As George Orwell observed in his 1938 memoir of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, Barcelona is constantly evolving. Architects and city planners still admire Cerdà’s forward-thinking urban design and the Modernista architecture of Antoni Gaudí, style-setters who reached their apogee at the turn of the 20th century. And three decades after the 1975 death of dictator General Francisco Franco, a new generation of artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, architects and chefs is making waves in the birthplace of the surrealist movement – most notably Europe’s hottest culinary genius Ferran Adrià (“the Salvador Dalí of the kitchen”).
While many mistake Barcelona for the epitome of all things Spanish, the Catalan capital is, in fact, influenced far more by the Mediterranean than Madrid. Unlike their extroverted Castilian cousins, most Catalans prefer a good book to a bullfight. Yet sedate it is not. Barcelona’s boutiques and bars are constantly breaking the style barrier.
And since hosting the 1992 Olympics, the design-centric city has become even more cosmopolitan, its seedier barrios transformed into swank districts with hip galleries, boutique hotels and eateries straight out of Wallpaper magazine.
One part bourgeois and one part bohème, Barcelona has always been open to outside influences, thanks to its seafaring history and proximity to France. Given this geography, and the characteristic Catalan balance between seny (common sense) and rauxa (creative chaos), it comes as no surprise that the city has witnessed several belle époques throughout its history. Today, creative chaos still finds its way into all aspects of daily life, but particularly the kitchen, where the Catalans take their gastronomy very seriously. A typical barcelonés breakfast might consist of a mid-morning cortado (espresso with a dash of milk) and chocolate croissant, followed by a leisurely sit-down lunch between 2 and 3 p.m. Tapas are customary after 5, but don’t even think about dinner before 9 p.m. (Barcelona offers some of Europe’s best nightlife). Suddenly, the siesta seems perfectly civilized.
The Go Spots
La Boqueria market Famous for its stalls stacked perilously with fresh produce and seafood and delicatessens dangling cured jamón serrano. Don’t miss a three-o’clock lunch (you’re on Spanish time) and cup of cava at Pinotxo Bar, where Juanito (pictured) serves up Catalan cuisine – tender calamari, anchovy filets or delicate cheese croquetas – made from the market’s freshest ingredients. 93 317 1731
- The hip El Born, El Raval and Barri Gòtic districts for funky Barcelona furnishings and one-of-a-kind local designer fashions.
- A special “Picasso and the Circus” exhibit commemorating the 125th anniversary of the artist’s birth runs to February 18, 2007, at Museu Picasso. 93 319 6310; http://www.museupicasso.bcn.es/
- Pedal past La Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera along the grand boulevards of Passeig de Gràcia or Carrer de la Marina, courtesy B&B Bike Rentals. 93 295 5546; http://www.bnb-bikes.com/
For panoramic views of the city: the cable car strung from La Barceloneta to Montjuïc (“Jewish Mountain”) stops near Fundació Joan Miró, the finest collection of works by the legendary Catalan artist.
- Euskal Etxea Classic Basque pintxos (tapas) – best appreciated with a glass of txakolí (the Basque version of vinho verde). 93 310 2185
- commerç24 Patrons reserve at least a day in advance for new-wave chef (and Ferran Adrià alumnus) Carles Abellan’s resto (93 319 2102). Time-saver: Abellan’s new tapaç24. 93 488 0977
- Salamanca A favoured local restaurant in the former fishermen’s neighbourhood of La Barceloneta. Prime pick: seafood paella for two. 93 221 5033
Best Crash Zones
- Hostal Palacios Elegant, aristocratic suites with floor-to-ceiling vistas of one of the city’s swankiest boulevards. 93 301 3079; http://www.hostalpalacios.com/
- Nisia Bed & Breakfast The next best thing to living in Barcelona. Close to Gràcia’s great restos, indie cinemas and Gaudí’s surreal Parque Güell. 93 415 3960; http://www.nisiabcn.com/