There are the obvious reasons why Barcelona is the 6th most visited city in Europa. It’s temperate climate, of-the-moment cultural institutions, renowned architecture, and exceptional Catalan cuisine add to its general play-over-work spirit to make it a sybaritic dream for epicurean travelers. But what keeps us returning again and again is that Barcelona never rests on its marquee attractions, yet rather has a spirited taste for the new and challenging.
We were recently beckoned to the sea-facing Hotel Arts, a Ritz Carlton property, to take in its “hotel within a hotel experience” called The Club. Encompassing a selection of rooms and suites located on the highest floors, we were able to bypass the ground floor lobby and head straight up to a private reception and check-in. (N.B. If you’re in possession of the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card, and have reached Platinum Elite Status, The Club is at your service in every way. And by the way, the card earns 6x the points for each dollar of eligible purchases for staying at the Hotel Arts, one of the 6,700 participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels).
The lounge area serves – no kidding – five gourmet buffets (and bottomless champers) throughout the day. So when we were feeling peckish, but didn’t need a full meal, it was the perfect stop in between sightseeing, spa visits and dips in the infinity pool – which sits right alongside Frank Gehry’s surreal giant fish sculpture (pictured above).
Needless to say, Enoteca Paco Pérez, the hotel’s signature restaurant from exalted, eponymous chef (a two-time Michelin Star recipient) is not to be missed. With an emphasis on locally-sourced produce and the freshest seafood, the tasting menu began with a medley of prawns, razor clams and octopus. And we could hardly resist the langoustines in a creamy rice (think: Spanish risotto), while the Mediterranean tuna and squab in thousand-day mole sauce with dumplings entrees quickly vied for our attention.
A unique plate of truffled brie crunch was something utterly new to our taste buds – and oh so magically delicious. And it perfectly represented what we like most about dining in Barcelona: gastronomical twists on traditional dishes. Enoteca’s extensive cellar of over 700 “Protected Designation of Origin” Spanish wines made it a thoroughly holistic experience.
We were then given a sneak peek at the penthouses located on Hotel Arts’ very top floors, light-drenched and obviously boasting the most breathtaking of views. For those with an entourage, they feature up to three very tastefully appointed bedrooms (and zero paparazzi access). The suites’ extraordinary services include your own personalized concierge, and even the use of a Mini Cooper Cabrio. What could be cooler than that?
But we did manage to tear ourselves away from the hotel. And while seeing a Antoni Gaudí creation for the first time makes a breathless impression, returning again (like us) to the architect’s most hallowed works, never tires. This time we carved out an afternoon at Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s major accomplishments, alongside what is considered his masterpiece, the still-under-construction but nonetheless spectacular Sagrada Familia cathedral. The surreal park’s abundant gardens, signature tile-work and whimsical flourishes seemed to fuse effortlessly with an intentional functionality.
It can’t be forgotten that Park Guell (named after its promoter, Count Guell) was originally designed as a residential development which never got off the ground. Gaudi himself moved his family into one of the two model homes on the property – which he actually did not design – and lived there from 1906 to 1926, when it was officially opened as a public park. In 1984, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. Hire a guide, so you won’t miss any of the park’s unique design details and the stories that go with them.
We later meandered through the hip Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), for a little historical immersion. But tired from a day of walking, we booked restorative treatments at the hotel’s exquisite 43 The Spa. (BTW, they use only our favorite Natura Bisse, Barcelona skincare products.) We can genuinely highly recommend the Sublime Diamond Journey Treatment; it’s a body scrub with, you guessed it, actual diamond dust (oh, the luxury). We loved how our skin really looked brighter and firmer afterwards.
The spa is located atop the hotel, with two separate bathing areas for men and women. We were delighted to discover the hydrotherapy pool, dry sauna, steam bath, shower, relaxation area, and another dazzling outdoor terrace.
Of course, Catalonians know how to live. And the city’s restaurant scene is at once vast yet invitingly intimate. Full of hole-in-the-wall tapas joints and sidewalk cafes, we opted for something a bit more grandiose in Marea Alta. Occupying the top floor of the Torre Colom, it’s designed to resemble the interior of a ship, in bright whites and blues. The maritime-heavy menu proved a seafood-lovers paradise. (Squid and oloroso tartare, Luis Mari’s wild turbot…).
On our last evening we were called to experience something new to Barcelona’s already booming nightlife scene – and W Hotel’s Wake Up Call music festival series was gearing up just as we arrived. Before diving in though, we fueled up with tapas on the outside deck at BRAVO24, indulging enough delectable, locally-produced jamon to carry us on into the night. (N.B. the W is another fabulous beachfront SPG + Marriott property).
The Wake Up Call evening’s lineup brought together some of the world’s best DJ talent, drawing an eclectic, dressed-to-impress party crowd. Martin Solveig got things going, with electrifying sets also by the likes of Cassius, Pete Tong, Edue Natored, Kunta K and Melvo Baptiste, revving up all three of the hotel’s buzzy nightlife venues.
Ebulliently drained from dancing all night, we retired back to Hotel Arts for an inspired nightcap by the talented mixologists at the elegant P41 Bar & Coctelarium…marveling at how we could never possibly tire of this glorious city.