With apologies for the delay, here are my recommendations for Barcelona, based on my trip in May 2012.
- Casa Batlló – I love Gaudí’s fantastical modernist architecture and I visit the fabulous Parc Güell on every trip to the Catalan capital. However, I had never visited either of the two masterpiece houses he designed on Passeig de Gràcia: Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. The former offers a full audio-guided tour of the interior, so that was our choice. The house is full of symbolism, quirky design features (is the light fitting supposed to represent a circle of nipples? Who knows!) and incredible attention to detail. The audio guide is really comprehensive and allows the visitor to take their time over areas of particular interest. What I found interesting, given my recent trips to Morocco and the extensive Moorish history of Spain, were the nods to what I consider to be features of North African architecture: mosaic and tile work, a plunging light shaft through the centre of the building and curling plaster structures. Parts of the house also reminded me of Northern European art nouveau such as the Horta house in Brussels.
Casa Batlló, Pg de Gràcia 43. Metro: Passeig de Gràcia
- Cathedral Quarter – the area around the Cathedral in the Barri Gòtic has had a facelift in recent years and it’s well worth a poke around the back streets to see some fabulous examples of Barcelona architecture through the ages, ie a few ages ahead of Gaudí and his modernista mates. The Cathedral itself is well
worth a visit (where else can you visit geese in a church?!), but then head around the side to explore. I spent a while in the shade of the vaulted sunken courtyard of the Museu Frederic Marès, where I managed to pick up Barcelona’s excellent free public wifi. (Once you’ve signed in near or at a museum you’ll pick it up all over the place). A few doors along is the tranquil 16th century Palacio de los Virreyes of the The Archive of the Crown of Aragon, like a Moroccan riad in the Gothic Quarter. Around the narrow streets at the back of the Cathedral are other fine examples of Gothic, mediaeval and later architecture on this, the site of the original Roman city. Many of these have been carefully restored and maintained as public buildings, including the Department of the Catalan President.
Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, Plaça de la Seu. Metro: Catedral
- Agua – there is a whole set of beachfront restaurants and bars tucked under the promenade in the Barceloneta, beneath the sculpture of the bronze fish in the former Olympic Village. We were lucky to get a table on a beautiful sunny day at Agua, which specialises in fresh, no-nonsense Spanish dishes. (Some of its neighbours offer Asian fusion and other exotic delights). We had huge, fat gambas grilled in garlic, a mountain of deep-fried artichoke shavings, a rich grilled goat’s cheese on a thick mattress of sun-ripened local tomatoes and many other delicious tapas. We washed all that down with a crisp, dry Galician Albariño and even indulged in dessert. The girls were particularly impressed by the fresitas gratina, a kind of runny crème brulée with strawberries in. It sounds odd, but really was quite special! With two bottles of wine (€19 each), our seaside lunch wasn’t cheap (€196 for four of us), but the setting and the food were well worth it.
Agua, Maritim de la Barceloneta 30. Metro Barceloneta (but it’s still a bit of a walk)
- Ácoma – reaching the Boqueria market too late to get anything to eat (get there before 4pm), we dived into the labyrinth of small streets on the other side of the Ramblas leading towards the of the Barri Gòtic in search of tapas. Not far along c/ de la Boqueria, after dodging a few waiters trying to tempt us in to pubs and bars, Ácoma caught our eye because a TV in the front window was broadcasting images of a cute interior courtyard. We headed through the bar to the courtyard where a band was setting up for later that evening. It was a sunny haven of tranquility and reasonably-priced tapas in a neighbourhood which is otherwise can be dark, full of hassling touts. The perfect location for post-shopping down-time!
Ácoma, c/ de la Boqueria 21. Metro: Liceu
- Eclipse at the W – Everyone in Barcelona was talking about the new W hotel, perched out beyond the marina like it’s just too cool for one of the coolest cities in Europe. So, we decided to join the in crowd and headed over there for cocktails at sunset. The view from the 26th floor of was something else as the sun set and the lights came on along the beachfront. The sun loungers and rollerbladers made it feel like LA, not the Mediterranean! And there’s even a view from the toilets! The cocktails were really good and one as an aperitif didn’t break the bank (although a whole night of them might!)
Eclipse at W Barcelona, Plaça de la Rosa del Vents. Metro Barceloneta (but it’s still a fair walk – take a taxi)
- Boutique Bar at the Ohla Hotel– the weekend we were in
Barcelona, the bar at the 5* Ohla was named one of the Sunday Times’ Top 50 bars in the world. Now, that was an opportunity too good to miss. The hotel looks a bit too avant-garde even for Barcelona – it’s got dozens of plastic eyeballs on stalks sticking out of its period façade and the downstairs bar is teeny. But, as we discovered, perched at the bar for lack of seating, it well deserves all accolades! We found prize-winning mixologist Massimo (Max) La Rocca on duty and ready to mix us cocktails on and off-menu like an alchemist creating magic potions. I like citrus and spicy flavours, so my cocktail (run-based, of course), had a wafer thin disc of lime floating on top which Max coated in cinnamon sugar and set alight. I drank it through a metal mate straw. Amazing!
Ohla Hotel, Via Laietana 49. Metro: Urquinaona
We stayed at the U232 Hotel in the Eixample. Styled like a gentleman’s club in grey, black and bronze with oversized black and white photos on the walls, it was fantastic value: spacious and comfortable with a great breakfast buffet, helpful staff, free wifi and a roof terrace complete with four-poster sunbeds. It was in a great location for sampling some of the Eixample neighbourhood vibe (eg in the excellent value La Cococha restaurant two blocks away at c/Casanova 157) and picking up the open-top city bus tour.
U232 Hotel, c/ Comte Urgell 232. Metro: Hospital Clinic
Where are your favourite Barcelona haunts and hang outs? Please share your tips!
© Lynn Sheppard