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TRAVEL: Europe in style: 48 hours in Barcelona

From: CountryClubuk Magazine.
Europe in style: 48 hours in Barcelona

Barcelona is a great Mediterranean city with one foot in the bright blue ocean, the other in the mountains. It brims with art, architecture, good food, and a dynamism that is magnetic. Pictures of endless sunshine and happy exuberance during the 1992 Olympic Games put the city on the map for visitors, and it has never looked back. You cannot fail to be enchanted here, and in 48 hours you can get a real feel for Barcelona and the Catalan people. It is a great city for enjoyment.

Barcelona is Spain’s second city after its old rival, Madrid. The teeming capital of Catalonia, it lies between two rivers, the Llobregat and the Besos, with the Collserola hills behind and the Mediterranean sea lapping at its feet. The citizens display two emotions, often simultaneously—seny, which translates to sound common sense, and rauxa, creative chaos.

The centuries-old Barri Gòtic, the Gothic heart of Barcelona, is a good place to start. It contains the single greatest treasure of Gothic buildings in Europe, and the inquisitive explorer will find countless small sights to treasure on a walk through the narrow lanes, as well as the major buildings—the grand Gothic cathedral (La Seu), churches and palaces. It is a good place to see the people, too; everyone from politicians to businessmen, visitors to vagabonds, populate these streets.

To sample the atmosphere and rhythm of the city, you cannot miss La Rambla, the mile-long boulevard that runs through the historic quarter and leads to the port. This is the place to people-watch while browsing the bright flower stalls, and craft, food and bric-a-brac markets, entertained all the while by human statues, buskers, clowns and puppeteers. Here you can mingle with the crowds, drink coffee and wine in the pavement cafes, and generally watch the world go by.

Barcelona is an art lover’s paradise. Joan Miro was born here, Picasso lived and worked here, and the wacky Salvador Dali, Catalan born, was a reluctant visitor; all have left wonderful and indelible marks on the city’s culture, as indeed have many other artists. To see their work in all its splendour, visit Fundacio Joan Miro, Museu Picasso and the Museu d’Art Moderne. The Museu Picasso is contained in five mediaeval palaces. It contains 3,000 pieces, mainly early works, with few from his Blue or Rose periods; the most famous is the series Las Meninas, inspired by Velasquez. The museum is the busiest in Barcelona, so try to pick a quiet time.

But of course it is the architect Antoni Gaudí who is part of the fabric of Barcelona—and not only for his last, unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Família. Far more successful as a monument to the great man is La Pedrera (or Casa Mila), which is 10 blocks south in the heart of Eixample, an innovative block of flats finished in 1912. On its top floor is the Espai Gaudi, a brilliant interactive display of Gaudi’s designs and models, giving access to the roof terrace with its organically shaped sculptures. Other Gaudi designs in the area are Casa Batlló, Casa Calvet (where you can have lunch), Casa Vicenç and Torre de Bellesguard, and the great Parc Guell is just outside Eixample, at the foot of Mont Carmel.

For a more peacefully uplifting experience, book a concert in the Palau de la Musica Catalana. This is, literally, a palace of music. A gigantic inverted dome of stained glass depicting angelic choristers fills the auditorium with golden natural light—it is the only concert hall in Europe to be so wonderfully illuminated. To hear a choral performance in this atmosphere is glorious.

Barcelona considers itself the style capital of Spain, so shopping addicts can have their fill of designer clothes and accessories.

Gastronomes will be well satisfied by the choice of restaurants (try Gaig or El Raco d’En Freixa for a Michelin-starred dining experience near La Sagrada Familia, or the nearby Jaiz-quibel for a tapas-based alternative). Eating out is a joy in Barcelona, perhaps because, happily, the Catalonians are still not keen on fast food. Taller de Tapas (Plaça Sant Josep Oriol 9 and Argenteria 51) serves delicious dishes, which the multilingual staff will, if necessary, explain. When exploring the Barri Gòtic, try the tiny Café de L’Academia for traditional meat dishes, or seek out Barcelona’s oldest restaurant, Can Culleretes, which has been stolidly Catalan since 1786. If you find yourself strolling down La Ramba, pop into the inexpensive El Convent on Carrer de Jerusalem. Fish lovers should head for the waterfront and Can Solé (Carrer de Sant Carles 4, Barceloneta).


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