Helena Bernadas. ALTAÏR

Where journeys begin

A visit to to Altaïr means being able to go anywhere in the world. Travel guides, maps, and literature from anywhere on the planet are part of the shop’s extensive catalogue, one of the largest in Europe

How was the Altaïr bookshop born?
It came out of a friendship between two friends, Pep Bernadas and Albert Padrol, who were studying at university in 1979. They both liked to travel and were interested in going beyond mere tourism. Getting to know other cultures, learning about different points of view, and going from literature to bibliography to get to know other territories and other cultures. At that time, there weren’t the technological tools we have now, and many people would ask them: “I’m going to such and such a place... what do you recommend?” The shop was also a meeting point. With this intention, they began with a small collection of books from their travels and created a small bookshop on carrer Riera Alta, in the Raval neighbourhood, where there was a space with a coffee maker and a teapot. At the same time they expanded the bibliography by specialising in travel, world cultures, works from other places, maps, and other types of practical material.
And the bookshop grew from there?
They then got another place on Carrer Balmes. Not only did the opportunity arise to explain the world through land travel, but they joined forces with Force 6, which was a nautical bookstore, with the intention of encompassing all types of travel. Force 6 disappeared after its owner died. This venue was inaugurated 20 years ago, and Altaïr has become an open door to the world, so that all those people who want to travel, either physically or from their sofas, can find material from other places and from other cultures. Yet, there are still a lot of things we also don’t know about, and from people asking us questions, we expand the bibliography with a desire to be this common thread and to create this space for cultural exchange.
How did the travel agency come about?
The travel agency was set up in 1992, proposing trips with a little more cultural awareness and emphasising that the most important thing is not only leisure but also getting to know the territory you’re going to. We try to find people with a network of contacts who can explain the place to us from different angles.
How has such a global project survived a year of pandemic?
It’s difficult. We don’t know if we’ll survive. When you have a project, you fight for it. We’re trying to build on the fact that we were known before as the place where the first step in starting a journey begins, that we are the starting point of a journey. Altaïr is where the journey begins, but not only do we try to be that, but we’re also trying to turn ourselves into a space to find out more. In the end, fiction that happens in Afghanistan still provides a view of Afghanistan. In this last year there has been a great deal of interest in mountain travel. For example, many people have shown interest in places like Ribes de Freser or even Collserola, which is right next to us. They have saved us. Also weekend getaways. It’s true that the cultural sector has been greatly harmed and we even more so because we focus on the world of tourism, the world of travel. In addition, the centre of Barcelona has been a dead space because here there are a lot of offices and people are teleworking, while many shops have been closed. For years our location was perfect because we were at the centre of it all. But we continue to bet on being a space of open culture in the city of Barcelona.

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