The Beauty of Barcelona

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18th Sep 2008

Barcelona

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Batlló's House designed by Antoni Gaudí, Passeig de Gracia
¡Hola! Welcome to Barcelona, where only a hub this great could get away with an airport this annoying. 

arriba

Arrivals is fine, but the car rental locations are in the departures terminal, so depending on when you arrive, you may find yourself in for a confusing trek to reach your car.  Bag it and take a taxi - its about €30 into the city and you can be there in as little as 15 minutes.  Its easy to get around once in the centre, especially if you don't mind hoofing it over the incredible Art Nouveau styled tiled sidewalks.  If you want a private Mercedes with driver, dial +34 93 307 0707 to get a radio pickup, especially good for those nightspots in the hills overlooking the glam city.

One thing you'll notice immediately about Barcelona is that its all about art. With huge modern sculptures from beach to a monumental Lichtenstein centre of the street and the exceptional fantastical buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domenèch and Josep Puig, you can't help but feel like the whole city is a museum waiting for you to walk its ways - literally.  Passeig de Gracia's wide sidewalks are laid with beautiful Art Nouveau tiles, each block different, as are the street's elaborate lamposts. 

The cities of Bruxelles, Budapest, and Barcelona are three of Europe's best examples of Art Nouveau's quintessential romantic architecture. While walking in Barcelona, look low and high to see incredible doorways, columns, facades and logias of the houses of Milà and Bratlló and some 22 other Art Neauveau structures.  For a true and trippy experience go inside and climb up the floors to see some wild furniture and witness some even wilder roof terraces.  

Sculptures from Frank Gehry's Peix, a giant mesh fish, to Rebecca Horn's crooked tower dot the Barceloneta beach. The Barri Gótic area houses dozens of galleries and museums, and a short drive into the hills above the city is Park Gruell, where you can enjoy lush gardens and more of Gaudí's art. South and overlooking the city is the unforgettable Joan Miro Museum. Worth it for the views alone, spend an afternoon here and relish in the verdant sculpture garden looking out over Med and down onto the port where Christopher Columbus left for the new world.

accommodation

Barcelona hits its stride in the summer, so you and everyone else will be vying for the best hotels. Consider the Hotel Pulitzer, the B Hotel and the Hotel Majestic, all perfectly located and supremely interesting. The Pulitzer located at the top of La Rambla and conveniently near Barri Gótic features both the best lobby scene and the best roof terrace bar in the city and rolls with a contemporary art vibe. When you book, ask for Jose María Sanchez-Harguindey, the hotel's general manager, to see about an upgrade, as the normal rooms are small. If unsuccessful, fret not as you'll be spending all your time either checking out la ciudad or sipping a pomegranite martini in the swank lobby.

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Tried & tested, one of the best pools scenes in town at Arts
For the real experience, check out the Hotel Majestic, located right on the Passeig de Gracia, the grandest of Barcelona's boulevards. The Majestic is pleasingly eclectic and features a ritzy and artsy rooftop pool with great views of the city and Gaudí's Sagrada Corazón. You can walk to most locations, and the only thing that will shock you is the colour palette of the room interiors: cozy to the point of nausea. But it grows on you after spending a day or two perched on balconies overlooking the Passeig de Gracia and all its Art Nouveau wonder.

The Hotel Arts used to be THE place to be, sumptuous decor and to die for location, but hold your caballos if you think you want top stay there today.  The service comes straight at you with the attitude that the last wannabe dished out and you might starve lest you're willing to wait two hours for your seared tuna plate.  That said, you do want to rock up to the pool scene at the Arts as its an incredible experience for a city hotel and tanning under that giant metal mesh sculpture screams a concoction of heaven and art rolled up under a Mediterranean palm.  And do hoof over to the bar for your Monkey tonic, beacause as mentioned before, the service....

If you're a little short on the pesos, may we suggest the lovely Barri Gótic area, the gothic quarter of the city with a maze of winding alleys, chic cafés and cheap rent. It's a cool place to get lost in, especially if you like feeling arty.  The quality of the establishments varies, so the operative words here are "locally authentic experience." Just wander, you'll find something. Or check the Barcelona bible out, which lists more than you could ever want to know about the city

cocina catalán

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Quimet & Quimet Tapas & Wine Bar in Poble Sec
Spend some time walking the city as Barcelona, and you will find pockets of cozy cafés and chic restaurants situated along the major avenues and along the port. Tapas are everywhere, but probably the best spot to tapas is Quimet & Quimet, a large casual tapas bar located in Poble Sec with charming authentic decor and one of the largest wine cellars in Barcelona. Like many tapas bars, Quimet & Quimet is open late, (serving until midnight) and is a great place to refuel and enjoy a a glass of Rioja before a big late night on the town.

Across town, Santa Maria takes the tapas concept upscale and is always packed. The chefs here are trained by famed Spanish food guru Adrian Ferra, which means that the cuisine will surprise and delight. "That's tapas?" is often heard at some point during the evening, so just make sure you're in on the joke , but don’t leave without trying the delicious jamón. Traditional old tapas spots can also be found in the area around El Colón and Las Ramblas. Los Toreros on Calle Xuclà just off Las Ramblas is decorated in old world charm with bullfighting memorabilia and is known equally well for its tapas and for the best Paella in town.

Paella is a sure bet in Barcelona and even a must while sojourning there. The fish market attracts some of the sexiest gambas in the Med and no tastier are they than in your seafood Paella. Squid ink paella is a Catalán favourite. Locals and swingers alike dine on the terraces of the Port Vell on Passeig Joan de Borbi watching the yachts and the posers and the occasional fake handbag merchant in a police chase.  If you are looking for another good food experience, check out Slokai, which features a Catalán kitchen and great music. 

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Loungy & chic, Carpe Diem packs a hot DJ & lots of pillows!
For hip outdoor dining, hot Djs and a very Miami vibe, hit one of the beach esplanade lounge clubs in front of the Hotel Arts. The Buddha Bar styled CDLC Carpe Diem boasts large outdoor lounge beds, pillows and an East meets Fez sort of theme. They have a great private room and a DJ in side in the back for large parties to get your crowd going before you hit the town. Note the doors do close here at 2am, which only means you’re supposed to shuffle on somewhere even more happening. Hot on the scene now is Shoko Lounge on Barceloneta 36.  A sexy Japanese décor right on the beach, several dining rooms and a club calendar to rival anything in Ibiza, you’ll surely want to check this spot out. For dinner, call +34 932 259 200 and if you're a large group and want a VIP area ask for Monica Tudela and she'll sort you out.

mad about fútbol

Barcelona is sports mad since football replaced bullfighting as the national sport some time ago and there is nothing better than catching a game of football with Fútbol Club Barcelona at Camp Nou, the second largest football stadium in the world.

Remember the passion that comes to mind when you think of a classic Spanish bullfight? Try it with 100,000 fans, and you get something approaching a Barcelona football match. Play is usually on Saturday evenings; you can book tickets at Barcelona Tickets. The stadium is just 3km north of Las Ramblas, so the best way to get there is by the metro.

Best of all, you can party after the game all you want, just head back down the Avenida Diagonal and find yourself in one of the city's best nightlife districts.

world class beaches

After all that action, it helps to remember this is also one of the world's great beach cities, ranking with Sydney, Capetown, Miami, and Rio de Janeiro. That means the beaches are packed in summer, and the water leaves something to be desired. But where else in Europe can you work all day, eat all night, then walk out from a nightclub at 11am straight onto the beach for your tan...and have art? Try the Barceloneta beach for atmosphere and food options and San Sebastian beach for a more rowdy and traditional experience. If you have a car, the drive up the coast to the north might land you some idyllic secluded coves nestled amongst the red rock cliffs.

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Barcelona's new fantasy: the Torre Agbar
With all this action, it's no wonder that Barcelona is considered by many to be the main attraction for summer fun in Europe. Football, tapas, sand, and music are the rule here, but remember that first bit of advice --if you take the time to slow it down and wander the boulevards, you will be in for surprising and worthwhile treats. That does not include La Rambla, so you will not be forgiven if you are caught there posing for photo-ops with a mime.  And last but not least, even if Gaudí is not your guy, his architectural creations are some of the world’s most unique, so go check one out (Most museums are open until 8 or 9pm).

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