(updated 04 August 2012)
I find it difficult to choose between Barcelona and Madrid as my favourite place in Spain. Each offers such different things to enjoy, admire, and fall in love with that I’m not sure if I will ever have a favourite. But for this writing, allow me to wax nostalgically about Barcelona, a true gem of Europe.
One of my favourite Spanish hotel chains is the Room Mate hotels. Now, if you’ve read other posts, you will know that I am not a fan of chain hotels. But this chain is great: they are funky, the staff are young, hip and knowledgeable, and the hotels are typically located in residential areas so you don’t feel as though you are among the throngs of tourists mulling about. In Barcelona, there is Room Mate Emma (http://www.room-matehotels.com/eng/barcelonahotel/emmahotel/emmahotel.php). It is just a short walk to everything – las Ramblas, the convention centre, and every conceivable restaurant option you could want – and I highly recommend it.
The next hotel that I suspect I will book is the Hotel Sixty Two (http://www.sixtytwohotel.com/). I have finally had the chance to stay here are it is all that i hoped it would be! Classy, minimalist design, and if you’re coming from the airport, you can take the train, get off in BCN, and it’s only a few blocks walk. Absolutely stunning!
I’ve heard good things about the Hotel Montecarlo Barcelona, although I haven’t stayed here, so you’ll have to let me know what you think if you go. (http://www.montecarlobcn.com/?gclid=CLGa06Hz1qwCFcV_5Qod1jirqw)
The U232 Hotel (http://www.u232hotel.com/default-en.html) is another option if you are traveling to BCN. The hotel design is vintage Ralph Lauren in black, cherry, taupe and everything I hoped it would be. The staff are amazing and very helpful and the location in a somewhat residential part of BCN is amazing. For those business travels out there, just know: the internet connection in the hotel is dreadful. Not only is it weak and kept cutting off, but even in the lobby – where I would work each morning – the signal is pretty dim so just be prepared and be patient. The hotel is worth the stay, just not the free internet!
I love the food in Barcelona! It’s not the easiest place for a vegetarian to eat, but I’ve yet to have a problem and I can say with all pride and admiration that every restaurant has gone out of their way to make something for me, beyond the typical grilled vegetable platter.
Restaurant Gaig is a Michelin starred and worth every penny, but very expensive (http://www.restaurantgaig.com/). It’s just down a small little alley/street from my personal favourite restaurant in Barcelona so if you can’t get in, or don’t have dosh to splurge, check out
Restaurant Tragaluz (http://www.grupotragaluz.com/tragaluz/). Like I said, this is my favourite in the city! If you can sit on the top floor, which is enclosed in glass, do it! Note: if you arrive early, they won’t let you go to the restaurant as they want you to drink in the bar. The bar is cool, but expensive so just be forewarned. (The bar no longer exists and now it is an oyster bar but still, if you arrive early, they won’t seat you. But still an amazing restaurant and still my favourite!)
Another favourite of mine in the city is the Casa Calvet (http://www.casacalvet.es/). As you walk around Barcelona, you can’t help but notice the influence that Gaudi had on the city. What makes this restaurant so special, besides the food, is that Casa Calvet was the first residence that Gaudi designed for a private client. The restaurant is a tad on the posh side but it is such a lovely experience – almost like sitting in someone’s private home having dinner – that you really should try and go if you can.
And finally, and before I forget, you must seek out La Vinya del Senyor. This is a lovely wine bar – among a plethora of wine bars – but this is truly the best with an amazing list of wines by the glass and some pretty tasty tapas as well. It’s a walk from any of the hotels that I have mentioned, but that’s what you do: you walk and take in the sites of Barcelona all in anticipation of phenomenal wines (and perhaps a bit of cheese too!) before dinner.
I, personally, love La Segrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece and strongly encourage everyone to go. But, whatever you do, don’t be rushed; take your time to look at the details and see all the different figures that are nearly hidden in the structure. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
I would also encourage you to stroll up the street (sorry, I can’t remember the name) that leads to Park Guell, another Gaudi masterpiece. Yes, you can take the metro, a bus, or even a taxi but if you walk, will be greeted by more of Gaudi’s masterpieces along the street. And once you are at Park Guell, stroll around and maybe even stop along your way to get some bread and cheese for a little picnic in the park. You won’t regret the journey and you will love seeing all of the locals intermingled with the tourists admiring the beauty and vision of Gaudi and his park.
And if you have the time – or better yet, please, make the time – you must go to Montserrat, the hilltop religious center. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.
Getting there is really quite easy: when in the metro station, you will see kiosks promoting Montserrat and telling you the options of how to get there so fear not, it really is easy. When you get to Montserrat, just wonder. And be sure to see the black virgin.
(Note: because Montserrat is on a hilltop, it can be quite cold up there so take a jacket, even if you are sweating from the heat in Barcelona. You will need it! And it will cover your shoulders when you go in the church.)
And with that, I encourage you to go and visit one of the most amazing cities in Spain. I think you will love it and want to return as soon as possible. Enjoy!