The Marina by Night

Barcelona In Brief

23rd August 2013

48 hours in Barcelona isn’t really enough, of course, says
Rowena Carr-Allinson, but you can see the most famous landmarks and get a real taste of the Catalonian capital…

Hot on the heels of Paris, London and Rome, Barcelona is currently the fourth most visited city in Europe – which should be no surprise when you consider the year-round lovely weather; the strong artistic and cultural heritage, with Gaudi’s famously eccentric buildings dotted around; the beautiful green parks and the beaches (recently voted the world’s finest city beach by National Geographic Magazine). Not to mention the fantastic food, happening nightlife and football…

Easily visited on foot, Barcelona is a pedestrian-friendly city that also has a very nifty metro system, so one can nip across town in a matter of minutes for a 2 Euro single fare thanks to the user-friendly (English-speaking) ticket dispensers!

Renting a little place makes for a more ‘local’ experience than staying in a hotel. When you’re left to your own devices, the immersion is quicker, and you soon pick up a few skills such as buying your own groceries and mumbling a few words in the local lingo.

Our stylish, two bedroom apartment – just a stone’s throw away from Gaudi’s incredible Sagrada Familia cathedral – came with everything you’d wish for, from snazzy décor with contemporary brick walls and baroque printed wallpaper to a luxurious velvet sofa, an all-mod-cons kitchen and very comfy beds! Most of the flat opened onto a glorious balcony and a shared rooftop terrace, ideal for a late nightcap or a cheeky sunbathing session on the sleek loungers.

On day one, armed with a local map picked up en route, I opted for the good forty-minute walk into the centre of town, to soak up the atmosphere and get my bearings.

The highlight has to be strolling down the beautiful Passeig de Gracia, the city’s main avenue, with plenty of shopping and beautiful buildings including Gaudi’s famous colourful mosaic covered Casa Batlló. Reminiscent of the Champs-Élysées, the Passeig de Gracia is a real must-see with its flagship stores of Spain’s famous brands like Massimo Dutti, Mango and Zara. What’s not to love? And I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it also has the smartest McDonalds ever seen, with a smart café façade, complete with macaroons on the menu, and interiors worthy of a swanky hotel. Bizarre, certainly, but not altogether unpleasant!

With such a short time in town, the plan is to hunt down the finest tapas and in the evening, return to the Passeig to dine at Blanc, a super-stylish white-themed restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. On the menu: onion soup shots, shrimp tempura, dry aged entrecote, gnocchi with truffles and mushroom casserole. The passion fruit sorbet is amazing too, while the staff are friendly and efficient, making for an altogether delightful atmosphere in very plush surroundings. The Banker’s Bar, all dimly lit ambience, with low slung sofas and a sweet outdoor patio, also comes with a commendable signature ‘Banker’s Martini’ – a zingy, cardamom-infused vodka and ginger magic potion.

The Passeig de Gracia ends on Plaza Catalunya, where flocks of pigeons pose for tourists; after a few yards it’s onto the famous La Rambla, the avenue that leads down to the seaside.
The perfect place to stop for a low-key lunch is the Boqueria market, just off La Rambla, where a riot of colourful fresh fruit, vegetables and meats are on display alongside sweets, juices and other goodies. The best plan? Prop up a counter for a quick meal of fantastically fresh and delicious Catalan-style warm octopus salad with its slightly spicy tomato sauce, a quick egg and potato tortilla or Iberian ham from the stall. Heaving with a mix of tourists and locals, La Boqueria is a buzzing and charming place. Another must-see.

A little further on the southbound stroll down La Rambla, turn left into the beautiful Plaza Real with its stone archways, fountain and palm trees for the exotic touch. It’s just the place to stop for a cappuccino in winter, or some shade and fresh drinks in summertime.

Just beyond lies the Barrio Gothic area which dates back to medieval days and looks not unlike somewhere out of Harry Potter, with tiny dark winding streets, awesome stone buildings and intricate archways. Eventually you’ll hit the harbour and the marina, home to the Aquarium. Reputed to be one of the world’s finest, this is the perfect place for entertaining kids (or adults) if the weather should be poor.

The next day, with the sun out, the plan is to get down to Barceloneta’s beautiful beach the quick way, via metro. It takes almost an hour to wander along the broadwalk, following the shoreline, from the marina, with its new shiny sail shaped W hotel building (a hint of Dubai’s Burj Al Arab about it) to the other end where you’ll find the casino, and the distinctive ‘Peix d’Or’ sculpture. This giant structure, created by Frank Gehry, was commissioned by the city to celebrate the 1992 Olympics. The huge 50-something-metres-across Golden Fish, made of stone, steel and glass, has become as much of a landmark as the other Gehry project in the same spot, one of Spain’s tallest buildings: the Hotel Arts.

The broadwalk along the beach is abuzz with life, packed with bikers, skaters, dog-walkers and families making the most of the beach’s opportunities…

If it’s not sunbathing weather, there’s always a game of rounders, people-watching, sitting on the golden sand taking in the Mediterranean views or indulging in a hot chocolate with one of the sausage-like deep-fried doughnut ‘churros,’ a real treat on a crisp sunny day.

A few blocks inland, but in the same area, lies the beautiful Parc de la Ciutadella, home to the Parliament of Catalonia, with a lake, fountains aplenty, exotic palm trees and a crazy ‘cycling tapas’ bar on wheels where you can peddle as you drink. An acquired taste!

Later, on our quest for Barcelona’s best bites, we’re back in the same area for dinner at the Hotel Arts’ Arola restaurant, where Michelin starred chef Sergi Arola dispenses some of his foodie magic. The charming barman, Pasquale, insists we join in the city’s latest craze, ‘herby cocktails’, and the fragrant Basil Martini is a hit, mostly for its gorgeous aromatic taste, but also for its very ladylike violet flower adornment.

Another good suggestion is the Pica Pica tasting menu, for a gourmet experience of Spanish tapas. My absolute favourite: the marinated sardines filled with herring’s eggs, the beef tartar with soya and ginger and the fresh citrus scallops. There’s a stunning terrace on which to dine al fresco, perfect for both summer and early autumn, to make the most of seaviews, DJs and the laid back Barcelona atmosphere… Sit back, enjoy – and plan your next (longer) trip… sponsored Rowena’s accommodation in Barcelona:
2-bedroom apartment, from £97 per property per night •

Barcelona’s Best Beaches…

Sant Sebastià : Best for Easy Access
The most southern beach along the 4.5km coastline, and one of the closest to the centre of the city.

Barceloneta: Best for People Watching
The best known and most popular beach in Barcelona, it’s easy to get to and always lively!

Nova Icària: Best for Relaxing
Set on the other side of Port Olympic, it’s the choice for families and those looking for a quieter stretch of sand.

Bogatell: Best for Foodies
Close to Port Olympic, it’s well located for nice restaurants and the promenade.

Mar Bella: Best for Reading Naked
With a beach library open in July and August, it’s also got a designated nudist area.

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