The soul of Catalonia is known for its singular architecture, gothic cathedrals, cutting-edge art, trendy beaches, and thriving nightlife. FEMME ROUGE traveled to the dynamic city to experience the history and culture that makes Bareclona’s heart beat.
➤ DAY ONE
We arrived at BCN airport early in the morning and, although we felt jet-lagged, we couldn’t help gazing out the window at the stunning buildings along the way. Our hotel loomed large ahead of us long before we reached it, adding to the feeling that we were headed to the center of the action.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Hotel Arts, however there are several other properties worth considering for your visit.
HOTEL DO: PLAÇA REIAL
If you’re looking for old world charm, this historic hotel dates back to 1856, but enjoys all of the modern conveniences, having undergone a complete renovation in 2011. The interior is bright and eclectic with all the comforts you would expect from a five star hotel, like Egyptian cotton sheets and Molten Brown toiletries. This boutique hotel has only eighteen luxury suites, so be sure to book far in advance. With a reputation for its superb gastronomy, its two restaurants, La Cucina del DO and La Terrassa del DO, serve Mediterranean cuisine made with seasonal, local produce.
MERCER HOTEL BARCELONA
Built in 2012, this is one of the newer five star hotels in town. The boutique property is tucked away in the Barri Gotic, where historical heritage meets contemporary design. The collection of buildings that makes up the hotel’s structure is partly constructed from the ancient walls of Barcino – the original town that became Barcelona. Other architectural details include Gothic style windows, wooden coffered ceilings, and medieval arches. All rooms have wood floors and designer furnishings that blend perfectly with the exposed stone walls and wood beams.
As we entered the lobby of Hotel Arts Barcelona, we were greeted by the scent of fragrant white flowers in hand-carved wooden bowls. Our apartment-style duplex suite was outfitted in contemporary comfort. They even provided a pair of binoculars near the window for us to catch every detail of the skyline outside, including Antonio Gaudi’s masterpiece cathedral La Sagrada Família. To our delight, the table was already set with a generous breakfast of local ham, bread with fresh tomatoes and herbs, fruits, and an assortment of cheeses. Each apartment suite comes with its very own Mini Cooper, so we were free to zip around and avoid the hassle of a rental car or taxi.
Barcelona’s most famous beaches and the buzzing Barceloneta district are just a few strides away, so we packed a bag and headed for the water. Crowded with bronzed bodies, Barceloneta Beach is the place to see and be seen. There are activities like windsurfing and kite surfing, or you can do what we did: slip on a sparkly bikini, rent a lounge chair and a parasol, and stake your place on the sand. When things heat up, cool off at one of the many beach bars with a pitcher of sangria.
There are things to see everywhere you turn, music in the air, and people dancing, playing soccer, and generally enjoying themselves so much that you can’t help but join them.
We found our way back to the hotel by looking for the massive Frank Gehry fish sculpture “Peix,” which is easily spotted from the boardwalk with its exposed steel beams and bright blue windows proudly indicating the city’s recent cultural renaissance.
If you are looking for a something a little more secluded, you may want to head over to Bogatell Beach, which is smaller and more low key. It is a ten-minute walk from Hotel Arts through the Olympic Village and sculpture garden. When you reach the sand, there will likely be a prime spot near the waves just waiting for you to unfurl your towel and stretch out.
By lunchtime, we were sun-soaked and looking for a comfortable chair to sink into, so the Arola restaurant in Hotel Arts was a natural choice. We knew we had a winner when we saw the chef come out to the herb garden near our table and snip little sprigs of aromatics for our meal. We later learned that the chef trained with the famous father of modern cuisine, Ferran Adriá. The modern take on Spanish tapas was delicious – try the Tapas Tasting Menu, which changes seasonally.
Later we sipped pre-dinner cocktails at Frank’s Place on the Hotel Arts’ rooftop and took in the sparkling city below. The bar’s signature drink is the Bertita margarita, named after architect Frank Gehry’s wife, and take it from us, it will get you ready for a night on the town.
Thinking we’d do something a little different for dinner, we headed to Michelin-starred Roca Moo – an upscale tapas restaurant in Hotel Omm that combines gourmet food with artful presentation. To our surprise, we were the only people in the dining room at 6:00 p.m.! Our unintentional “private dining” experience was a little quiet, so we turned iTunes on with a smartphone and enjoyed our own music with the spectacular food.
The appearance of each plate makes you curious to taste it and, once you do, you’re transported to foodie heaven! Our plate of paradise was the wild turbot filet with creamed yellow lentils, yogurt and curry, and we finished the evening with a too-beautiful-to-eat dish of variations on the local Limonera pear. This is a place to be adventurous and let your taste buds fall in love with Catalonia.
➤ DAY TWO
Since we arrived we had been eager to get out in our Mini, so we took off with the top down to see more of the city by car. It was a good balance between gazing at the sights along the road, and actively getting to know Barcelona’s most picturesque districts by foot.
We started our day at La Boqueria Market thinking we’d grab a quick bite, and found that there was much more to see. The market originated in the 1200s as an open-air bazaar right outside the gates of the old city wall. Today, it’s in a covered pavilion, selling everything from handmade pastas to wine. The Spanish prefer a light, sweet breakfast, so we ate like Barcelonès with a café con leche (espresso with milk) and a bizcocho (sweet pastry).
Along the drive on Barcelona’s main thoroughfares, we saw some amazing monuments and even recognized a few faces, such as the Christopher Columbus Monument at the Plaça del Portal de la Pau.
We continued on to the upscale shopping district L’Eixample, lined with famous modernista architecture. Designed in the late 19th and early 20th century, it has a “new city” feel that sets it apart from the rest of Barcelona. Rambla de Catalunya is one of the trendiest streets in town, offering many high-end international fashion boutiques, and notable art galleries and theaters.
In this city of multiple Michelin-starred restaurants, we found one of the most luxurious lunch spots around: Cinc Sentits. The intimate 10-table space is in high demand for its elegance and service, just as much as its food, so make your reservation well in advance. We chose one of two seasonal tasting menus of strikingly beautiful small plates that lived up to the establishment’s name, pleasing all our “Five Senses.” The local wine pairings are sublime and not to be missed!
Afterward, we drove up Carmel Hill to one of Europe’s largest and most famous works of architecture, Park Güell, and took a walk guided only by our curiosity – although tours are available – and enjoyed the avant-garde sculptures all the same.
Designed in 1900 by Antonio Gaudi, the garden was a beautiful place to get a gorgeous view of the city from above. Returning to the Barceloneta district near the hotel, we opted for casual dining al fresco at Can Majo. Sit on the waterfront terrace for the best view – chances are you’ll be devouring something that was caught in that very sea the same morning!
We tried a few different small plates and enjoyed the freshness and variety of grilled squid, spiny sea snails, and green bean and Iberian ham salad.
This city is famous for its night life, so we headed to Bikini, the hottest live music venue in Barcelona. They had a nice mix of locals and tourists, and we loved dancing to the hip sounds of the DJ. Big-name acts frequently appear there, so check the website before you go to see who’s playing. bikinibcn.com/en/concerts
➤ DAY THREE
Spaniards stay up late and sleep in on their days off, so we acted like locals and lounged in bed until the previous night’s adventure wore off. We took the luxury of breakfast in bed in our room, ordering tortilla española – the Spanish version of quiche with potatoes baked inside – delicious!
First on our itinerary was the Museo Picasso – a wonderful collection of Surrealism and Cubism by Pablo Picasso and his contemporaries. Spend as much or as little time as you want, because there is so much to see! Afterward we strolled down the Carrer de Montcada past baroque and Renaissance palazzos once occupied by the wealthy nobles of Catalonia.
Just down the road is the Plaza Santa Maria, where we had reservations for the popular Passadís del Pep. The fantastic seafood eatery charmed us with their menu-less suggestions. Here the waiter guided us to some of the freshest, tastiest seafood we ate on our trip, and was also an invaluable resource for local wine recommendations. The restaurant is only open for lunch from 1:15 to 3:45 p.m., so time your visit accordingly.
We continued along the Barri Gotic (gothic quarter) where there is something historical and beautiful to see on every corner. Taking a leisurely pace, we stopped at all of the buildings, churches, and palaces that drew our attention (nearly all of them).
Next we traveled up Antonio Gaudi’s last work – a strange and wonderful take on city dwelling – the Casa Milà apartments. If you can take your eyes away from the colorful details, look out over the city for the best views at sunset.
The evening began with a treatment at the Six Senses Spa in Hotel Arts. We went for a hot stone chocolate massage – just as delightful as it sounds – although you can pamper yourself from head to toe with a selection of more traditional mini treatments, like the detoxifying foot treatment and the eye-lifting treatment. They specialize in Asian therapies, too, so take your pick and relax!
For our final night, we reserved a coveted table on the garden terrace at Acontraluz. The entire menu looked good, but we are hopeless Bronzini fanatics and were not disappointed. The fish was buttery in texture and full of flavor. We also sampled the melon soup with Iberian ham and fresh basil pesto. Dessert was a divine tres leches baba in chocolate soup. There is plenty to look at, too, when the garden is in bloom and the night is warm.