Antiga Casa Buenavista sits on a street lined with elegant, balcony-clad townhouses on bustling street Ronda de Sant Antoni at the border of the El Raval and Eixample neighbourhoods. Sites such as Plaça de Catalunya and Las Ramblas are nearby.
The Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat airport is the closest international hub, just a 20-minute drive from the hotel. It’s well served, with flights arriving from all over the world, and the casa’s staff will happily arrange transfers.
Trains from across Catalonia pull into the Plaça de Catalunya station, which is just a five-minute walk from the hotel. It also lies on the L1 (red) and L3 (green) lines of the Metro, so you can zip across the city with ease. And, if you’re arriving from the airport, you just need to hop on the L9 (orange) line and change to the L1 at Torassa. If you’re chugging in from other major cities in Spain, most routes terminate at Barcelona-Sants a 15-minute drive away.
Make life easier for yourself and invest in a Hola BCN pass, which allows you to hop on and off public transport. Car hire is easy, but parking can be hard to find, plus the hotel is in the ZBE (low-emission zone), so you’ll have to register your vehicle and pay a charge of a few Euros. If wheels are essential, there’s no parking at the hotel, but several charged garages close by.
Ferries run back and forth between Barcelona and the Balearics; from Menorca the trip is six hours, seven hours from Mallorca and nine hours from Ibiza.
Worth getting out of bed for
El Raval had a bit of a bad-boy rep back in the day, with thieves, street walkers and bohemians all getting up to no good (there are still a few light-fingered sorts, so keep an eye on your belongings), but it’s largely redeemed itself and is now rather erudite and cultured, with a nightlife scene that still rouses the rakes. The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (the largest of its kind in Spain) informs and engages through film, art, workshops, debates, concerts and festivals. It’s programme is wildly diverse, but there’s always something going on, whether it's a debate about threats to global journalism, exhibitions about political use of masks or proposals for public lighting using luminescent bacterium – it’s meaty stuff. The Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona houses a collection of very important artworks (by the likes of Man Ray, Miro, Calder, Beuys…) from 1929 to now in a building by Richard Meier that’s quite the looker itself. And housed in a baroque palace along La Rambla is La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, whose shows of contemporary art get stuck into ideological quandaries. And, the Gran Teatre del Liceu is very gran indeed, with its garnet-velvet upholstery, gilded curves of tiered seating and frescoed ceilings. And, while Barcelona isn’t exactly lacking in monumental buildings, El Raval can claim its oldest church, 10th-century Sant Paul del Camp (Saint Paul of the Country), named thusly because it was originally outside the city walls. It’s also home to Palau Güell, Gaudí’s medievalist masterpiece, that’s not quite as fanciful as his other structures, but still a stand-out. For his more famous works – Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà, Casa Batlló – and other Modernista marvels (say, Cadafalch’s Casa Amatller), then cross the border into the Eixample. While you’re over there, check in at toy factory turned co-working space Fàbrica Lehmann to see if they’re holding an arts and crafts market in their courtyard. Rummage through treasured trash at Mercat Els Encants (the city’s largest flea market), then get caught up in the colours and scents of Boqueria food market. Assemble a picnic from your finds and head to the Joan Miró park to enjoy it and see some of its namesake’s large-scale sculptures.
Sharing is caring in Catalan dining culture, where meals consist of a scattering of tapas plates and family-style mains. But, the food in Barcelona is also excellent, so you may find yourself feeling rather territorial about your boquerones. At Bar Cañete you’ll be batting hands away from lobster croquetas, crispy Iberian pork jowls and chicken and foie gras cannellonis. Sit up at the long, elegant counter to watch chefs carve slivers of jamón and sear freshly hauled-in shellfish. And, if there’s a pecking order among the city’s chefs, then those who’ve done a stint at Ferran Adrià’s legendary El Bulli sit at the top. Chef François Chartier runs Dos Palillos (two chopsticks), a pan-Asian tapas joint, where tasting menus run to 28 courses with some ‘won’t know you like it till you try it’ surprises, such as chicken sashimi, served rare. A gamble for sure, but we assume it hasn’t done anyone in, because he also runs experimental tapas bar Dos Pebrots, where you’ll try morsels such as spider crab in almond cream, leeks steeped in beer, and lemon sorbet with olive oil. He’s earned a Michelin star for both. And Disfrutar is helmed by not one but three ex-El Bulli head chefs (Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch). Its name means ‘enjoy’ in Catalan, and enjoy you will, with dishes such as fluffy buns filled with sour cream and caviar; passionfruit, rum and mint ladyfingers; ceviche ice-cream and deconstructed whisky tarts, and a theatrical dining experience where some dishes are hidden in secret table compartments. And leading the way in restaurant design is Lázaro Rosa-Violán, who turned a carpark into El Nacional, an extremely glamorous food hall, with four restaurants, an oyster bar and counters dedicated to beer, wine and cocktails. And, he styled Boca Grande using warm polished woods and hammered gold plating. Get attuned to the opulence, then order up the steak with foie gras, king crab and wild-pigeon risotto with Idiazabal cheese.
Caravelle has style, with its black-and-white floor tiles and Scandi furnishings, but from 10am to 4pm, we only have eyes for the brunch menu. With the likes of poached eggs and roast pumpkin with whipped feta and za’atar, pulled-pork Benedict and Bircher muesli with hibiscus and cherry, it's a sexy read, and if you have room when lunch kicks in at 1pm, order the smoked-chicken sando with guac, jalapeños and American cheese, followed by the labneh cheesecake with tahini crumble and poached plums. And, Dalston Coffee is a slender spot with punchy brews – put their trusty espresso machine and Moccamaster to work.
When it comes to nightlife, Raval still has a hangover from its bohemian days. Hemingway, Picasso and other libertines downed absinthe in Bar Marsella (65 Carrer de Sant Pau), which is still going as strong as the green stuff, but it’s kept its charming 19th-century decor. And Modernista Bar Muy Buenas deserves its boastful name for its vintage style, art nouveau woodwork, scalloped podium bar, and flowery floor tiles, plus a list of cocktails mixed with only Catalan spirits. La Casa de la Pradera (‘the Little House on the Prairie’) is extremely modern minded, welcoming all members of the LGBTQ+ family, and attracting one of the funnest crowds in the city. And over in Eixample, we’re surprised Bar Mut’s walls of wine don’t look emptier – punters enthusiastically down plenty. Partake with gusto, and treat yourself to the spectacularly rich lobster in brandy. And, prepare to give up some personal space for a lot of very good natural wine at Gresca (230 Carrer de Provença), whose pink-marble-lined interior is slim and lined with stools. The list has been stringently sipped and savoured by wine-obsessive owner Rafa Peña, so you can be confident in your choices, but it’s worth putting yourself in the barkeeps’ hands.