The chic, meandering capital of proud Catalonia is best known for the hallucinatory architectural visions of Gaudí, but it’s the great food and amiability of the locals that make it one of Europe’s great cities.
Author Chris Wright Photography Francisco Guerrero
DAY ONE | By Barcelona standards, the interior of the exceptional Hotel Arts is fairly muted — there’s none of the over-the-top design so often favored in this city. What this 44-story, oceanfront Ritz-Carlton does have is a view: a layer cake of sand, sea and sky on one side; the red-brown shambles of Barcelona on the other. You grab your camera and head out for a closer look, pausing only to contemplate the nearby Frank Gehry sculpture, a big, bronze-mesh fish tilting longingly toward the waters of the Mediterranean.
But you’re in Barcelona, and when it comes to architecture, the star of the show is Antoni Gaudí. His maniacal confections dot the city, and the most eye-popping of the lot is Casa Batlló, an apartment block he renovated in the early 1900s. Batlló is located on the bustling Passeig de Gràcia, and there’s a crowd gathered, staring up at it. You join them, transfixed by the orgy of detail: scattershot mosaics and wobbly window frames and skull-like balconies. Inside it’s even weirder, a swirl of blue-tiled passages and undulating antechambers that leave you feeling woozy.
Shake it off and head up about four blocks to Hotel Omm, where you’ve booked a lunch at Moo. The Michelin-starred restaurant’s chef, Felip Llufriu, specializes in nuevo twists on traditional Catalan fare, such as pigeon carpaccio served with ice cream and prawns with shaved pig trotters (trust your waiter, the dishes taste much better than they sound). Each of the six courses is paired with wine, and the presentation is so theatrical — poof! a cloud of smoke appears as the cover is lifted off the pigeon plate — that you have to resist the urge to applaud.
Totter out of the restaurant and head back down Passeig de Gràcia for a dozen blocks or so, until you find the Gothic Quarter. Finding your way in is easy; finding your way out is another matter. A knot of quirky cafés, oddball museums, medieval courtyards, Renaissance palaces and Roman ruins, the Gothic Quarter does not lend itself to a tight schedule. A foot-stomping Catalan folk trio, the musty shelves of a magic supply store, the Spanish Civil War–era bullet holes pocking Plaça Sant Felip Neri — all of these things demand your attention. When you do emerge, a hundred doglegs later, you fight the urge to turn around and start again.
Dinner promises to be more orderly. You’ve opted for the Hotel Arts’ Arola, another Michelin-starred restaurant that toys with the Catalan tradition. Only here there’s a twist: a six-course “Gastro-Sostenible” menu that you cannot resist trying. The succulent Rubio Fish Roasted with Morels and Potatoes, and the Ecological Goats Cheese Cream both transcend the menu’s green premise.
Following a brief but emotionally fraught stint at the nearby Casino Barcelona, you return to your room and gaze for a while at the stubble of lights below, and then over at the oblivion of the sea. Oblivion sounds pretty good right now, so you head off to bed.