When you arrive at the ultra-stylish boutique hotel Miramar, regularly voted one of Barcelona’s finest places to stay, you might be expecting a traditionally Spanish inn. Situated as it is above the city in the stylish Montjuic area, nearby many of the major museums, it combines stunning views of both the sea and the buildings beyond with the sort of cool yet comfortable rooms that seem de rigueur at this sort of level of luxury. Yet, at the same time, you’re only a twenty-minute funicular ride and saunter from the city’s most famous street, La Rambla, where Catalan style and tourist entrapment go hand in tanned hand. Welcome to Barcelona, a city that you’d be hard pressed to reduce to stereotypes, however hard the glossy magazines have tried.
Situated right in the heart of Catalonia, Barcelona wouldn’t necessarily define itself as ‘Spanish’. From its cuisine to its traditions, everything about it is proudly unique, allowing the usual clichés no room to breathe. Even the language is different; most street signs are in both Spanish and Catalan, with noticeable changes between the two. Long considered Spain’s most cosmopolitan and trendy city, visitors are likely to be struck by several things more or less straight away. There’s the incredible-cum-loopy architecture, for one thing, presided over by the prince of street surrealism, Antoni Gaudi, whose famous (and still unfinished) Sagrada Familia church has one of the most breathtaking interiors that you’re ever likely to set eyes on.
There are public parks like Parc Guell, which Gaudi had a hand in and make visitors feel like they’ve had too many sangrias just by wandering round their curved, pirouetting walls. And there are the places to eat and drink, of which we can’t even begin to pick out our favourites.
But eat and drink you will, in abundance. This is not a place to come if you’re trying to diet; you simply won’t be allowed. There are the stunning bars, which are either deeply trendy places serving fabulous drinks (including the great local favourite, the ‘gin tonic’, often served in bowl-like vessels at fearsome strength) to the city’s well-heeled youth or more traditional holes in the wall that will sell you a glass of lightly sparkling cava for little more than a bottle of water might cost. And if you want to have something more in the tradition of fine dining, head to Miramar’s excellent Forestier restaurant, which allows you to enjoy the best of Mediterranean wine and cuisine outside, if the evening’s warm (it usually is), and the typically attentive yet relaxed service makes your dinner a hugely enjoyable one; dishes of Iberian ham and calamares are as delectable as could be found anywhere in the city.
It’s hard to eulogise Barcelona too much. With a well-deserved reputation for effortlessly melding the old and the new, coming here is like going to the best party that you’ve ever attended, where the gracious and charming host wants to concentrate purely on making your night the best one, but where everyone wants to beguile and impress you. Finally, when the fun’s over and you’re heading home, perhaps slightly teary and weary from all the excitement, there’s only going to be one thought uppermost in your mind; how do I come back for more?
By Alexander Larman