Hola Barcelona: Enjoy a visit to Catalonia’s vibrant and bustling capital city
Barcelona, the bustling capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, offers a captivating insight into a rich and colourful kaleidoscope of culture and history and attracts eight million visitors per year.
Many are keen to view the stunning works of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, including the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, a magnificent Roman Catholic Church, which combines Gothic, Art Nouveau and curvilinea styles with five naves and three transepts constructed in the shape of a Latin cross.
Construction began in 1882 and although the building remains unfinished it is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the ground and awarded the church the title Minor Basilica. Work continues on the building and it is set for completion in 2026, the centennial anniversary of Gaudi’s death.
Antoni Gaudi was the architect of another spectacular Catalan Modernist building, which was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1984. To find out more, I visited the Casa Mila, Gaudi’s last residence, which is located on the Passeig de Gràcia.
Built between 1906 and 1912, the property caused much controversy due to its innovative steel structure and curtain walls and the undulating stone facade and wrought iron balconies and windows. The interior of the building, now open to the public, is one of the city’s most popular attractions and it’s quite simply remarkable.
For a special dining experience I headed for Blanc at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, also located on Passeig de Gràcia. The menu, designed by chef Carme Ruscalleda, whose restaurants have achieved seven Michelin stars, is based on modern Catalan culinary culture with notes of Asia and includes tasty miniature tapas.
The Sunday brunch features free flowing Cava, and it’s a first class dining experience presented in luxurious, comfortable and contemporary surroundings. Temptations include oysters, sushi and Oriental, Lebanese and Catalonian dishes and I sampled the most delicious beef wellington and complemented by the 2008 Valbuena Bodega Vega Sicilia it was a dining treat to savour.
For another glimpse of an architectural gem built in Gothic style, I wandered around the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, the seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona. Constructed throughout the 13th to 15th centuries, the roof features a number of imposing gargoyles and a variety of enchanting mythical and domestic animals.
The building is a magnificent example of a Gothic masterpiece with nave and side aisles of approximately equal height. Five aisles are vaulted and the outer aisles are divided into chapels, one of which is dedicated to Christ of Lepanto.
The cross displayed in the chapel, is said to have been aboard a vessel during the battle of Lepanto in 1571. And, it is said, that during the battle, when the ship was under heavy cannon fire, the cross inexplicably shifted and avoided a direct hit from a cannonball.
For those of us with an appreciation for art, the Picasso Museum, which is housed in five Catalan-Gothic palazzos dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, is a feast for the eyes. The collection features over 3,800 pieces covering the early years of Picasso’s works and exhibits stunning examples of his talents during the Blue Period.
To view a modern collection, head for the Museum of Contemporary Art on Place dels Angels. This impressive building, in the centre of the city, opened in 1995 and houses a vast number of works covering the last 50 years.
To take in the ‘vibe’ of the city I took a leisurely stroll along to Plaça de Catalunya, which is a central meeting place and considered the heart of the city. Opened in 1927 by King Alfonso XIII, the square features a selection of entriguing sculptures and beautiful fountains.
After taking part in the sport of ‘people watching’ from a nearby bench I spotted the Hard Rock Café and it was buzzing. The mesmerising rock memorabilia includes Bob Dylan´s Martin D28 accoustic, which he played on stage at Madison Square Garden in 1974, a 12 string Dobro resonator taken from the Jimi Hendrix collection, a custom 5 string Ted Newman- Jones guitar owned by Keith Richards and a jazzy shirt owned by the late Tom Petty, which he wore on tour in 1999.
I must confess that I was more than a little star struck as I was escorted to my table and I opted for the succulent 397g Cowboy Ribeye Steak accompanied by the 2017 Vizcarra (Ribera del Duero), which were, of course, served with aplomb.
A little concerned with my waist line after such a sumptuous feast I took a leisurely stroll around Plaza del Rei and noted the steps that fan out from the corner of the square. It is said that this is the place where Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella welcomed Christopher Columbus on his return from the voyage to the New World.
To mingle with the ‘in crowd’ I then headed for Plaza Real, a busy meeting spot for locals and where local festivals take place. The most popular is La Merce, the annual celebration of the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy on 24 September. The celebrations begin a few days before and include colourful parades, music and dancing and one of the many highlights is when the locals dress up as the devil and light fireworks amongst the spectators whilst dancing to rhythmic drum beats.
As expected, Barcelona offers a variety of places to stay and the popularity of short stay apartments for families seeking a city-break and who wish to experience ‘local life’ is rapidly increasing. The 08028 Apartments, located on Can Bruixa in Barcelona’s Les Corts area, is ideal and affords a high level of privacy with all the amenities associated with hotels including 24 hour reception services.
This five storey property features a seasonal roof-top outdoor pool and a spacious terrace with a large selection of comfortable sun loungers, which is the ideal spot for an afternoon siesta.
I opted for an air conditioned two bedroom apartment measuring 50 square metres, with a long veranda overlooking the city. Accommodations feature spacious bathrooms with a shower, a separate lounge with a 32 inch LCD satellite TV and a comfy sofa, combined with a dining area and kitchen with a hob, microwave, fridge\freezer and every utensil needed to whip up a quick breakfast. The property also features a launderette and parking is available for a daily fee.
As Barcelona offers so much to see and do I decided to extend my stay and made my may along the Avenida Diagonal, location of the Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal, which is less than a 30 minute walk from La Sagrada Familia and only a mile away from Bogatell Beach.
Accommodations are spacious and airy with ultra comfortable beds affording a deep slumber ahead of another day packed with excursions. I selected an executive room measuring 28 metres and with an interconnecting door to the adjacent room it is the ideal accommodation for a large family.
A sumptuous breakfast buffet including hot and cold dishes is served in the hotel’s La Avenida restaurant and it’s just the ticket ahead of a morning stroll. Avinguda Diagonal, which connects FC Barcelona stadium with the Sagrada Familia, features an excellent selection of shops including Swarovski with its glittering trinkets easily enticing browsers to part with their euros.
Glories, a huge shopping mall is a short walk away and includes a Carrefore, which features a bakery and a deli bursting with all kinds of cheeses and cold meats.
Weighed down with shopping bags I spotted an inviting chair outside a local cafeteria and whilst sipping on a cool, sparkling glass of Cava my thoughts turned to Antonio Gaudi and with my time in Barcelona sadly at an end I reflected on his words ‘Tomorrow we will do beautiful things’.
Top Tip – Accommodation
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And for more information on the Four Points by Sheraton Diagonal visit Marriott.com or tel. +34 934 86 8800.
Top Tip – Airport transfers and local transportation
Book private airport transfers for London Heathrow and Barcelona. Take advantage of a reliable and punctual first class service. Prices are all inclusive and guaranteed in advance, so you can sit back and relax upon arrival. Visit blacklane.com
Top Tip – Sightseeing and local transport
Save time and money with a Barcelona Pass, which includes free entry to 20+ attractions, the hop-on-hop off bus tour and a free guide book. For more information visit barcelonapass.com
For details of attractions and things to do go to visitbarcelona.com
Image of the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família © Fundació Junta Constructora del Temple de la Sagrada Família.