Best bar none
David Pollock visits Barcelona for a quick culture fix
Everywhere you look in Barcelona, you see Ronaldinho. Reproductions of the FC Barca hero fill the shelves of each tourist tat-peddling stall and storefront, even in the shadow of Antoni Gaudi’s mighty Sagrada Familia cathedral, which emphasises the ever-changing dynamism of a city whose cultural history is still proudly preserved and maintained.
Catalonia’s capital is a Mecca for art and architecture sightseers. Gaudi’s eye-popping designs rank among Europe’s greatest landmarks, while the city jealously guards its historical links to Picasso’s time there, at the turn of the 20th century. While the great artist took up residence there during his Blue Period, the works which Barcelona and his native Malaga inspired were all executed after he left for Paris in 1904. The Fundació Joan Miró (www.bcn.fjmiro.cat) on Montjuic also displays a range of modern art in honour of another famous local son.
The city streets are warm and crowded, none more so than La Rambla, the tree-lined, tourist-attracting thoroughfare which bisects the city’s heart. It runs north from the Mediterranean beach at Barceloneta to Placa Catalunya at the edge of the Eixample district, and bustles with craggy-faced newspaper salesmen, street theatrics and cafés. The street also separates El Raval, the city’s clubbing heartland, to the east from Barri Gotic to the west.
Barri Gotic (‘gothic town’) is the medieval Old Town, a twist of narrow streets and gorgeous, centuries-old buildings such as the stunning Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. Located on Carrer de Montcada, the Museu Picasso (www.museupicasso.bcn.es) houses an exceptional selection of 3500 Picasso works.
El Quatre Gats (www.4gats.com) café was the social focal point of Art Nouveau in Picasso’s time. Although preserved in the style of the time, ‘The Four Cats’ is not just a tacky tourist trap. A smart bistro with period-emulating tiled floors, simple wood furnishings and antique black-and-white photographs dotting the walls, it was lovingly restored to its genteel, 19th century glory in 1978, once the Franco era had fallen away.
Of indeterminate but ancient age, Marsella in El Raval is another must-visit, a late-night absinthe bar which is similarly suspended amidst wood-embossed, Restoration-era smartness. At weekends it is packed with young students and the kind of historical curio value which led Picasso and Hemingway to chase the Green Fairy around these parts.
While the annals don’t record so, Gaudi might also have sipped a few there, as the landmarks of Modernisme arquitectonic which dot the city are possessed of their own organic, fairytale hyper-reality. His Sagrada Familia (www.sagradafamilia.org) is surely destined to be the world’s most impressive building upon its scheduled completion in 2026 (it was started in 1882). From here we continue the Gaudi theme with a visit to his Park Guell. The Park’s west entry takes you past one of the city’s most infamous tableaux – a prominent ‘okupa y resiste’ motto daubed on the roof of an anarchist squat, framing the best view in Barcelona.
Flyglobespan (www.flyglobespan.com) flies from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Barcelona. Hotel Principal, Junta de Comerç (0034933188970, firstname.lastname@example.org) has double rooms from 110 Euros.