Barcelona, Spain

From the mountains to the beach, wide tree-lined boulevards unravel into pretty parks with playgrounds and shady squares with tiny, happy bars, where a too-hot afternoon is never wasted. Exploring 2,000 years of history here’s a breeze: a port since Roman times, Barcelona has flamboyant art deco architecture to rival that of Paris; Gaudí’s fantastical façades beckon from every street corner, and the redeveloped beachfront boasts sleek modern buildings. Buzzing bars and restaurants in the Gothic Quarter and El Born ensure the city and her visitors lunch long and party late into the night. No wonder cava is the drink of choice – this is a place with much to celebrate.

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Do Go/Don’t go

Locals leave August to the tourists, as the city can be too hot to handle – even some museums are closed. Avoid public holidays if you can: they trigger a city exodus that means things tend to be shut.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    From Barcelona Airport (www.barcelona-airport.com), taxis will whisk you into town in 15 minutes, for about €20. The Aerobus runs every 15 minutes (€3.50).
  • Trains

    The 25-minute train journey from airport to centre costs just a couple of euros; trains run every half an hour. Spain also has a reasonably priced national network. Book ahead, as trains can get busy (www.renfe.com). Barcelona’s Metro system is efficient – and air-conditioned (www.tmb.net).
  • Automobiles

    Driving is fine once you master the one-way system, but finding a parking space (especially a free one) is a nightmare. Taxis are cheap, so it’s not worth renting a car anyway; and the train is perfect for day trips.
  • Taxis

    You can hail a metered, wasp-coloured cab from anywhere on the street, as long as its green light is on.

Patricia Urquiola

Patricia Urquiola

Born in Orviedo, Patricia Urquiola is one of the most versatile and prolific designers in Europe today, with a roster of clients that many of her contemporaries would kill for: Dior, Louis Vuitton, B&B Italia, Salvatore Ferragamo, BMW and dozens more. Over her career, her unconventional eye and warm aesthetic approach has turned from furniture to interiors to architecture, and have won her so many ‘Designer of the Year’ awards, it’s very possible she has had to design a cabinet to keep them in. Smith hotel aficionados will spot her hand in the innovative and colourful look of Das Stue in Berlin, and Urquiola’s credentials as an architectural designer are on resplendent display in the lacework- and origami-inspired interiors of the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona.

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Design Museum of Barcelona

Design Museum of Barcelona

Barcelona is one of the modern world’s great design hubs and, for a crash course in Catalan creativity, its new Museu del Dessny is your first port of call. Having opened its doors for the first time in December 2014, it brings together the collections of four of the city’s former museums. It now provides a home for more than 70,000 significant objects from the history of Spanish space design, product design, information design and fashion, stretching from the fourth century to the present day. The museum’s ambitious headline exhibitions trace the evolution of the ‘decorative arts’ of the past to what we think of as design today, moving from mediaeval fabric and Renaissance glasswork to contemporary catwalk fashion and modern graphic design. Impossible to miss, the huge metallic hammerhead of a building lords it over the Plaça de les Glòries; the glossy, glassy and glamorous Smith hotel Meliá Barcelona Sky is just down the road.

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IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR

IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR

After-dark holiday entertainment needn’t mean sangria-crawls down the Magaluf mile, especially when you’ve got the cocktail-clinking of Palma’s Old Town a few miles up the Mallorcan coast: book a place among the beautiful people at Puro Hotel’s buzzy, DJ-soundtracked beach club. Sunsets at San Giorgio in Mykonos are crowd-pullingly spectacular, but that’s not the end of the entertainment, rather an invitation to dance the night away under the stars. Glamourpusses: dress up in your designer best for martinis in Miami or champagne in St Tropez

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El Palauet

El Palauet

Sooner or later, everyone serious about style who comes to Barcelona heads to Passeig de Gracia with space in their suitcase and a credit card that can take a beating. The smartest shoppers minimise their bag-lugging distance by checking into the Catalan capital’s most elegant address – the designer apartments of El Palauet. The art nouveau exterior gives way to a collection of modern, minimalist suites – each equipped with furniture straight out of a primer of 20th-century design classics and staffed by a personal PA, to book your restaurants, bag you tickets and, if need be, help carry your shopping...

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Jordi Cruz

Jordi Cruz

At 24, Jordi Cruz became the youngest Spanish chef to earn a Michelin star for his imaginative and avant-garde cooking style. In the 12 years since, he has bagged another three – two of them for the hotel restaurant he’s been helming since 2010, ABaC Restaurant & Hotel in Barcelona’s Zona Alta – written a book on molecular cooking techniques, and been anointed as a judge on Masterchef Espana. In other words, he’s hot stuff (and let’s just say a certain proportion of his Masterchef audience haven’t tuned in for the cookery). Via ABaC’s startlingly inventive 15-course tasting menus (mole ice cream, tuna-skin curry, chocolate ‘earth’, plankton bread and oh-so-much more) Cruz demonstrates exactly how he lives up to the hype.

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La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

It has been over 130 years in the making – and it still hasn’t been made yet. The vision of revered modernist architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926), Barcelona’s imposing basilica – an attention-grabbing mash-up of Art Nouveau and Neo-Gothic – is Spain’s greatest work of unfinished architecture, and very possibly the world’s. By the time Gaudí died, only a quarter of the building was finished, and successive generations have been painstakingly labouring through the decades to bring it to fruition. When it reaches completion (slated for 2026), La Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church building on Earth, but it’s not just its scale that makes it so captivating; the sheer, visionary audacity and mathematically complex engineering of Gaudí’s architecture make it a marvel to look at even in its incomplete state. It has its detractors, of course – George Orwell called it ‘hideous’ – but there’s no denying its impact on the eyeballs, whether you regard it as the 560-foot folly of a lunatic or an otherworldly masterpiece. Stay at Meliá Barcelona Sky and you’ll be in easy reach.

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