ST GEORGEíS DAY is always low-key in England, but not in Barcelona, where Rebecca Ford finds it is celebrated not only with characteristic Catalan passion but also unashamed romanticism.
St George's Day in England tends to pass by without much of a murmur. Pubs might put out some bunting, thereíll be a bit of Morris dancing and you may be even see a special performance of a Shakespeare play (April 23 is thought to be the Bardís birth Ė and incidentally death - day). Sadly, thatís about it.
In Barcelona, though, itís a big event. This is because St George is also the patron saint of Catalonia and in this romantic city St Georgeís Day is celebrated as a day for lovers.
I decide to sample it with my man, taking a friendís advice and sneakily checking that it is a weekend when Barcelona FC arenít playing at home! We stay at the five-star Princess Sofia hotel, situated in the posh Pedralbes part of the city. Itís a modern, multi-storey hotel and weíre in the exclusive Club area on the top.
That night we are lazy and take a taxi into the city centre. We get there unfashionably early; no self‑respecting local seems to eat until at least 10pm. We opt for Salero (Carrer de Rec 60), a sleek restaurant/bar in a former salt warehouse. Dťcor is white and light and there are Japanese-influenced dishes, soft candles and a cool crowd.
Iíve arranged for a guide the next day, a guide whoís also a personal shopper. Ha! Double whammy. My man raises an eyebrow (Iíd omitted to mention the shopping until now). Two guides appear: Carmen Bosch and Elena Wendt of B&W Personal Shopper. Immaculately dressed and perfectly made-up, they meet us with a personalised itinerary that combines sightseeing with shopping.
Our hotel is at the far end of the Avinguda Diagonal, home to names such as Armani, Versace and DKNY. But Carmen and Elena know more distinctive stores and start the tour at Vincon (at No 96), on chic Passeig de Grazia.
Itís a contemporary homeware shop, housed in a 19th‑century building. The goods are funky but the treasure is upstairs, where original features have been preserved.
A terrace, decorated with hand-painted tiles, looks on to the back of La Pedrera. Designed in 1910 by Antonia Gaudi, iconic architect of the amazing Sagrada Familia basilica, itís an exuberant apartment block (now a museum) with undulating walls and intricate wrought-iron balconies.
Then, itís further along Passeig de Grazia to exclusive Santa Eulalia (No 93; designer clothes; made-to-measure suits), and past the fantastical facade of Gaudiís Casa Batllů.
The rippling roof, adorned with his trademark mosaics, looks like a huge reptile pierced by a cross-shaped chimney. Itís a representation of St Jordi (George) who doubles as Cataloniaís version of St Valentine.
On April 23 in Barcelona, women are presented with red roses, while they give their men a book (a reminder of the fact that itís also the date that Cervantes died).
Our tour continues to Loewe (No 35; more designer clothes; menís tailoring). It has a discreet VIP area, complete with champagne on ice. My guy looks impressed. Shopping not so bad, eh? Then weíre whisked to the trendy El Born district, with its boutiques, bars, antique shops and, my favourite, a quirky chocolate museum in a former convent.
Barcelona, thanks to its harbour, was the first city in Europe to be introduced to chocolate, in the early 16th century. Museum exhibits include enormous chocolate sculptures Ė including one of Barcelonaís star player Ronaldinho Ė and a tasting area. We try a range of chocolates, including one flavoured with black pepper (surprisingly good).
Our tour ends at the Santa Maria del Mar cathedral, a triumph of Catalan Gothic architecture with a majestic rose window. He hasnít moaned once. Phew.
After a late lunch at a nearby tapas bar, bustling little Taller de Tapas (C d líArgenteria 51), we explore the atmospheric alleyways of the ancient Gothic Quarter.
Itís the heart of historic Barcelona just off the lively main drag, La Rambla Ė an alfresco theatre of strolling pedestrians, market stalls and street performers.
Next day, after a lazy breakfast in the Club lounge, there are treats: for me, a chocotherapy massage in the hotelís spa; for him, a trip to Barcelona FC. The stadiumís only a short distance from the hotel. He has a great time in the clubís museum, seeing everything from the VIP lounges to the dressing rooms.
Afterwards, we hop on the Metro for a last stroll down Las Ramblas. At the bottom, a statue of Christopher Columbus points out to sea, yachts bob on the water and a cable car soars over the harbour.
We look at each other and realise that weíve fallen in love Ė with Barcelona.GETTING THEREeasyJet (0905 821 0905/www.easyjet.com) offers return flights from Gatwick to Barcelona from £51.Princesa Sofia Gran Hotel (from UK: 00 34 93 508 10 00/ www.expogrupo.com) offers doubles from £193 per night (two sharing), B&B. Chocotherapy from £52 (55 minutes).Expedia (0871 226 0808/www.expedia.co.uk) offers three nightsí room only at the Princesa Sofia Gran Hotel from £423 (two sharing), including flights from Heathrow.B&W Personal Shopper (655 348 959/www.bwpersonalshopper.com); prices on enquiry.Barcelona FC (www.fcbarcelona.com); entry to museum £6.80, guided tour £10.50.Catalan Tourist Board: 020 7583 8855/www.cataloniatourism.com.