vienna
On to Vienna next, where once again I was staying at an Almanac hotel close to the centre of town yet easily accessible from the airport. I actually clocked in a drive of less than 25 minutes and got to reception in record time. To be honest, I think I was a little too quick so took the opportunity to do some exploring of the hotel. I spotted an indoor pool, sauna and gym which I promised myself I would use at some point, but got distracted by the treasures on the second floor.
A series of connected ‘Heritage Rooms’ at the Almanac Palais Vienna are a throwback to Vienna’s past and remain largely untouched. They are now used as events spaces and are also popular with locals (as I found out when the space was opened up as part of Vienna’s Open House season). Again the in-house restaurants specialise in vegetarian and vegan cuisine, and I can heartily recommend the gazpacho on a hot summer day, like the one I experienced on arrival. The Donnersmarkt Restaurant has a wonderful bar attached to it and you’ll end up spending a lot more time here than you intended without regretting a second of it.
I actually did make it to the pool and sauna on one of my afternoons here, although it was a struggle to pull myself away from the spacious suite I was staying in.
Why Vienna is One of the Best Set Jetting Destinations in the World
‘If its good enough for the locals, then its good enough for me’, and with that positive attitude I picked a spot I wanted to visit from the Open House list and made my way to the other side of the Danube. For context, Vienna is a city that’s easy to navigate around. The trains, trams and metro all function efficiently and can easily get you from point to point. The hotel is about 5 minutes on foot from the State Opera (as seen in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation) and I would suggest walking everywhere when the weather is as nice as it was for my visit.
My final destination was DC Tower, the tallest skyscraper in the city. After a short while queuing – it seems like quite a few of us had the same idea – I was able to take an express lift to the top of the building. This is a free event, so be sure to plan where you want to go in advance. The tower and many of the surrounding streets were featured in Extraction 2 starring Chris Hemsworth. Looks like we have another set jetting destination in the city to add to an incredibly long list.
As I continued to explore the city I thought I saw somewhere familiar from one of my favourite romantic films of all time. In Before Sunrise Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy play a young pair of travellers who spend a night in Vienna after a chance meeting on a train to the city. They take in classic sites like the Wiener Riesenrad, which is most famous for an appearance in The Third Man. The trials and tribulations of our couple have gone on to be featured in a trilogy of excellent film by Richard Linklater, but its the first one that has a special place in the hearts of many people. I randomly found a bridge [Zollamtssteg] that is seen in one of the opening scenes of the movie, but would love to return to find more.
Combining a double city break like this to two very different cities works well if you’re looking to do some light exploring but with the option to relax at any time. Vienna and Barcelona might be places you’ve ticked off your bucket list already, but you’ll discover a lot more if you ever plan on going back to either.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.