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 TWO | You start the day at Marmalade, a loungey, low-lit nightspot in the artsy neighborhood of Raval whose Recovery Brunch has become an event in its own right. You have a Mexican omelet, with spicy chorizo sausage and crème fraîche, which makes you wonder how the people around you manage to stay so thin.
Burn off a few calories strolling between the extravagantly ornate lampposts of Passeig de Lluís Companys, at the end of which looms the Arco de Triunfo. If you want to get a sense of how neatly the Islamic and Christian traditions have dovetailed here, look at the angels and Moorish domes adorning this redbrick structure.
Interested in exploring another dovetail — the one between genius and lunacy — you head northwest on Passeig de Sant Joan and take Carrer de Mallorca to Gaudí’s most famous creation: the Basílica de la Sagrada Família. Gaudí started work on this skyline-hogging cathedral in 1883 and never lived to see its completion. It is, in fact, still being built today. Like Casa Batlló, Sagrada has a surreal, almost sinister feel about it. Saints and supplicants ooze from its reliefs, and clumps of ceramic fruit teeter on its peaks. Inside, the conventions of Gothic architecture have been tortured without mercy. As you leave, you sense that you will never see anything quite like it again.
After an hour spent nose-to-canvas at the Picasso Museum, you wend your way through the Gothic Quarter to the 4 Gats bistro, where Picasso used to hang out a hundred years or so ago. The place, the manager tells you, has hardly had a lick of paint since, and you believe him — from the Art Nouveau stenciling to the bow-tied waiters, 4 Gats has a film-set precision to it. Opt for vichyssoise with shaved leeks, sausages with white beans and a strawberry mousse — delicioso.
From here, take the Metro to the city’s most fervently attended place of worship: Camp Nou, home of Barca, the greatest soccer team in the world and a source of heaving pride for locals. On non–game days, they offer tours of the stadium, so you join a mass of scarf-draped devotees traipsing through the looming stands, the bristling trophy room and, oddly, the official team bathroom.
Dinner tonight hauls you once more into the Gothic Quarter, the venue for Barcelona Taste — a three-hour, four-eatery tour that is fun, informative and filling. Highlights include a local sheep cheese, a pungent blood pudding and a Basque tapas bar whose signature drink is red wine mixed irreligiously with Coke.
You end the night at Bel-Luna, a gloomy, tunnel-shaped jazz club. The pianist is old school, looking back over his shoulder while he jams. Your appreciation causes you to slop your cocktail a bit. Looking to remedy the problem, you call for another and settle in.