Barcelona: Always Beguiling
Love it or loathe it, woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona did a spot on job at rendering a glorious – albeit sanitized version- of the cities character. A bit of tourism geo-porn if you will. Despite skeptics who insist on Madrid, Malaga, Seville, etc – Barcelona is the first Spanish city a foreigner should visit. Period. It has it all; the chill out factor, the climate, the culture. It’s a city undoubtedly enjoyed best during the summer months, meaning anytime from May to October really, perhaps avoiding certain weeks in July and August when the calles and avenidas are chock-a-block with raunchy tourists (although quite frankly you will want to stay away from La Rambla anytime of year, what with all those tiresome human statues).
Where hospitality is concerned, Barcelona seems to be missing a middle ground in hotel options: they are either large, luxe and pricey or small, smelly and cheap. Casa Neri and the recently opened Mercer Hotel (no affiliation to its New York namesake) are favorite bolt-holes which fall into the boutique category; discreet, unpretentious and frightfully design conscious, both are hidden amongst the labyrinth of stone streets and alleys which make up the gothic quarter of the ancient city center – the best area to stay if you want some old world charm and to be able to reach basically everything the city has to offer in a 15 minute walk. However new addition El Balcon Del Born, in the same area, is just what the traveler ordered, a quaint and characterful B&B where you wont find holes in the sheets.
There’s more to Spanish food than just patatas bravas and sangria (although both are everything you’d hope for). Commerc 24, spearheaded by El Bulli trained chef Carles Abellan, proposes the culinary delights of Catalonia nouvelle cuisine style, so think fairly expensive 10 course meals composed of teensy tiny dishes, but totally worth it if you want something detailed and different to tickle your taste buds – more advisable to go for lunch rather than dinner. Otherwise head to the Cerveceria Catalana; an uber popular, no fuss traditional tapas bar which does simple local things the old fashion way – tortillas, chorizo, jamon cerrano and queso manchego. Yes, please.
Almost everywhere you turn it’s Gaudi galore; most of the famed Catalan architects’ works are centered in the city, from private houses such as Casa Batllo to Parc Guell to the Sagrada Familia church. The small amusement park on mount Tibidabo is another must see with come-to-Jesus views over the entire city below and sea beyond – even if you don’t fancy having a go on the rides, some of which are more than a century old (a.k.a potential death traps). The beaches of Barceloneta are conveniently located a stones throw from the city center but quickly become an overcrowded sweat box so its much more advisable to take a short train ride north to the beaches of Montgat or even better south to those Castelldefels for some superior sun soaking.