EUROPE

BARCELONA: MAGIC BY THE MEDITERRANEAN

 

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STORY AND PHOTOS   //  BY AIMEE COLON

I arrived in Barcelona around seven in the morning just when its streets began to come alive, as cafes and shops started opening for the day and people began to fill the streets.  After settling in my hotel, a bit tired and jet lagged, I headed to one of the city’s many cafes in Las Ramblas, just a few steps from my hotel, to reenergize myself.

Las Ramblas, is a tree-lined pedestrian mall that, stretches about a mile connecting Placa de Catalunya in the city center, with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. Las Ramblas also forms the boundary between the quarters of Barri Gótic, to the east, and El Raval, to the west.

If you are a food aficionado like I am, you will enjoy a stop at La Boqueria, the large public market located in the Ciutat Vella district.  It is one of the city's foremost tourist landmarks, with an entrance from Las Ramblas, not far from the Liceu, Barcelona's opera house. The market offers a diverse selection of goods—you can walk around and find dozens of vendors selling both food and drinks. A good example is the famous bar, El Pinotxo, at the main entrance to the market.  While these are most popular for lunches they are also a great option for a lighter afternoon snack before heading to enjoy a night out.

Barcelona gained international recognition by hosting the Olympic games, which brought a massive upturn in its tourism industry. Twenty two years later this magical city continues its never ending evolution. Barcelona has much to offer, to the million of visitors including outdoor markets, restaurants, shops, museums, churches and a nightlife like no other.


Barcelona is a city of contrasts; it’s both avant garde and conservative, chic and eclectic, modern and classical. This city is a continuous work in progress. Barcelona's influences go back to a sublime and the surreal past, including artists such as Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and its natal son, architect Antoni Gaudí.  Although Catalan is the native tongue preferred by its residents, you will find street signs and pedestrians using Spanish when speaking to non-Catalan speaking visitors.


The influence of Gaudí's work is everywhere, from the roof tops of its houses to parks and verandas. There is a palpable enchantment that Barcelona possesses that is contagious, especially to the many tourists that visit this city every year. In order to get a sense of what Barcelona is all about, the best thing to do is to take a stroll around it's city streets and be open to new adventures. Don’t be afraid to get lost around the Barri Gótic (Gothic Quarter) with its narrow old streets and alleyways. This is one of Barcelona's oldest and most classic neighborhoods, and one of my favorite to spend time exploring.

We enter through one of the ancient Roman gates to the Old City, the Portal del Bisbe (Bishop’s Gate). Immersing ourselves in the neo-Gothic architecture of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia and its elaborate façade. We ended our exploration at sundown, at the beautiful Plaça Reial (Royal Plaza), and treated ourselves to an early supper at one of my favorite restaurants in Barcelona Los Caracoles. The restaurant's well-earned fame has spread all over the world, and it is now an absolute must for anyone visiting Barcelona.

Another historic neighborhood is El Raval. On the border of Las Ramblas, this area is one of the closest to the port, informally known as Barri Xinès. The area is historically infamous for its nightlife and cabarets, as well as its prostitution and crime. But El Raval has changed significantly in recent years, and due to its central location, shops, and cafés, continuously open, it seems poised to become the city's hottest district.

La Ribera to the north of  Barri Gòtic offers an array of medieval palaces, five of which house the Museu Picasso. As the impressive residences and their courtyards suggest, La Ribera was once—during its golden age in the 12th century—considered one of the city’s most exclusive addresses in the city. The area is still an urban oasis for its local residents, thanks to the grand Parc de la Ciutadella—with miles of grassy paths, a lake with rowboats for rental, and a small city zoo.

On the hill of El Carmel in the Passeig de Gràcia district we experienced the true art of Barcelona at Parque Guell. The park contains amazing stone structures, stunning tilework, and fascinating buildings that resemble a scene from one of Dr. Seuss' books. Here we took steps into a walkway supported by twisting rock pillars that seem to be growing out of the ground like tree trunks. The Gaudí Dragon Fountain that is part of the main entrance to Güell Park, is adorned in beautiful color tiling, that proved to be the perfect background for our family photo.

If you have time for a day trip, I suggest a tour to the Montserrat Mountain, a half-day's journey from Barcelona.  There are a few Tour companies that offer this excursion and the concierge at your hotel will be happy to book it for you. During our tour we visited the Royal Basilica of Montserrat which has a 12th-century carving of the Mare de Déu de Montserrat, Verge Negre (Black Virgin).  After hearing its history from one of their guides, you will have some free time to explore the basilica and the monastery. If available during your visit don't miss the world famous Montserrat Boys Choir recitals, truly a breathtaking experience.

I have to admit that Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the world. Not only is it full of history, and masterpiece architectural landmarks, it is artistically avant garde art and full of cultural wonders. It is a city that stands still in time, embracing modern influences without leaving behind its true essence. If you want to fully experience this magical city, you’ll need to plan ahead and give yourself as much time as possible. There is so much to see and do in Barcelona, as we say at ISEEIGO, see it and go.


INSIDER TIPS:
I highly recommend the Barcelona Hop-on Off Tour, which allows you to see Barcelona at your own pace with a one-day or two-day, hop-on hop-off pass. Also, with two interconnected routes to explore the city—the Blue Line and Red Line tour is the easiest way to get around Barcelona and see all the sights.

To Do's:

Declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera, is one of the most famous buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí. Located in the Passeig de Gràcia district and is open to the general public.  Fundació Catalunya-La Pedrera, manages its various exhibitions and activities and visits to the interior and roof top.

La Sagrada Familia is one of Gaudí's most famous works in Barcelona and an absolute must see. This giant Basilica, which has been under construction since 1882, is close to one of the main city avenues, Avenida Diagonal. One quick safety warning for families traveling with small children please be aware of open areas when visiting the towers of the Sagrada Familia after all this is still a construction site and parents should proceed with caution.

Montjuïc Mountain offers spectacular vistas and natural surroundings. From there you will see buildings from the 1992 Olympic Games, including the Palau Sant Jordi and the telecommunications tower designed by Santiago Calatrava. You can also visit the Olympic stadium and the Jardi Botànic. Plaça Espanya, at the foot of Montjuïc, is the most common access point to the mountain and also one of the main stops where you could find tourist information.

The Eats:

The famous Pintxos is the essential Basque tapas food delicacy to experience this small plates of bite-sized goodies are served atop a piece of bread and are the culinary trend to follow while you’re in Barcelona. One of my favorite tapas bars to enjoy this delicious Pintxox is La Esquinica in Passeig de Fabra i Puig, where locals and tourists gather to mingle and enjoy this authentic Catalan cuisine delicacy.

While in Barcelona another must is to sample the seafood delicacies such as paella or mariscada. The city is full of  fine and luxurious Galician restaurants, but Rias de Galicia in Poble-sec, as well as Cachitos, are both popular among locals for their fantastic assortment of seafood.

In order to experience Barcelona's spirit and feel the passion of its people you must immerse yourself in a night of flamenco at Barcelona's legendary Tablao Cordobes. Entertained by an internationally renowned flamenco group, you'll discover why the traditional dance of Spain is so popular. You'll also have the option of dining on a traditional buffet meal or simply ordering a drink to enjoy while watching the show.

The Stay:

Barcelona doesn't lack hotel options; they vary from five-star hotels as the Ritz-Carlton, Hotel Majestic and the famous Casa Fuster. There are also boutique properties such as ABaC and Neri Hotel. For my trip I choose Le Meridian Barcelona, situated just off Las Ramblas and ideally situated for visiting the city’s many sights.

 

LE MERIDIAN BARCELONA
La Rambla 111,
Barcelona 8002 Spain
P. +34 93 318 6200

 

LA ESQUINICA
Passeig de Fabra i Puig,
296, 08031 Barcelona, Spain
P. +34 933 58 25 19

ISEEIGO Contact Us






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