So last weekend I escaped from London’s firm and endearing grip to find myself on a short sojourn in bustling Barcelona.
In-your-face, spirited, dramatic and diverse and that’s just the architecture; Catalonia’s Cava-coiffing capital has much to offer to the casual traveller but if you’re hopeless at finding your way at the best of times, it might be an idea to take an in-built GPS system or a friendly-looking local to do the work for you. With its labyrinthine network of medieval streets this is not the simplest city to navigate.
Hotel Diagonal Barcelona
I stayed at the 4* Hotel Diagonal Barcelona, designed by indigenous architect, Juli Capella, with a striking facade incorporating black and white graphic detail inspired by a piano keyboard. Located next to Jean Nouvel‘s impressive and deliciously phallic, Agbar Tower (Torre Agbar), rooms can have astounding views of the city and, of course, the neighbouring tower which is illuminated by night with a mesmerising waterfall of red and blue light.
Design rooms have floor to ceiling windows, remote control blinds and glass fronted bathrooms so be warned if you’re sharing with Grandma.
There’s also a rooftop bar and small pool from which to enjoy 360 degree views of Barcelona’s offerings and the sea beyond.
Although the hotel is slightly outside the central hub, it’s only a 3 minute metro ride away from all the main action and close enough to walk to famous sites such as Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia. The local area will shortly receive a further boon with the city’s futuristic new design museum, centre and laboratory due to open just a stone’s throw away in 2012.
Prices for a design room with views of the Agbar Tower are around £150-165 a night.
Hotel Diagonal website
Barcelona certainly isn’t short of neighourhood cafes in sunny squares, seafront bars and tapas joints, but after wandering many a mile of backstreet and acquiring a case of Barcelona blister or worst case scenario; Barcelona bunion, these eating establishments can all begin to blur into one. Here are a few suggestions to keep you well fed whilst escaping being ripped off by tourist traps. Avoid Las Ramblas (the main drag) at all costs.
Despite the marginally embarrassing late 90s name, this is one cafe/bar well worth seeking out. Situated on the corner of Carrer D’Asturies in Barcelona’s rapidly emerging Gracia district, this small but vibrant neighbourhood eaterie provides sustenance cooked with care and, dare I say, a soupçon of love.
The daily changing 3 course E9.95 lunchtime menus offer up inspired flavours, imaginative ingredients and elegant presentation aaaand you get a glass of wine or beer, garlic-infused olives and bread thrown in for good measure. BARGAIN.
Seek and ye shall be rewarded.
SMS Delicies website
A pescatorian paradise and it looks pretty good too. This temple to seafood (raw or cooked) is located on Carrer Comercial (not Carrer de Comerce!) in the El Born/St.Pere neighbourhood, a less visited but, in many ways, more intriguing part of the city’s old town.
The airy New York inspired interior features a carefully conceived ensemble of 70s chandeliers, vintage Chesterfields, flickering candles and a decadent, aging mirror-tiled ceiling. Not the best for subtely checking yourself out though or you might find yourself in a neckbrace. Just moi?
Dishes range from a choice of freshly-prepared sushi to a Mediterranean fish and seafood menu, all carried off to superb effect. My salmon tartare starter and monkfish main course were both faultless and the, mainly Spanish, wine list offers a well chosen range of fragrant and complex native drops. I’m off to pour myself a Verdejo…
A 3 course dinner with wine at Big Fish will set you back around E50. Oh and the toilets are beautiful. Yes actually beautiful. Be sure to ‘loos’ yourself (ahem) in these mirrored, scented candle infused bathrooms extraordinaire.
Metro: Arc De Triomf
Big Fish website
Lovely. So you are sufficiently satiated by all things food-based but where to head for a decent drink? There’s no shortage of cafe/bars serving the ubiquitous and astonishingly affordable copa de Cava or cana de cervesa by the bucketload, however there may come a time when you feel the need to indulge in a more sophisticated tipple.
Situated in spitting distance from Barcelona’s modern art museum (MACBA) in the multi-cultural El Raval district, this hidden gem of a drinking den on Carrer Joaquim Costa is highly recommended.
Painted almost entirely in gloss black with Campari-coloured feature walls, and similarly shaded bottle chandeliers, this exquisite and compact drinking establishment provides the allure of an illicit yet glamorous speakeasy. Don’t worry though guvnor, it’s all above board.
When requesting the cocktail menu from the barman/owner, he simply remarked, ‘my friend, I am the menu.’ At this point, I knew I was going to like the place and the menu maestro did not disappoint. Considered, carefully balanced classics and new concoctions are provided in equal measure and with prices of around E7 a cocktail you might consume more than you expected.
Get here early(ish) to bag a prime spot on the sofas.
Negroni Bar website
Ohla Boutique Bar
Part of an exclusive 5* boutique design hotel in the heart of Barcelona, this classy but equally unpretenious bar has its own separate street-level entrance on Via Laietana and is situated on a site formerly occupied by the palace of the city’s first Count.
Don’t let all the design bluster put you off as what this place really does well is preparing and mixing cocktails that will surprise, enthuse and entice you. At E12-13 a pop though, you may want to drink them slowly.
Drinks are prepared by international award-winning mixologists and the dry martini (gin 0r vodka-based) was quite simply one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege of sampling. Prepared for you at your table with a curiously absorbing ceremony involving a vaporisateur spraying a secret blend of flavours in to your glass and a twisted lemon being delicately brushed across the rim of the glass before your drink is mixed, shows the level of care and finesse that goes in to their cocktails.
If you’re serious about drinks then Ohla bar is for you. A perfect pre or post dinner treat.
Ohla boutique bar website
Eclipse at the W Hotel
Despite being a relatively recent addition to the city landscape the sail-shaped 26 storey W Hotel building has already established itself as an iconic structure on Barcelona’s seafront. Designed by world-renowed architect Ricardo Bofill the building strides confidently towards the ocean beyond and its interior is no less exuberant with extravagant statement pieces and, verging on gaudy displays of excess.
The Eclipse bar makes use of the stunning views across the city and ocean with a menu modelled on the Eclipse bars of dear old London town. So much so that you can even order a corner of Chelsea with the Walton Street cocktail.
Drinks are pricey as you might expect and although the views are incremendulous, the atmosphere is somewhat sterile and there is a faint vibe of aging Euro-trash with an ensemble of crystal-studded 50 somethings taking in the thumping dance soundtrack, hot pink ceiling lighting and gold leather banquettes. Nothing is subtle at the W Hotel but it’s worth the price of a cocktail just to check out the view (even the toilets provide you with a sublime ocean vista).
W Hotel website
Next time, normal service shall be resumed. I’ll be back in Blighty with more of the best that London has to offer.