The biggest problem for travelers to Barcelona is deciding what to do and in what order. Mind-blowing architecture, world-class museums, and full-of-life pedestrian streets compete with tapa bars and great food, bakeries, and beaches. One can see the main sights and enjoy some wonderful meals in a few days, but one can also easily pass a week or longer in Barcelona to immerse in its magic. One thing is certain, no matter how often or for how long one visits this Catalan capital, Barcelona’s charm, character, and caché will make one yearn to return.
On Avenue Diagonal, a stone’s throw from Passeig de Gràcia, one of Barcelona’s grand avenues, perfect for strolling, shopping, eating, and drooling over magnificent Modernista buildings, is Casagrand Luxury Apartments. For the same price as a small suite in a luxury hotel, Casagrand has 13 fully equipped luxury apartments. Six of these apartments sleep eight, six sleep nine, and there’s also a one-bedroom rooftop apartment near the pool, sauna, and deck with comfortable loungers.
I stayed in “Principal 1,” comprised of four double bedrooms including two master suites, four large bathrooms, and an additional bedroom suitable for a child or nanny. Perfect for a large family, multi-generational trip, or group of friends traveling together, Casagrand is so much better than staying in a luxury hotel. At nearly 3,000 square feet, everyone has plenty of space. And what a terrific space it is.
There’s a bright, modern, full kitchen with stainless appliances and all-important Nespresso machine. The living room boasts a flat screen television, two designer sofas and for the thoughtful among us, a library and chess set. The dining room table seats eight, while the kitchen table seats six. The Master suites have work desks, flat screen televisions and enormous bathrooms with deep-soaking tubs, walk-in showers, and separate dressing areas. There is also a separate laundry room with full-size washer and dryer. Throughout the apartment colorful artwork by local artists – both established and up-and-coming – adorn the walls. The apartments are very quiet, so perfect slumber is assured. Daily maid service is included and friendly, English-speaking front desk personnel are present from early morning until late night for directions, assistance, or recommendations.
Barcelona is a city where the pleasure of eating is paramount. As it’s fortunately also a walking city, not too much dietary damage should result. That said, since Barcelonians typically eat dinner very late – restaurants don’t fill up until about 10:30pm – it’s always a good idea to enjoy some afternoon grilled squid, croquettes, or mussels, and a cold beer at one of the many tapa bars throughout the city. Happily, enjoyable people watching is included at no charge. Several restaurants with outdoor seating are adjacent to the Museu d’História de Catalunya overlooking the picturesque waterfront harbor and Port Vell that begins at the end of historic La Rambla.
For a truly memorable meal, Michelin-starred Enoteca Paco Pérez at Hotel Arts Barcelona will remind you that the joy of eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. In a light, airy space overlooking the marina, Chef de Cuisine Bernardo Morgado oversees preparation of the 12-course tasting menu. To say the meal was inspiring is a bit like saying the Mona Lisa is a painting. The dishes were all delectable artwork where imagination, creativity, and skill were married in holy matrimony.
Standout dishes were the lobster salpicon with rocoto peppers and anchovy, and smoked Wagyu beef with beetroot. The polenta with skinned tomatoes, hidden caviar and infused parmesan exploded with flavor, and the “pre”-dessert crisp waffle with caramelized pine nuts and bacon-infused ice cream nearly made me weep with joy. One of the two actual desserts, “Breaking waves,” a coconut, cucumber, yuzu mélange made me downright giddy. These magnificent dishes were complemented by wines from their extensive list and together with marvelous service made a perfect evening.
Following two plus weeks in Europe, I was craving Asian food. I hit pay dirt at Sun Taka on Carrer del Bruc, a 10-minute stroll from Casagrand. In an unassuming, modern traditional setting with both tables and intimate sushi bar, Osaka-born owner-Chef Kawata Mitsutaka prepares authentic Japanese dishes such as grilled Spanish eel with wakame, scallops with shimeji mushrooms and fresh sushi, and also wonderful fusion dishes, like a Japanese tapa platter with mussels, crab salad, mackerel and squid.
Another highlight was the Japanese meatballs made with tasty Iberico ham, enoki and kikurage mushrooms coupled with Rihaku Wandering Poet sake. Call ahead (34/932 50 23 49) for a tasting menu reservation and whether you have room or not, Mitsutaka’s divine black sesame cream cake with matcha-cream filled dumpling will have you speaking Japanese in no time.
Many first timers and perhaps even second and third timers to Barcelona will visit Antoni Gaudi’s magnificent, heart stopping Sagrada Familía Church and gasp at its nativity façade and immense nave, and also visit La Pedrera, Gaudi’s mind-boggling apartment block with its ethereal roof, and of course the Barcelona Cathedral with its gothic cloister and baroque chapels. Gaudi aficionados’ will also want to head up to Park Güell for the stellar views and more proof of his artistic genius evidenced by the pavilions, viaducts, and main square.
However, many miss Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site, a marvelous tribute to Modernism and brainchild of Lluís Doménech i Montaner, and since 1997 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Completed in 1930, Sant Pau is the world’s largest art nouveau complex, in sharp contrast to the surrounding grid of Eixample area. Sant Pau comprises 12 pavilions connected by a garden, and underground galleries with intricate mosaics, colorful stained glass and sculptures that served as a hospital compound until 2009.
If you only have time in Barcelona for two museums, head first to the Picasso Museum where until October 20, 2022 is also an exhibition of 600 black-and-white photos taken by photographer and Picasso’s friend Lucien Clergue. This provides an excellent photographic historical record of parts of Picasso’s life in the south of France where they both lived. Also part of the permanent collection, the world’s largest of his early works, is “Las Meninas,” an incredible suite of 58 works comprising 45 interpretations inspired by Diego Velasquez.
Atop a hill located on the edge of the Parc de Montjuïc is Fundació Joan Miró, which houses over 14,000 pieces of his artwork. In addition to Miró’s massive tapestry embodying the pinnacle of his textile work, several of his sculptures are placed on the large ocean view terrace. Nearby, Alexander Calder’s Mercury Fountain, an anti-fascist tribute which first appeared at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris was donated by Calder as an homage to his friendship with Miró. There’s also an interesting collection of his family photos.
The Lesson Learned
In Barcelona this time I spent just three days, but even so, I was reminded of Le Corbusier’s apt words, “Allow me to state here how much I love Barcelona, an admirable city, a city full of life, intense, a port open to the past and future.” Whether you are strolling historic La Rambla pedestrian avenue with its shops, cafés, and bars, reveling in the genius of the architects and artists who have graced Barcelona, you will sense not an absence of noise, but a glorious presence of energy. Happy Travels!