WINTER is the perfect season to discover the vibrant streets of Barcelona. We check out the newest bars and brasseries in this ever-changing city. WHY GO?
The stag ’n’ hen set have left, the temperatures have cooled and winter is when Barcelona – one of the Mediterranean’s busiest ports – really comes into its own.
The restaurants are cutting edge, the bar culture lasts late into the night and it’s almost de rigueur to sport a guitar on your back and assume a soulful expression.
On top of all that, it has bejewelled Gaudi buildings at every turn, a chilled-out vibe where people prefer strolling to stressing, plus a sizzling contemporary art scene. In short, Barcelona rocks throughout the year.FOR CULTURE…
When you tire of watching the out-of-work actors posing as living sculptures along La Rambla, head to the Palau de la Virreina (La Rambla 99, www.bcn.es/cultura
). The throbbing heart of Barcelona’s alternative arts scene is housed in an imposing mansion.
Entry is £2.50, and predictably, there’s a great Che-inspired gift shop.FOR SUITE DREAMS…
Hotel Arts (Carrer de la Marina 19-21, from UK: 0034 93 221 10 00/www.ritzcarlton.com
) was one of Europe’s first “style” hotels – an angular high-rise, stuffed with modern art, modish luxury and views on to Barcelona’s beach.
These days it keeps its edge with the help of its “Coolhunter”. Want to get backstage at the Opera House, automatic entry into the hottest clubs, or the lowdown on the newest designers? Patricia Bahr can help. A supercharged concierge, with connections that reach into the hippest parts of the city, she’s the ultimate fixer. A half-day tour with Patricia costs £165.FOR EATS AND TREATS…
When it comes to the perfect blend of good atmosphere and delicious food, it’s hard to beat the Tèxtil Cafè (Carrer Montcada 12, www.textilcafe.com
). Set within the 14th-century confines of the Fashion Museum (opposite the Picasso Museum), there are menus in every language under the sun, jazz on the sound system and live music on Sundays (£3 well spent). It’s so mellow that you’ll hardly notice that the museum itself is closed for renovation. Open from 10am until midnight every day except Mondays, breakfast costs £4 and a glass of cava is £2.
Come the evening, there are tapas bars galore to explore. Locals favour Paco Meralgo (Carrer Muntaner 171, 93 430 90 27/www.pacomeralgo.com
) in the Eixample district. Amid minimalist décor and brick walls, you’ll choose from a series of small plates, including croquettes, fried artichokes and superb seafood. Dishes cost £1 to £5. With wine, you’ll spend around £20 a head and enjoy one of the finest and most relaxed meals Barcelona has to offer. FOR SHOPPING…
Barcelona’s shopping personality is cool Scandinavia mixed with the Mediterranean zest for life. You’ll find the big-name designers along the Passeig de Gracia, including Armani and the Spanish, leather-centric Loewe.
The bohemian shops along Carrer Rec and Carrer Vidrieria stock lots of new, young designers. Meanwhile, Carrer Argenteria has been home to silversmiths since the 15th century and now houses some good modern designers.
Joid’art has branches across the city and sells funky, well-priced jewellery, while the shop attached to the Tèxtil Cafè has great gifts, including clothes and jewellery. Necklaces start at £14.
Coronel Tapioca in Avinguda del Portal de l’Angel, has improbably groovy outdoors equipment, including walking boots and leather rucksacks. Jackets start at £64.
If you feel like something a bit more spiritual, don’t miss Caelum, on Carrer de la Palla in the Barri Gotic area, near the cathedral. It’s a shop and café that’s devoted to food and drink made by nuns and monks. You can pick up a delicious box of hazelnut chocolates for £6.FOR COCKTAILS…
With battered sofas, moody lighting, walls lined with dusty wine bottles and a constant buzz, Schilling (Carrer Ferran 23, www.cafeschilling.com
) just off La Rambla in the Barri Gotic might seem like a laid-back all-day hangout, but come the evening, it morphs into Barcelona’s coolest bar. Open until 3am, bar staff dispense drinks to a beautiful crowd of models and actors. THE INSIDE TRACK…
Just outside Barcelona is a restaurant called El Bulli (Cala Montjoi, Roses, 97 215 04 75/www.elbulli.com
). Regularly voted the best restaurant on the planet, gastronomes have to wait more than a year to get a reservation for its molecular-minded food (specialities include aerated frozen foam flavoured with Parmesan).
However, Ferrán Adriá, its chef, has just opened his first budget restaurant in Barcelona. Fast Good (Balmes 127, 93 452 23 74/www.fast-good.com
) near the Passeig de Gracia is all shiny white tables, designer furniture and plasma TVs.
Easier on the bank balance – and the taste buds – than El Bulli, Fast Good’s accent is on simple, populist food, including burgers, using the same high-end suppliers as the mother restaurant. Puddings include thinly sliced apples with fresh mint and syrup. A meal costs around £8. No reservations.**Getting there: British Airways Holidays (0870 243 3406/www.ba.com) offers three nights at the Hotel Jazz, Barcelona, from £282pp (two sharing) for departures in December, including return flights from Birmingham, Gatwick or Heathrow and B&B.Spanish National Tourist Office: 020 7486 8077/www.tourspain.co.uk or visit www.barcelonaturisme.com