September 21, 2019   1:58am
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Europe Report: Barcelona

Just on your way back from winter vacation?  Time to think about Spring! Our intrepid traveler Susan says Barcelona’s one  city that should be on your definitely consider list …

Barcelona is one of Europe’s most appealing cities: Fabulous Mediterranean location framed by the port and beaches on one side and mountains on the other; a city center of gorgeous low-scale buildings — many from Barcelona’s Modernista architectural period (Gaudí and his contemporaries); lovely squares for hanging out; great restaurants and hip cafes and probably the world’s largest collection of design/boutique hotels.

THE NEIGHBORHOODS
Although not overwhelming in scale, Barcelona has distinct neighborhoods, each with it’s own character.  You can connect most by foot – using an occasional taxi (fares are not exorbitant) and/or the city’s underground system.  The Old Town, not far from the port, consists of the Barri Gòtic and La Ribera (home to Barcelona’s Museu Picasso and the ultra-hip hangouts of El Born). Adjacent is the up-and-coming El Raval (with MACBA, the Museum of Contemporary Art by U.S. Architect Richard Meier) on it other side.  The famous boulevard, La Rambla runs next to the Old Town from the port to Plaça de Catalunya.  Here it becomes Rambla de Catalunya, bringing you to the Eixample, home to much of Gaudí’s famous work and also to many high-end shops on Passeig Gracia. In the hills above is the Zona Alta, the location of Gaudí’s Park Güell. Back at the port is Barceloneta where you’ll find the town’s beaches as well as many restaurants, bars and clubs as well as the Vila Olimpíca. Hovering above the Old City is Montjuic – where the Fundació Joan Miró and other museums are located.

WHAT TO SEE/DO
There is so much to see and do that it is hard to edit to a short list – nonetheless, top picks are below.  A stay of 3 nights/2 days is minimal, at least 4 nights/3 days is better. Visit  www.barcelonaturisme.com for great information on all things practical as well as a rundown of major sights, suggested itineraries and themed routes.  Frommer’s “Barcelona, Day by Day” has excellent walking tours and organizes sights by specific interests (i.e.: art, design and architecture, food, kids), in a compact, take-along book.   DK’s “Top 10 Barcelona,” another pocket size option is also useful as it lists sights by neighborhood.

  • Tour Modernista Architecture: Top sites include Gaudí’s famous La Pedrera and Casa Batló (my personal favorite), La Sagrada Familia, all in the Eixample, the aforementioned Park Güell and the Palau Güell, Gaudí’s first commission, just off La Rambla. In addition, don’t miss Domènech i Montaner’s Palau de la Música Catalana in the Bario Gotic (with timed guided tours). Visit the website: www.rutadelmodernisme.com for more information. A free map of Modernista sights is available at the Modernisme Centre, Barcelona Tourist Information Center at Placa Cataluyna.  There’s much to see beyond the well-known sights, as you walk around town, so the map is particularly useful.
  • Stroll La Rambla and the Old Town: Day or night, La Rambla is always alive with people strolling by the flower and bird stalls, kiosks selling just about everything and inventive human statues trying to entice the crowd for coin or two. Along the way you’ll see a Miro Mosaic on the payment. Not to me missed is the Mercat de La Boqueria, one of the world’s most amazing food markets. Walk the narrow streets of the Barri Gòtic to experience a beautifully preserved neighborhood from the 14th and 15th centuries, dominated by the Barcelona Cathedral. Also notable is the Església de Santa Maria del Mar, the aforementioned Palau de la Música Catalana and the lovely Placa Reial – a square ringed by 19th century buildings which house cafes and restaurants, and a center filled with palm trees, benches and lampposts designed by Gaudí in 1879. In the adjacent La Ribera, don not miss the Museu Picasso on the Carrer Montcada installed within 5 adjacent medieval palaces. El Born – an area along the Passeig de Born in La Ribera – has evolved into a hip gathering spot with restaurants, cafes and trendy shops.
  • Combine Montjuic with the Waterfront: Take the funicular up to Montjuic to the fabulous Fundació Joan Miró; follow this by a cable car ride (Transborador Aéri) from Parc de Montjuic to Barceloneta for lunch on the beach. Depending on your interests, walk through Barceloneta to the adjacent Vila Olímpica, with Frank Gehry’s fish sculpture, or return to the foot of La Rambla, by the port, to visit the fabulous Museu Marítim, housed in the 13th century Drassanes Reials (Royal Shipyards). Exhibits, model and full-scale ships which explore Barcelona’s maritime history are set within this huge space distinguished by Gothic arches (highly recommended). Better yet, if you have time, do it all!
  • Bilbao Side Trip: If your schedule allows, take a day trip to Bilbao to see Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum (www.guggenheim-bilbao.es). An early morning flight on ClickAir, Spain’s regional carrier (www.clickair.com) will get you there in time for the museum’s opening. Have lunch at the casual “Bistrot” restaurant within the museum – their fixed-price 3 course meal including wine and water is a steal at 18.40 Euros plus tax – but you must reserve in advance (www.restauranteguggenheim.com). Finish your museum touring in the early afternoon, with time to take a peak at Santiago Calatrava’s bridge spanning the river, just a short distance from the museum. There is a taxi stand by the museum, and the museum will call you one if none is there, to take you back to Barcelona in time for a fashionably late PM snack at a tapas bar.

WHERE TO EAT
Barcelona is a foodie’s delight where cutting-edge food, hip and more traditional dining options abound – it is impossible to mention all in this short form. However, some well-acclaimed options include: the upscale Moo, in Hotel Omm in the Eixample; Çommerc 24 for high-design tapas in the Ribera (www.commerc24.com); Taller de Tapas with locations in the Barri Gòtic and Eixample for traditional tapas in sleek settings (with very approachable menus) (www.tallerdetapas.com); Set Portes (or 7 Portes) with an atmospheric setting and traditional food, located near the Old Town by the waterfront (www.7portes.com); among much, much more. Others worth mentioning all run by the Grupo Tragluz (who also operate Moo): Tragaluz in the Eixample; Agua on the beach in Barceloneta; and Cuines de Santa Caterina in the contemporary, redesigned Mercat Santa Caterina in the Bario Gòtic (the market is worth a visit even if you don’t dine there) (www.grupotragaluz.com). The aforementioned Frommer’s “Barcelona, Day by Day” provides an excellent list by type as well as location including many noted here. TIP: Taller de Tapas and Set Portes serve continuously – therefore you don’t have to wait until the fashionable hour of 9 pm + for dinner – which is helpful if your travel schedule dictates otherwise.

ALSO NOTE: Reservations are advised for all venues noted here except Taller de Tapas.  If you are unsuccessful with online sites, ask your hotel for help.

WHERE TO STAY
There are amazing hotel choices in practically every neighborhood.  The key is deciding where you want to be located.  Fodor’s “Spain 2009” has a great chart listing the pros and cons of staying in each neighborhood, along with the pros and cons for each of the hotels in their listing.  A more concise version is available at www.fodors.com.  By neighborhood, top picks are: Hotel Neri (Barrio Gòtic) (www.hotelneri.com), Hotel 1898 (Rambla/Old Town) (www.hotel1898.com), Hotel Banys Orientals (La Ribera) (www.hotelbanysorientals.com), Casa Camper (El Raval) (www.camper.com), and several in the Eixample (where the design hotel trend started): Hotel Omm (www.hotelomm.es), Hotel Granados 83 (www.derbyhotels.com), Hotel Murmuri (www.murumuri.com) and it’s more traditional sister property, Hotel Majestic (www.hotelmajestic.es) and finally one of the original design hotels: Condes de Barcelona (which is losing some of its panache as it expands but is very well located and usually a good value) (www.condesdebarcelona.com).  If you want to live it up at the waterfront, there is the very upscale Hotel Arts, a Ritz-Carlton property and one of the few skyscrapers around (www.ritzcarlton.com).

Hotel Follow-up: I just returned from Barcelona and once again stayed at Condes de Barcelona, confirming that it is still one of my favorite properties in a great location a block away from La Pedrera and Casa Batló, the neighboring streets lined with more modest Modernista gems, and great shops on Passeig Gracia which the hotel fronts. The hotel occupies two buildings — the Monument building, a renovated Modernista masterpiece and the Centre building, of newer construction across the street. Both sport roof top decks with small plunge pools, and there’s a great roof top bar in the Centre building with views of La Pedrera. All rooms are modern and sleek and sound proofed with double glazed windows. If your taste runs towards edgier design request (in advance) one of the newest rooms in the Centre building, otherwise opt for one in the original Monument building. Make sure to reconfirm your room requests via email a few days before arriving (email: reservas@condesdebarcelona.com), and for advance help with restaurant reservations email is: recepcion@condesdebarcelona.com.

Barcelona is a city that I have been fortunate to visit many times during the last 20 years for both business and pleasure.  I wish all snoety.com readers similar great times there!

Susan@snoety.com

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