Chestnuts, an autumnal favourite in Catalunya
Between September and November, there are a whole host of cultural and gastronomic happenings that make this a great time to be in the city.
1. Football season kicks off Considering that the FC Barcelona stadium is the most visited 'museum' in the city, it comes as no surprise that the start of the Spanish league at the end of August is greeted with much anticipation and excitement here. If you've timed your visit to coincide with a home match for the mega football team and have any interest at all in the beautiful game, then you absolutely must go and see them play (ticket details on the official FC Barcelona website here in English). If there isn't a match on, you might have luck with basketball, ice hockey, roller hockey, handball or the second Barça team, Barça Atletic, which is where some of the first team players cut their teeth before being called up to the first XI. Otherwise, a trip to the 'Camp Nou Experience', including multimedia centre, gives you a chance to visit the changing rooms, to see the six cups that were famously won by the football team in the 2009-10 season and to spend your holiday pocket money in the huge store at the end of the tour.
2. October 12th This is the Dia de la Hispanidad, the national day of Spain, and a public holiday throughout the country. The main feature is a military parade that usually takes place in Madrid before politicians, local dignitaries and the royal family—arguably the highlight of the procession is catching a glimpse of the goat that is a mascot for one of the army divisions (Legión Española), he always looks very smart and trit-trots along in time with his buddies (kind of). The celebrations have little impact in Catalunya apart from it being a day off work for many.
3. Tots Sants and panellets The day after some nations celebrate Halloween, November 1st (All Saints' Day) is a national Spanish holiday when people here remember family and friends who have passed away, many visit their loved ones' graves or cemetery niches to leave flowers. In Catalunya, it is also a day when special food is eaten, namely roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes, and panellets. These are usually consumed in the evening of October 31st (La Castanyada) or after lunch on Tots Sants as dessert—the flesh of the sweet potatoes may be eaten straight from the skin using a spoon, while the chestnuts (which may have been bought the previous evening from of the castanya sellers in the street, hence the large queues you'll see on October 31st at these stalls around the city) are peeled and eaten hot. Panellets are delicious, but pricey, small cakes that were traditionally made with potato or sweet potato and ground almonds; it may sound a strange mixture, but the result is very similar to marzipan. They come in different flavours, including chocolate and strawberry, however, traditionalists will stick to the round ones covered in pine nuts (the most expensive), the oval-shaped almond-coated ones and the pyramid coconut ones. These delicacies don't come cheap, with some costing up to €30 or €40 a kilo, but it's worth just buying one or two to try them. Or, if you prefer, spend time checking out the displays of panellets in the windows of Barcelona's pastisseries.
4. Castanyes Hot chestnuts aren't only eaten on these two days, however. They are a popular and warm snack that can be bought on the streets of Barcelona throughout the cooler months. Traditional stalls are scattered around the city, with a brazier to cook the seasonal fruit, which are sold in paper cones by the six (six, 12, 18, etc.) and cost from a couple of euros.
5. Ski season starts The end of November can see some of the ski resorts in the Pyrenees open their doors, especially if there has been some early snowfall during the month. If you're a keen skier and can't wait to get up on the slopes, check out places like La Molina, Boí Taüll and Masella to see if they are open for business.
6. Calçots These are Catalan onions that start to come into season in November and the eating of which can be a delicious and fun social occasion. Created at the end of the 19th century, calçots are traditionally grilled over an open fire till their outer layers are well-charred; to eat them, these cooked layers are pulled off and the remaining vegetable is dipped into a special sauce made of tomatoes and almonds then lowered vertically into one's mouth. Many groups of friends and families get together for a calçotada over the next few months, a big barbecue where calçots will be grilled (potentially up to 30 or 40 per person, or even more) and eaten, followed by a varied selection of meats that could include steaks, sausages (botifarra) and lamb, all washed down with lots of red wine. You'll find calçots on the menu of lots of Barcelona restaurants at this time of year, although to get a more authentic experience, it's better to head out of town to a countryside restaurant.
7. Music festivals Jazz fans who visit Barcelona at this time of year will be spoiled with the performances during the annual Barcelona Jazz Festival. There's also plenty of film going on around the city with the Beefeater In-Edit Festival, the Sitges Film Festival and the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. And, the Festival Mil·lenni tends to kick off in November, and run right into the spring of the following year, with a good line-up of international stars usually appearing on the programme.
8. Bolets These are wild mushrooms found in the Catalan countryside that are in season during the autumn, some of which are in difficult-to-find locations that are closely-guarded secrets amongst boletaires (mushroom hunters). Head to the Boqueria or any other Barcelona market to see the piles of fresh fungi decorating the vegetable stalls and try rovellons, rossinyols and ceps in the best restaurants in town.