THE SUN-KISSED SHORES OF THE CATALAN REGION along Spain’s northern most coast of the Mediterranean are a favorite of ours. Barcelona is a city of juxtaposing elements – both mountains and sea; gothic and modernist; both casually fun-loving and formal; not quite Spanish and not quite French. It’s in the middle and it’s awe-inspiring.
There are plenty of places to stay in the bustling city of Barcelona, The Mercer Hotel, W Hotel or The Mandarin Oriental come to mind right away. But if you’re looking to get away from it all and see this stunning city for all it is, then I’d recommend the Gran Hotel la Florida. Perched on Mount Tibidabo with incomparable views overlooking city, out to the sea, and south to the Penedès. Established in 1924, the hotel has seen prestigious Catalan families, Hollywood sets, like Rock Hudson and Jimmy Stewart, authors, like Earnest Hemmingway, and royalty pass through its doors. It also played an important part as a military hospital during the Spanish Civil and World wars. Be sure to rise early and take a short walk to the summit where the stunning minor basilica of the Temple Exiatori del Sagrat Cor sits and watch the sunrise over the city.
A few musts in Barcelona include taking a tour of La Sagrada Família, the only Catholic Cathedral still under construction in the world. It is slated to be finished between 2026 and 2028. However, the current tours feature soaring towers, modern stained glass and a museum that tracks the project’s history and future. Throughout you see the masterful touch of Antoni Gaudi, an architect revered for the enduring impression left on the city-scape with the fluidity of his design and use of color to evoke emotion. Moving from modern to the Barri Gòtic – or gothic quarter – you’ll take a step back in time to narrow streets with bright hanging flower baskets and flags and mason work dating back to the 14th century. Here, artist workshops, tavernas and hip clothing shops abound so be sure to get lost.
You’ll certainly work up an appetite and this quarter is perfect for a night of revelry, tapas and pinxtos. Pinxtos can be any small ingredients fused in unique ways, but are always served on a piece of bread. Start your night at El Pintxo de Petritxol and El Golfo de Bizkaia and once you fill up, head to the Palau Dalmases, an intimate flamenco show where every seat is in the front row; and you can buy tickets at the door before evening shows. Finish your night by heading next door to the convivial and lively El Xampanyet. It’s squarely one of the best tapas bars you’ll find. Tips, even small ones, are met with a hearty bell-ringing and a digestif brought to your table.
I would be remiss if I didn’t send you for a short excursion out of the city – trust me, it’s worth it. Hop on the R-4 and about an hour south of the city you’ll arrive to the town of Sant’ Sadurní d’Anoia – the heart of cava country. While winding your way through the tiny town’s glistening white buildings and narrow streets, learn first-hand how the local varietals of Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel•lo make irresistible bubbles.