Destinations

All aboard: a food lover's guide through Catalonia and Lake Geneva by Eurail

Game of Thrones-inspired gelato, high-altitude cheese-making, and the birthplace of milk chocolate – these are the culinary highlights from travelling through Spain and Switzerland by train.

By Lee Tran Lam
Drinking wine from a porrón at Bodega Sant Medir
Blame Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Since watching Before Sunrise where the love-struck characters met on a railway carriage near Vienna, I've long had romantic ideas about flexing a Eurail pass.
It's been more than 20 years since the movie was released, but it's only now that I've picked up my own town-hopping train pass through Spain's Catalonia region, then north-west to Lake Geneva in Switzerland. But it's food, not romance, that's on my mind, from Catalan cheese and boundary-pushing gelati to the sweet origins of milk chocolate. Hop onboard.

Barcelona, Spain

Mercat de Sants
When you walk through the vaulted brick building that houses the Mercat de Sants food market, it's the brine-sharp smell of olives you notice first, then the ice-banks of fish hauled fresh from the Mediterranean Sea. Don't miss the vibrant displays of local tomatoes, particularly the Teta de Monja, a heart-shaped species whose name translates to "nun's breast".
Carrer de Sant Jordi, 6, 0828 Barcelona
Llet Crua cheese shop
This cheese shop showcases raw-milk and Catalan varieties, and we have hippies and old shepherds to thank for bringing these local curds and rinds back into the spotlight. A standout is the tupi, a goat's milk cheese from Garrotxa, a volcanic region between the Pyrenees mountains and Costa Brava coastline. It's named after the clay vessel it's kept in, and finished with olive oil and the liquid from pickled walnuts.
Carrer Càceres, 14, 08028 Barcelona, lletcrua.cat
Llet Crua cheese shop. Photo: Jaime Kowal
Charcuteria Cerex
Around the corner from Llet Crua is a jamón Ibérico vending machine (vending machine!) operated by this charcuterie house that specialises in Ibérico ham. The real stuff can cost an eyebrow-raising 200 euros per kilo and must meet strict criteria to be accredited as jamón Ibérico. Prized Ibérico pigs are known as "pata negra" for their trademark black hooves, though counterfeiters have been known to paint pigs' feet black to fool buyers.
Carrer de Càceres, 5, 08028 Barcelona
Charcuteria Cerex. Photo: Jaime Kowal
Bodega Sant Medir
Locals flock to this neighbourhood wine bar for vermouth and local wine poured from barrels and into a porró, a decanter commonly found throughout the Catalan region (it's also known as porrón in other parts of Spain). George Orwell, famously, was not a fan of the drinking vessel. He wrote in Homage to Catalonia, "a porrón is a sort of glass bottle with a pointed spout from which a thin jet of wine spurts out whenever you tip it up… I went on strike and demanded a drinking-cup as soon as I saw a porrón in use." The novelist was right – drinking from a porró is incredibly messy. It's also very fun.
Carrer de Sant Medir, 6, 08028 Barcelona
Bodega Sant Medir. Photo: Jaime Kowal

Girona

Castillo de Peralada
This castle in the medieval town is striking not just because it resembles a giant chess piece, but because it's a serious temple of wine worship. The town has been the frontline for wine-making expertise since the Middle Ages when Carmelite monks ran bodega convents at this very castle, enlisting local vineyards for grapes to experiment with. Nowadays, it's home to a wine museum and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Plus, its nearby sister hotel features a vineyard, rooms stocked with merlot shampoo and a wine spa flaunting beauty products and treatments using leftover grapes.
Placa del Carme, 1, 17491, Peralada
Castillo de Peralada. Photo: Jaime Kowal
Cap de Ras
On a gloomy day, when the wind reaches face-slapping levels of aggressive and unforgiving, it's hard to feel overjoyed about the weather. But Evarist March, a "gastro-botanist" who works with the list-topping El Celler de Can Roca restaurant, is charismatic enough to summon that cheer. "The fresh air is like wild coffee," he says enthusiastically. He takes us on a walk that reveals the ingredients hidden along the Cap de Ras coastline: from wild thyme, which flavours a Catalan garlic-and-bread soup that's often found on local dinner tables, to prickly pear. Foraging is a big deal in these parts – March says the most-watched TV show in the region for the last six years was about collecting mushrooms.
Mas Espelt
March also hosts a flower and wine pairing at Mas Espelt, a nearby winery run by eighth-generation winemaker Anna Espelt. Sips of wine are interspersed with wild herbs and flowers to experience how these ingredients alter the wine's taste: wild fennel creates an aniseed liqueur-like aftershock, while wild thyme imparts a lemongrass-like flavour. Following the Espelt Quinze Roures, a blend of white and grey grenache grapes, with a bite of elysium, magnifies the wine's honey-like profile.
Mas Espelt s/n, 17493 Vilajuïga, Girona
Wild flower and wine tasting at Mas Espelt. Photo: Jaime Kowal
Rocambolesc
Sure, the Roca brothers' El Celler de Can Roca might be one of the hardest restaurants in town to score a booking, but getting through the door of Jordi Roca's gelateria Rocambolesc is a much simpler task. Just don't expect one of the world's most renowned dessert-makers to be serving anything ordinary – you might find truffle ice-cream or and a gelato evoking "old books" in honour of the literature-celebrating St Jordi's Day. His popsicle range is sugar-coated with pop culture nods to Star Wars, Stranger Things and Game of Thrones – the Jaime's Hand flavour is one of many GoT references that fans can experience in Girona, as various locations throughout the medieval city have had onscreen moments in the series.
Carrer Sta. Clara 50, 17001 Girona, rocambolesc.com
Gelato from Rocambolesc. Photo: Jaime Kowal
Can Roca
If time allows, consider dining at the long-running restaurant operated by the Roca brothers' parents Josep Roca and Montserrat Fontané. It's where Jordi and his famous siblings learned to cook professionally, and while their Michelin-starred establishment charges hundreds of euros for its menu, their parents serve home-style, traditional meals for around €10.
Ctra. de Taialà, 42, 17007 Girona

Lausanne, Switzerland

View of Lake Geneva from the train. Photo: Jaime Kowal
Blondel
If there's a place that's designed for scenic train travel, it's Switzerland. The picture-book mountain views that appear once you sweep into the alpine region are hard to ignore. After arriving in Lausanne in the Lake Geneva (Vaud) region, head to Blondel, a brilliant chocolate shop that's been open since 1851. Its left-of-field flavours, like a sticky, peppery yuzu kosho chocolate, are worth the cobblestoned detour.
Rue de Bourg 5, 1003 Lausanne, blondel.ch

Vevey, Switzerland

Läderach
You could do worse than heading to Switzerland in search of good chocolate. And chocolate lovers should make the pilgrimage to the town of Vevey, where milk chocolate was invented by Daniel Peterin in 1867. If you want to nerd out about cocoa butter and cacao, head to Läderach for chocolate-making and tasting classes. You can also stock up on the store's range of inventive chocolates, which includes a tom yum cashew praline that's a tribute to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Thai royal who spent nearly two decades in Lausanne. The store's Charlie Chaplin chocolate "shoes" come packed in a film reel and are inspired by the movie star who spent his final years in the region.
Rue du Théâtre 8, 1800 Vevey, laderach.com
Chocolates at Läderach. Photo: Jaime Kowal
Chexbres
If you want to chase some chasselas – the local white wine that's rarely available outside of Switzerland – head to this wine-growing village, where grapes have been planted in the mineral-rich soil since the 12th century and charming cellar doors can be found in the picturesque UNESCO-protected slopes.
Vineyards at Chexbres. Photo: Jaime Kowal
Château-d'Oex
The most scenic way to flex your Eurail pass here is via the Belle Epoque train on the GoldenPass Classic line. The train has a certified "Accidentally Wes Anderson" look and the journey whisks you past charming farmhouses, rushing waterways and stunning snow-capped peaks.
Inside the Belle Epoque train. Photo: Jaime Kowal
Le Chalet
Château-d'Oex, which stands 1000 metres above sea level and is home to a mountain village of 3000, is a good spot for a detour. Drop by Le Chalet where you can watch Gruyère cheese being made from two-hour-old local milk, eat bubbling raclette over boiled new potatoes or scoop fat cubes of bread from porcini-mushroom fondue. Make sure to try Etivaz, a regional alpine cheese that's produced nearby at a dizzying 2000-metre-high altitude. Upstairs lies a miniature recreation of the GoldenPass Classic line that retraces your route here (which, fittingly, has an endearing "Accidentally Wes Anderson" feel, too).
Route de la Gare 2, Château-d'Oex, 1660, lechalet-fromagerie.ch
Gruyère in the making at Le Chalet. Photo: Jaime Kowal
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