One of the things I think about a lot is the concept of wanderlust. Its underlying tenet is that one has a sense of nostalgia for everywhere and nowhere at the same time. That you are at once as familiar with places you’ve never been as you are with places you know intimately.
In college, I lived in Spain. It holds a great hold over my heart as a place of familiarity, or so I have always believed. I still remember walking through the gothic quarter on a september saturday, the clothes lines overhead flapping shirts and silk trousers into the breeze like flags heralding a welcome to the weary traveler. Catalan words rolling like swaths of silk off my tongue after a week or so of immersion into the Spanish way. My eventual return to the US bringing me immense sadness as Spanish replaced English as the soundtrack of choice in the technicolor reel of my REM cycle dreams.
This spring I sought to re-discover my old stomping grounds through the lens of adulthood. The number one conclusion I came to was that I missed most of what made Barcelona amazing in my mad dash to run to the beach and party the night away in my college days. Personally, I think Barcelona in 4 days is perfect.
The first morning I woke up in Barcelona I had to blink twice to realize I was truly back in Spain.
I pulled the curtains back from my modern room at the Hotel Acta Mimic, and stared with the
type of voyeurism reminiscent of children into the backyards of the homes of locals. I remember
living in Madrid and waking up to a similar view every morning. Usually exchanging morning
pleasantries with Senor Ricardos before running off to classes.
Although I have status with the SPG/Marriott program, when it comes to Europe, I usually shy
away from spending my points on expensive nights in luxury hotels. Especially in Spain, where
my SPG points would have taken me to the uber-luxurious and stunning W- Barcelona in the
beach neighborhood of Barceloneta. Although that’s a fantastic place to stay if you want to
come to Barcelona to chill out, lay on the beach and enjoy seafood – it wasn’t my speed. I
wanted to weave myself into the fabric of the storied seedy underbelly of Barcelona’s now
touristy La Ramblas area, replete with graffitied alleyways and hawking street vendors.
Which brings me to a review of the fantastic breakfast spread at Acta Mimic. Fresh and fluffy
Tortilla Espanola, combined with thick-cut slices of Manchego cheese made me feel ready to
conquer the day.
Tortilla Espanola is the Spanish rendition of an Omelet. It has the consistency of Quiche and is usually stuffed with potatoes, and green peppers. And you may have tried Manchego cheese from your local Whole Foods (where it’s crazy expensive!) But there’s nothing like stuffing a fresh mini baguette with tomatoes and slices of manchego cheese and setting off for the day. It’s still my most favorite snack, even years after having ended my study abroad sojourn.
Here are some of my personal hotel recommendations, I factor in that most travelers want a
clean modern room, with wifi, in a safe area close to transport.
NH Collection Gran Hotel Calderon – I am a huge fan of the NH brand overall. There is a consistency in quality with this brand. Breakfast is almost always included. Here’s a delicious video overview of the hotel.
Pullman Barcelona – my parents tend to swear by the Pullman brand. Its available all over The Middle East and Asia. Again, breakfast is included. The Telegraph did a comprehensive review here.
Acta Mimic – This is where I stayed. If you can get over the fact that the hallways are painted black to resemble the backstage of the theater this building once housed, you are in for a treat. The hotel is inexpensive, less than 100 meters from Las Ramblas and off the main boulevard. You can walk to the waterfront, or further into the city quite easily.
Hotel Claris- is my UTMOST FAVORITE hotel in this category. Its a 5 star modern luxury hotel that is usually under $300 a night. It’s located just near Casa Mila, so makes a great place to kick off your Tour De Gaudi if you will.
Hotel Bagues – consistently ranked as one of the best “Small Luxury Hotels of the World”, this sleek and sexy hotel is tucked into the heart of the Gothic Quarter just off Las Ramblas. It melds the gothic history of the city with modern luxurious amenities like a rooftop infinity pool.
Hotel Catalonia Plaza – Some rooms at this hotel have a direct view of the dancing fountain show.
The Wittmore– Adults Only – the Wittmore is the kind of hotel where you envision Charlize Theron ducking out of into a waiting Black SUV. It’s tucked away in the gothic quarter just 400 meters from the Picasso museum. Its tiny, with the finest linens, and added perks that make you dream of leaving the kids behind to enjoy an adults-only Spanish weekend. If you book far
enough in advance (~90 days or more) you can actually find prices under $350. So if this is on your bucket list, make some moves.
Hotel DO- Placa Reial – Hotel DO is the only luxury hotel in the Placa Reial. The Placa Reial is the epicenter of tourist activity off Las Ramblas and also serves as the gateway to the gothic quarter. Downstairs you will find a seafood oriented restaurant that serves more Non-hotel guests than hotel guests. Bars, restaurants and gelato shops are all visible from the stately
appointed fine rooms.
Ohla Eixample – The Ohla has an onsite Michelin restaurant. That should tell you pretty much everything you need to know about this luxury hotel that offers a year-round indoor pool located near Gaudi’s famous Casa Batilo.
You can always feel the soul of a city as you walk through it. The lifeblood that pumps through a given city reveals itself in the looks of locals, in the preparation of meals and even in the speed with which you find yourself walking. Barcelona is a piece of magic. Its an enigma of modernity with its high fashion and business epicenter, although it’s wrapped in a casing that’s ancient, gothic and feels like nothing separates you from the Spanish Inquisition a few decades (rather than a few centuries). Barcelona is a city that needs to be jumped into, you need to feel yourself swimming in it, breathing it in and chewing it through and through.
My favorite activity was a tour (i don’t normally do this!) I booked. I used Get Your Guide’s 360-degree tour which includes a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter, followed by a peaceful Schooner boat ride, and then a fantastic Helicopter ride over Barcelona. There is another company that offers this for half the price, but since I haven’t used it personally, I cannot vouch for it personally. Even at $100 per person, I felt this was a fantastic tour because normally just a helicopter ride can run that much.
For anyone that’s ever played the game Candyland as a child, Barcelona will feel like your childhood come to life. Candy-colored houses and broad stone pathways make up a housing society that Gaudi started to create in the early 1900s. When walking through Gaudi’s dreamlike hilltop Parc Guell, the overwhelming sentiment you feel is that of childhood recaptured. Of lazy days in muted pink earth tones and ceiling fans shamed like seashells. You could overpay for a guided tour here, but it’s easy enough to scout your own tickets from the main website. You want to ensure that you are purchasing tickets to the “zona Monumento” because that is where the bulk of the beautiful Gaudi created structures reside.
In the same dreamlike state, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is the most unique church in the world. It’s been over 100 years in the making and still has not reached completion. Like Parc Guell, you can easily purchase tickets yourself from the church’s main website. Time slots are allocated on an appointment basis. You may enter within the half hour of your allotted time slot. Benches for sitting line the interior of the church. Mostly though, one wanders amazed at the play of light from the stunning stained glass overhead. It’s the most secular church I’ve ever seen, and it shows that devotion needn’t be constricted to a formula.
In the dreamy corridors of the Gothic Quarter, tucked into a mansion adorned with cooling green vines you will find the Picasso Museum. Allow yourself the opportunity to get lost trying to find it. You will inevitably run into a clogged street and realize you’ve happened upon the museum. What I fail to understand is why people don’t just book tickets online. We did this through the official Picasso Museum Website and walked right in through the “exit” door. Save yourself the hassle and do this also. The restrooms are clean, and I highly recommend you avail yourselves of such because there wasn’t a public loo in sight in the gothic quarter.
Montjuic Cable Car – on a clear day you may not see heaven, but you will see an amazing view over all of Barcelona. On the hill, you will have access to visit the 1992 Olympic Stadium, Montjuic Castle and also the Fundacion Joan Miro- an entire museum dedicated to the artist’s work. If Picasso was the first son of Barcelona than surely Joan Miro was it’s second most beloved. In my own home cosseted away lies, a Miro lovingly acquired from a back alley in Montmartre Paris, but that’s a tale for another day.
Casa Batilo – The house that Gaudi built is now a tourist site that hosts live mic nights and live music. Check ahead for the calendar.
Barceloneta Beach – On the sidelines of the architectural behemoth that is Barcelona sits Barceloneta Beach. Spend the morning catch rays, playing beach volleyball or even enjoying a delicious beachside lunch.
Magic Fountain– Long before Dubai built the Burj Khalifa, and long before the Burj Khalifa started its fountain shows, there was the original. The “Font Magica” has been a delight every other night of the week. Find free showtimes here and try to get there early to snag a seat on the pavement or the nearby benches. It’s not to be missed.
There is nothing I love as much as a good deal, and Barcelona is full of unique finds, and the old guard at the same time.
Address: Carrer de Girona, 37, 08010 Barcelona, Spain
Hours: 10am- 9pm
Lefties (Zara outlet)
Address: Carrer de Pelai, 2, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
Hours: 10AM- 9:30PM