With Halloween less than a week away, I think we can definitely say that autumn has well and truly started. But with temperatures remaining in the warm twenties in Barcelona, (heck, I’m still using the sheet at night with no duvet, much to the disbelief of my Spanish colleagues), you can be forgiven for not really feeling the change of season. So if you’re longing for those autumn feels after seeing everyone’s Instagram photos of them drinking pumpkin spice lattes on crisp autumn days and going mushroom picking, today I’m giving you 5 ways to instantly feel more autumnal, even in the Mediterranean.
1. Get Your Walking Shoes On
With the, albeit often somewhat mild, dip in temperatures, autumn is a fantastic time to discover Catalonia’s beautiful forests and countryside. If you don’t want to stray too far from Barcelona, Collserola Natural Park is just a stone’s throw away and offers a tonne of different walks of ranging difficulty levels. (See my article Top 10 Things to Do for Free in Barcelona for more details).
Alternatively, you could venture a little further afield and visit Montserrat. This multi-peaked mountain range is around an hour’s easy train journey from Barcelona and an autumnal walk at the top of one of its many peaks will definitely blow the cobwebs away and offer you spectacular views of the Catalan landscape. Also worth visiting is the Monastery of Montserrat, which sits majestically at the top of the mountain, making you wonder how people managed to get the building material up there at the start of the 11th century when it was founded (it has since been modernised). Noteworthy too is the monastery’s unusual black Virgin Mary whose hand it’s traditional to kiss. Not for germaphobes!
How to get there: Take a one hour train ride with the R5 train from Plaça Espanya (direction Manresa-Baixador). Once you get to Montserrat you have a range of options to reach the top, depending on how active/scared of heights you are:
a) Get out at the stop Montserrat-Aeri and then take a quick white knuckle ride on the cable car to the top. (I’m not a fan of cable cars but the fact it was made by German engineers did encourage me somewhat!)
b) Take the train one stop further to Monistrol de Montserrat and then take a somewhat less nerve-wracking (but slower) 20 minute funicular ride.
c) Get out at Monistrol de Montserrat and walk to the top. This takes about 3 hours but is well worth it!
2. Get On Your Bike (Fancy dress optional)
After the intense summer heat, autumn is a fantastic time to go cycling! And if you’d like to join other people, I cannot recommend Critical Mass enough! If you’ve never heard of it, make sure to check out some videos here.
Basically, Critical Mass is a monthly cycling event which takes place in several cities around the world. It’s essentially a huge cycling meetup which aims to promote cycling as a sustainable mode of transport and importantly, it’s a lot of fun. It’s so encouraging to see people of all ages, nationalities and cycling expertise getting on their two-wheeled friends. And the range of pimped up bikes with custom-fitted accessories, lights and sound systems never fail to impress. With a range of music being pumped out, it feels like a disco on wheels.
There’s a different route every month and it always takes place on the first Friday of the month leaving from Arc de Triomf at around 8:30pm. This is a great way to explore the city, with no chance of getting lost — just follow the people in front of you and keep pedalling for an hour or two until you reach the end point at Plaça de Sant Jaume.
What’s even better, the next Critical mass on Friday November 1st, is the Halloween/Day of The Dead edition! So if you want to join the mob of ghosts, crazy scientists and vampires cycling around the city, don’t miss it. Anyone in the Barcelona area who wants to go, let me know!
3. Get Cosy at the Cinema
I don’t know about you but I always feel guilty for staying inside on a sunny day, probably due to my childhood indoctrination of the sins of “wasting” those fleeting hours of sunshine in England. The thing is, in Barcelona it’s nearly always sunny, so my Netflix binge and all-day pyjama days are few and far between. But from October onwards there are more grey and cloudy days so autumn is a golden opportunity to have more guilt-free days of watching films and series at home.
If you feel like venturing out of your cosy cocoon, you could take a trip to your local cinema. The top Choice for me has to be Cinema Maldà. This tiny cinema with only one room is tucked away in the unassuming Galeries Maldà shopping centre in the heart of the Gothic quarter and shows a wide variety of films from all around the globe, all shown in their original languages with subtitles; quite a rarity in Spain.
But what makes this cinema really stand out is the unusual way the tickets are priced. Film tickets costs between €5 and €8.5 depending on the day you visit, but these tickets admit you to all the films being shown that day. So you could actually have a movie marathon and watch 4 films in one day for less than €10! Plus, don’t miss out on the upcoming Cinema Festival on the 28th to 30th of October when Cinema Maldà’s tickets will only cost you €2.90. What an absolute steal!
4. Celebrate La Castanyada
Barcelona’s a cosmopolitan city, so of course there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate Halloween here. However, what’s a lot more traditional, and far less commercial, is to celebrate la castanyada. This is traditionally celebrated on the 1st of November— All Saints’ Day and a public holiday throughout Spain. (Hooray for all these saints and the time they give you off work!) This celebration is all about remembering the dead as it was traditionally believed that this is the time of year when our dead ancestors return to visit us, and like most festivities, there’s a heavy focus on getting the family together and eating your bodyweight in food.
Mmm, food you say, what type of food? All of the following should feature at any good castanyada:
a) Boniato– This scrumptious sweet potato can be boiled, fried, grilled, mashed, and roasted, but they’re best enjoyed piping hot from the numerous street vendors that pop up this time of year.
b)Panellets –(Catalan for “little breads”) are small sweets made mainly of marzipan. They can be flavoured with a number of toppings like cocoa powder, candied cherries, coffee, cinnamon and coconut flakes, but the most popular topping is pine nuts. They’re delicious but quite can be quite expensive. Check out this recipe to make your own.
c) Castañas or castanyas in Catalan – The star of the show, you can’t celebrate lacastanyada without the eponymous toasted chestnuts. The first street chestnut vendors started selling their chestnuts this week and will continue until February. But the biggest days for eating chestnuts are the 31st of October and 1st of November when many Catalans celebrate la castanyada.
Oh and let’s not forget that it should all be washed down with cavaor moscatel!
But what are the origins of this celebration?
La Castanyada is a pagan tradition with Celtic roots mixed with some Christian rituals which celebrates the end of the summer and marks the start of darker and colder days.
Among many theories it’s thought that the tradition of eating these foods stems from the fact that on All Saints’ Eve (31st October) families used to hold a vigil for the dead. To stay awake they would stock up on food to give them energy. Whilst roasting chestnuts, prayers would be said for the dead who were thought to return on this night.
Another theory is that the celebration was for the bell ringers who rang their bells all night on the 31st to remind people to pray for the souls of the deceased. When the ringers rested, people would bring them autumnal foods to give them a boost.
How are the dead remembered today?
On 1st November and the following days, it’s traditional to attend church services to honour Catholic saints and martyrs. In Barcelona, the city’s nine cemeteries also extend their visiting hours and even provide extra public transport for the many people who visit the graves of their dead relatives and leave candles and flowers.
If like me you have a strange fascination with graveyards, you might be interested to know that the Barcelona Cemeteries Association (CBSA) usually invites the public to an open day event around this time of year to visit the cemetery museum in Montjuïc and its collection of funeral carriages. Just make sure you remember your way out! Montjuïc is Barcelona’s largest cemetery and it’s massive — I actually got so incredibly lost one day I couldn’t find the exit and had to climb up and jump off walls, tomb raider style, to get out.
5. Celebrate Halloween
While Halloween isn’t a Spanish tradition, it’s still celebrated in Barcelona and there are a tonne of things to do.
For some family-friendly Halloween fun, why not get your adrenaline pumping at Portaventura Theme Park, (around 1 hour south of Barcelona). Expect parades, music, shows, terror tunnels, and ghoulish decorations. And make sure to fill up on plenty of trick or treat sweeties to keep your energy up — the park is open past midnight on Halloween.
Poble Espanyol will also be decked out in its finest cobwebs this Halloween and has organised some terrifying activities for young and old, including costume contests, scary scavenger hunts, and some spooky ghost stories.
For the party animals there are also countless Halloween parties in Barcelona’s bars and clubs. And as the 1st of November is a public holiday, you can really let your hair down knowing you don’t have to go to work the next day. Now that would be a scary thought!
So there you have it, my top 5 suggestions to have a terrific time in Barcelona this autumn: Get walking, Get cycling, Get cosy and celebrate both La Castanyada and Halloween.
Sending you sunshine and positivity from Barcelona!
How are you celebrating Halloween this year? Any more suggestions on how to get in an autumnal mood? I would love to hear from you in the comments section below.