From Bay Street to Barcelona // Discovery

Fairytale buildings, eclectic dining, and a culture partial to lounging offer a true change of pace

By Anna Zalewska

On Tuesday June 3rd, 2008

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It’s a balmy spring day in Barcelona. I’m sitting on a sun-dappled terrace in Plaça Rius y Taulet drinking my favourite Spanish coffee invention, the cortado (a shot of espresso topped with steamed milk). Across from me, beneath the plaza’s massive clock tower, a spontaneous soccer game has broken out among the local boys. A bevy of local girls giggles alongside. The rest of the plaza’s denizens, myself included, practise Barcelona’s two other preferred sports: lounging and people-watching.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona’s boisterous seaside (left) and Gaudi’s Casa Batllo (right)

I left Bay Street for Barcelona’s leafy avenues nearly a year ago, and I’m still endlessly amazed by the city’s whimsical spirit,  expressed in everything from its beautiful buildings to its unique food. Imagine, if you will, a slightly less frou-frou Paris, add some over-the-top buildings and a Mediterranean coastline and presto: Barcelona, the ideal destination.

The best introduction to the city is through its architecture. While Barcelona boasts everything from gothic churches to phallic glass towers, it is perhaps best known for the works of Antoni Gaudi, whose fairytale buildings — with their undulating façades, kaleidoscopic tiles, and dragon-scaled roofs — have become symbols of the city.

But if it’s the architecture that will make you fall in love with Barcelona, it’s the food that will have you buying the ring. Traditional Catalan food — a mix of fresh seafood, game, and, as in the rest of Spain, various riffs on pork — abounds. Good paella (a rice dish that can include anything from seafood to rabbit) can also be had. Meanwhile, modern Catalan food has earned the city international attention. Barcelona’s inspired chefs create food that borders on conceptual art — boxes of perfumed air, flavoured paper, ephemeral foams.

And then there’s the lounging. There are innumerable spots to whittle away your day and one of the best ways to see Barcelona is to wander between them, occasionally stopping to visit a museum or monument. Barceloneta and the boisterous seaside, the canopied cafés of the posh avenue Rambla Catalunya, the trendy Born and the boho Gracia districts are among the best destinations for chilling with a café con leche or a glass of Rioja. But be careful — if you find a good vantage point on Barcelona’s parade of life, you may never leave.


Where to stay

Partner salary:
Hotel Omm
hotelomm.es
A lobby full of models and a rooftop pool straight out of a Calvin Klein ad make for a worthy splurge ($350-900/night)

Associate salary:
Chic and Basic Born
chicandbasic.com
Disco meets design on the edge of the trendy Born district ($140-300/night)


Where to eat

Traditional:
Cal Boter
(c/ Tordera 62, Gracia, tel. 93 458 8462)
Cal Boter is a great introduction to the joys of traditional Barcelona cuisine in a local setting. Can Solé (cansole.cat) and Merendero de la Mari (merenderodelamari.com) offer excellent takes on paella and seafood.

Modern:
El Bulli
elbulli.com
El Bulli is currently rated the “best restaurant in the world” (Restaurant Magazine). Its success is responsible for countless followers — many a bit more accessible than the master. Among the best are Comerç 24 (comerc24.com), Gaig (restaurantgaig.com), and Cinc Sentits (cincsentits.com ).