I'm (finally) getting around to writing this from the comfort of my boyfriends apartment in Sweden, wearing tiny nike training shorts with a contradictory oversized jumper, wrapped in blankets, drinking iced coffee. It's all very confusing, but this is what tends to happen during that awkward inbetween phase of seasonal change. And now, writing about Barcelona and browsing through photographs of myself in mermaid pose by a pool is just throwing me off even more. But you need to know about the places I discovered in Barcelona in case you're thinking of going in the future, so I'm going with it.
Earlier this year, caught up in a not-so-irregular email frenzy (the kind where you're beginning to question whether your fingers are even attached to your hands anymore given the rate they are moving) I almost trashed an email invitation that I thought at first glance was an ad. It was not. Kimberley Parsons, owner of Retreat Cafe and author of The Yoga Kitchen, was reaching out to invite me to her Catalonian Yoga Retreat (just outside of Barcelona), to celebrate the release of her cookbook. And since I had made no sturdy summer plans, and was still yet to make my way to Barcelona, my répondez (or should I say respuesta) was a no brainer. I booked my flights almost immediately, and added on a few extra days before the retreat started to spend some proper time exploring the city. My friends often find it brave that I travel alone, but I think my past experiences as a model probably have something to do with my personal lack of concern. I don't like being alone at home all day in London, but abroad, I love to be left to my own devices, and to explore a new place on my own terms. I don't just love travelling, I love exploring and discovering, which is why being alone doesn't seem to phase me. There is nothing like connecting with local inhabitants of a new place, and from experience, I manage to do less of this if I am travelling with others. Sure, I also love travelling with friends or family as the chance to share certain experiences with another person is unbeatable in its own way, but travelling alone gives you the chance and space to interpret things for yourself, and without necessarily realising it, you will often discover new things and rediscover the old, by reconnecting with yourself internally. I find that travelling opens my mind and also my heart, and enhances my energy output in a way that attracts positive and inspiring experiences and discoveries to come to me.
Despite growing up in the countryside, I have become quite the city girl. But despite being a self-proclaimed city girl, the fast pace of city life will always get to me and is something I really don't miss when I'm away from it. Barcelona has the perfect balance in this respect. It has all the busyness, excitement, creativity and innovation of any capital city, but the atmosphere is sleepy and slowed, and the vibe is more communal and authentic. And it has a beach.
With only two full days in the city before retreating north into the Catalonian hills, the inner tourist in me woke early every morning and slept late every evening. I hate the thought of missing something and love to immerse myself in the traditional culture of a new place, which in Spain, means eating dinner around the time I would usually be going to sleep. Here are a few of my favourite Barcelonian discoveries, and after that, more on the retreat:
FLAX + KALE, TERESA'S + TERESA CARLES
I headed here for a smoothie and left with three. I then returned en route to the airport at the end of my trip and gorged on sashimi salmon toast and a vegan ice cream sundae to end all ice cream sundaes. They have some unique flexitarian options and something delicious for everyone. Teresa Carles is the chef in charge, and is also responsible for Teresa's Juicery, Teresa Carles and Teresa's.
SATANS COFFEE CORNER
This place has two locations, one of which is located on the corner of some quiet bending back streets, which is where I guess the name comes from. I had an amazing iced coffee (made from the finest single original coffee beans) and chose a breakfast bowl and some poke from their menu of local, house made dishes.
BRUNCH + CAKE
More than just brunch and cake, but you can’t call a place brunch, breakfast, smoothies, coffee, juices, sandwiches, salad bowls, toasts and cake, can you? With several locations across the city this place offers interesting and exciting nourishment any time of day (despite the name).
A cute little surf shack that makes Barcelona Beach feel like Bondi. They have an amazing selection of fusion bowls, fresh burgers and revitalising drinks, and from them I chose an amazing tuna sashimi bowl and a smoothie. It's not often you find a place with vegan options sitting across from bbq ribs and nutella drenched waffles, but this place proves it can happen.
If you like food, and lots of it in one place, spend some time wandering Bocquiera Market. A huge indoor/outdoor food market selling fresh produce, cooked meals, meat, fish, cheese, bread, smoothies and nut and seed pick & mix. I stumbled across it accidentally and stocked up on the most amazing macrona almonds, macadamia nuts and a coconut smoothie.
Due to my time restriction (and the beautiful weather outside), I didn’t explore inside the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, but a friend of mine living in the city suggested swinging by to watch the skateboarders doing their thing. I took my Bocquiera takeaways and ate them in the sun, watching them make a half pipe out of the museum steps.
PRESS + RESET
One of few juice joints in the city, Press and Reset is a cool, cold pressed juice bar, located on the sidewalk approaching the beach. I took a strawberry almond milk from the fridge and enjoyed it with my feet in the sea.
THE JUICE HOUSE
Juices, smoothies, tea infusions, acai bowls, chia pancakes, avocado toast, salads and more, with options for meat eaters, vegans and everyone else in between.
BLUE PROJECT CAFE
Vegetarian, vegan and raw nourishment. Beautiful, delicious and incredibly functional if you need some cleansing between tapas courses and rounds of san gria.
I thought it was only right to engage in some actual tourism in between exploring the health food scene, so I made my way from the beach, through Park Cituedella all the way up to park guell. its quite a walk but i wasn’t working out so i enjoyed every sweaty minute of it. when i reached the park i explored the public grounds before taking the tour of Gaudi’s infamous architecture.
T H E Y O G A K I T C H E N
After two days of touring Barcelona's health food scene and making my way to enough of it's famous landmarks to satisfy my inner tourist, I headed North of the city to the a traditional 19th century converted farmhouse situated in the Catalonian hills, to join Kimberley and ten other guests for The Yoga Kitchen Retreat. Kimberley's book - The Yoga Kitchen - is all about eating to realign our seven chakras which, incase you are unfamiliar, are the different energy systems within our bodies. These chakras, known as the Root, Sacral, Solar, Heart, Throat, Third Eye and Crown, are the major energy centers of the body and are charged and recharged through contact with the stream of cosmic energy in the atmosphere. Each chakra relates to a certain part of the body, and if you feel physical or mental tension or experience complications in a certain area, this is known as a blockage or closure, and is your bodys way of showing when something is out of balance and unaligned. In her book, Kimberly focusses on the connection each chakra has with diet and mindful habits. She explains how we can support each one through our diets and provides over 100 plant based, sugar free and gluten free recipes to nurture each chakra. To emphasise the importance of phsycially and mentally nurturing our chakra's and keeping them balanced, Kathryn Fielding was our yoga teacher for the week, and each daily practice was inspired by each daily menu, focussing on a single chakra each day, starting from the root upwards.
We spent every moment before 8am in complete silence, and from 8am to 9am, this was only broken by the words of our teacher. At first, especially since I was sharing a room, I found this challenging as I hate awkward silences as it is, and wanted to acknowledge my roomie with a friendly 'good morning'. However, since everyone was silent, it wasn't really awkward at all, and by day two I had come to quite enjoy over-emphasising my smile and pointing at things in order to communicate.
After half an hour of independant, self-guided meditation, we started each day with 1 to 1.5 hours of chakra relevant morning yoga, either on a rooftop overlooking the hills, or on the edge of the infinity pool (not the infinite edge, dw). We then walked, simultaneously energised but relaxed, back up to the main house where a breakfast shot and smoothie was waiting for us. We sat at a long, communal table and got to know each other between courses of avocado toast, savoury flapjacks, egg bowls, rice bowls and hearty, seasonal salads - all made from the freshest local produce. You couldn't even imagine a brunch so perfect if you tried, unless greasy spoons or frosted flakes are your jam.
After breakfast - which was often 4 or 5 courses (sometimes 6 if you finished someone elses) of the most wholesome, natural and intentional ingredients - the rest of the day was our own. At first, I was dubious about going away with people I didnt know and was concerned that I might not want to commit to everything on the program, however, unlike a lot of more regimented retreats, we were left to do whatever we wanted for the rest of the day, and even the afternoon and evening activities were not compulsory. This fitted with the 'wake up well' and 'wind down well' ethos behind my brand, as I loved having structure in the morning and evening, but freedom to do what I wanted during the day. Somedays we walked off our breakfast banquet with a hike to and from a local lake. Others, we took bikes to the local town, played tennis in the private courts, swam in the pool, sunbathed, socialised or in some cases worked without feeling like we were working.
In the evenings, we had the choice to take part in yin and restorative yoga, often in a cool, cave-like room or on the rooftop overlooking the sunset. After that, we gathered around the communal table for a three course selection of chakra-relevant Yoga Kitchen nourishment. We started each meal with something light (raw asparagus mousse, roasted carrot gnochi, warming soups and seeded crackers). The mains (lentil dahl, white bean risotto, aubergine brown rice bowl to name a few) were fulfilling but also easy on the digestive system, and the desserts (turmeric mousse, raw chocolate bites, brazil nut ice cream) were, although not needed at all by this stage, welcomed and received with open arms (and chakras, lol). Some evenings we toasted essential oil spritzers and digestive tonics whilst star gazing, and others drew to a close with a cup of tea, a late night swim or just some low-key independant reading.
The experience as a whole was incredibly heart opening, and to have Kim and her husband both hosting, their love and energy definitley penetrated through every one of the guests. Some guests had never done yoga before whilst others were comparably pro, but no matter anyones level or ability, i defeinitely noticed something change in each guest by the middle of the week. Some people had stressful journeys, many of us were going through hectic times at work, and one was dealing with a painful breakup, but as we all opened up, shared things and let good food, positive energy and restorative yoga practices sooth these current challenges, we were able to accept things, enjoy things, embrace the power of positive thinking and of each others energy and truly let go. I swear I saw all twenty tense, hunched up shoulders drop heavily after a few hip opening postures and superfood shots.
I think the temperature just dropped by another 5 degrees so I'm going to round this up now, but if you want to find out more about The Yoga Kitchen, follow Kim @kimberleyparsons. She holds these retreats all year round and all over the world, so take a look on our website or subscribe to her newsletter to keep updated.
If you want to keep up to date with my travels and discoveries, follow me @dcopperman. I'll also keep these posts updated if I discover new things on repeat visits.