Looking for Barcelona travel tips? Look no further for help planning the perfect Spanish weekend. Forget the clichés of Flamenco and sangria, the city has changed, offering a subtle, nuanced scene, says Caiti Grove.
Where to stay
The Mandarin Oriental’s expert eye trained on Barcelona for sometime and they leapt into action when this former bank came on the market, and they’ve just added an extra 20 or so rooms to meet demand. The bedrooms are perfect –- spacious and airy, but it’s really the design that gives them the edge. Designer Patricia Urquiola links Modern European and Oriental style for a look that is pruned and functional, and the choice picks of furniture, lighting and oak floors mean it really feels like a dream home. The hotel has two restaurants – one with a Michelin star – and two bars. The roof garden serves excellent cocktails and offers a matchless view of the sunset – it is really magical by night when the moon rises over the twinkling city below. Head to Banker’s Bar for a late night vibe and a post-bar nightcap. Below ground, a space-age chainmail corridor leads to the spa. Arrive early and have a dip in the luminous pool flanked with dark green glass. As well as massages and beauty treatments, they also offer specialty pedicures from Jean de Baptiste’s army of foot experts – after an hour or so’s energetic buffing, they look shiny and youthful.
What to see
A definite must is Gaudí’s Casa Batlló house on the Ramblas. The famous architect’s design served as a bastion of his modernist ideas. The façade is shiny, like a pearl, with a waving roof and windows that look as though they’re melting in the heat. If you’re keen to continue with the modernist theme, walk (or preferably cycle) down the Passeig de Gràcia to see Gaudí’s La Pedrera, Casa Amatller and – if you have time – the nearby Sant Pau.
Take home in your suitcase…
Head to the Las Ramblas for big brands, including the headquarters of the much-loved export Zara. A favourite with serious shoppers from the middle East, there is everything offered here, but it is spread out so plan your route – or hire a personal shopper to show you how it’s done. Near the Picasso museum, in the El Born district, is an boutique shopping area packed with designers and artisanal creations made by local craftspeople.
What to eat
Barcelona’s restaurants maintain a high standard – a great asset for time-poor weekend visitors. With its rows of chic white umbrellas and tablecloths, the harbour’s idyllic boulevard seems to be a magnet for beautiful eateries. Cooler than the inner city, the waterfront feels like the best place to eat seafood. Competition is strong, which is great for the quality of paella (the Spanish roast dinner equivalent). The packed tables, between peak lunchtime and 3pm, are proof that the race for quality and style goes down well. Palau del Mar is gorgeous with lightning service, but the whole area’s standard is high. For a more earthy Catalan vibe, head towards the Olympic area. The reliable ‘popular with locals’ test applies to Cañota. Experts at local cuisine, the restaurant has a ‘jamon expert’ on hand to thinly cut the much lauded ham legs that are an essential part of the tapas ritual.
Whatever you do…
Barcelona by bike is a joy. Near the harbour, along with a bike (around five euros an hour or less – a brilliant alternative and easy to organise from the hotel) you can also hire a tour guide or join a regular tour – a few offer tours specialising in modernism, Gaudí or even tapas if you want to make double-sure you take the best route. You can see a good portion of the city in an hour and the breeze feels essential on a hot day between 12 and 7pm. Segways are fairly common but, crucially, they are too slow to benefit from the breeze that a speedy bike creates. Along the path behind the beach, and very much spruced up during the 1992 Olympics, there are bars with great views of the sea and, judging by the amount of Möet bottles in ice buckets, it is a good place to be seen. If you stop for a swim, you can hire sun loungers with umbrellas by the hour.
Rates for Junior Suites at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona start from £573 per night on a B&B basis. +34 93 151 88 88.