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 THREE | The Mandarin Oriental, the second hotel of your stay, also opts for elegance over exuberance. The color scheme comprises several dozen shades of brown, and the hotel’s corridors are infused with a subtle floral aroma. After breakfast at the on-site brasserie Blanc — crushed duck egg over roasted potato, a side of chistorra sausage — you take to the Metro once more for the final Gaudí extravaganza of your stay: Güell Park, which manages to take the weirdness up another notch.
Güell isn’t so much a park as a mad fairy tale, a squiggle of pathways, grottos and toadstool-roofed pavilions, most of which is sheathed in riotous ceramic mosaics — heightening the sense that the place isn’t quite real. At the heart of it all is a large plaza packed with vendors, musicians and out-of-towners. Güell sits atop a punishing hill — but the view of the city alone is worth the pain.
For lunch, head to La Rambla, the busy avenue that is home to La Boqueria, a produce market that makes the Rio Carnival look dull. As you enter, you dodge an onrushing pedestrian and run face-first into a bushel of peppers, nearly careen into a hanging ham and only narrowly avoid a nearby nuthill. Aromas hang in the air: a spicy, citrusy, cheesy funk, and above it all the insistent tang of fish.
For serious shopping, cut back to Passeig de Gràcia, which offers everything from Bulgari to Zara. Things get more interesting in Gràcia, the kind of district where you’ll find a funky gift shop abutting a store that sells beans by the scoop. You pick up a novelty T-shirt, pass a few coins to a man playing “Strangers in the Night” on a trumpet, and head to the hotel to prepare yourself for a more formal musical performance.
Classical concerts aren’t the only reason to visit Palau de la Música Catalana. Its designer, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, subjected every square inch to some sort of flourish: heroic statuary, wreaths and roses, explosively patterned stained glass. Seated in the hall, violins washing over you, your eyes flitting over the faces popping from the burnt-orange backdrop, you feel dreamy and pleasantly detached. And then you fall asleep.
Roused by the bravos, you head outside and catch a cab to the El Raval district for a late supper at Betty Ford’s, one of Barcelona’s hottest eateries and, you’ve been told, the repository of the best burgers in town. The Texas Burger is very good: thick and juicy, slopping with BBQ sauce. The lighting is low. The crowd is chatty. Yet your bed beckons.
Back at the hotel, you step out onto the balcony of your room and watch the street below. A few taxis glide by. Young couples walk arm in arm. One woman is saying something to her lover in Spanish, almost singing the words. She seems happy to be here — with this person, in this place.
CHRIS WRIGHT lives on Spain’s Costa Blanca. His friends are getting tired of hearing how great Barcelona is.