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Discovering slow tourism

Gizzy girl Yvette Shaw is living in Barcelona, Spain where she works as an au pair. The Weekender interviewed her about her life over there . . .

What inspired your move, how long have you been there?

I was lucky enough to get this job through a recommendation of a friend, which meant I knew the family would be good (which is a huge factor in au pairing!) I also lived in Barcelona a few years ago, so I knew I loved the city and would always want to return if given the chance.

How expensive is it compared to New Zealand?

It is much cheaper, and almost an integral part of the culture, to enjoy coffees, drinks and meals out with friends and family. I also love the culture of tapas over here, or of everyone sharing food around a table, rather than having their own plate to eat.

Best time of year to visit?

Summer in Barcelona is too hot and too busy, both things I prefer to avoid. Autumn is my favourite time of the year here (October to December). The days are still warm, but the nights are cold enough for blankets, leaves throughout the city go through their stunning colour display, locals pack out the plazas, you can walk past Gaudi attractions without fear of claustrophobia setting in, and the local delicacy of barbecued leeks fills the country air.

What do you miss most about home?

Apart from family and friends, I definitely miss Kiwi beach life. Only the most remote and generally inaccessible beaches here are without sun loungers and people. I can't wait to return to our beautiful East Coast beaches, where five other people are too many, so you just keep on walking down the golden sand until the only other sounds are the crashing waves.

What are the greatest advantages to living there?

For me, Barcelona is a city like no other. Being born and raised in Gizzy, big cities can sometimes be a bit overwhelming and suffocating — but Barcelona is the most chilled out and tranquil big city I’ve been to (I know . . . sounds like an oxymoron), while still maintaining a sense of vibrant electricity. Its vibe, or rollo as they say here, is completely unique and quite difficult to describe without excessive hand gestures.

I think it has something to do with its proximity to the Pyrenees mountains while also being right on the beach, its temperate climate, oak tree-lined streets, stunning and varied architecture (from Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia to the colourful art nouveau Hospital Sant Pau), great bicycle lanes throughout the entire city, and, my personal favourite, an abundance of plazas (or city squares). Plaza life is one of my most loved things over here — the pure sense of enjoyment in being outside and a part of everyday community life is wonderful to see.

The Catalonia region itself has also been an amazing discovery. The Pyrenees and the Costa Brava are its most famous draw-cards, and for good reason. I discovered the beauty of the Catalonian Pyrenees one day while hiking up a beautiful valley to the town of Nuria, positioned high up in the clouds. One of the most famous via ferratas (iron path) in Catalonia is located only one and a half hours from Barcelona on the Costa Brava, an exhilarating activity where you’re scaling rocks perched above the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean.

The Penedes wine region is also not to be missed (as well as the Catalonian version of champagne, Cava). There is also an abundance of hiking trails, hot-air ballooning, the Salvador Dali museum, and natural wetlands, home to flamingos and rice fields (which provide the rice for the incredible paellas found here).

These are the things that have filled my weekends, rather than jet-setting off to other big cities across Europe, which is, sadly, sometimes a lot cheaper than a train ticket for a trip only a few hours away.

Yet because of this discovery of what is literally on my doorstep, I have had an incredible realisation of how good “slow tourism” really is. You can watch the changing scenery passing by from the window of the bus, while also having the time to read that book you’ve been putting aside for years. You can stay in gorgeous wee local BnBs that still use crochet doilies from generations past, and you can also taste what homemade, slow-cooked-with-love food really tastes like. In this I am advocating a change to a more in-depth and relaxed approach to tourism — something that leaves you feeling more rested and better connected to life.

Yvette (left) and her friend Mandolin scrambling around the cliffs of the Costa Brava on a via ferrata (‘iron road’). Pictures by Yvette Shaw
Hospital San Pau is an example of some of the stunning ‘art nouveau’ architecture found around Barcelona.
JOY: Yvette jumps for joy while hiking in the clouds of the Catalonian Pyrenees near Nuria.