WORDS DUNCAN CRAIG
PHOTOGRAPHS MARGARET STEPIEN
The Catalan capital is one of Europe’s great all-rounders, a city as pretty as it is cultured, with an appetite for letting its hair down. Here’s our pick of original experiences in the ‘Rio of the Med’
1 TAKE A NIGHT TOUR OF A MASTERPIECE
“Welcome to the greatest rooftop in the world,” says curator Silvia Vilarroya, stepping out into the sultry Barcelona evening. Stone structures coated in ceramic mosaics rise from the highest points, linked by undulating pathways around the courtyards, along which knight-like sculptures protrude like periscopes. The effect is part medieval battle scene, part futuristic chessboard. “All of these are chimneys or ventilation pipes,” says Silvia. “Antoni Gaudí was provocative – but he was also functional.”
La Pedrera was the final residential building that the Catalan architect took on, a commission from the wealthy Milà family. It polarised opinion when it opened in 1912; people either hated it or really hated it. But since then, it has become much-loved – and visited. Night tours strip away the crowds, enabling small groups to linger in the Milàs’ recreated apartment and admire design flourishes, such as ceilings in which trees have seemingly taken root. Out on the roof, the embers of the day start to cool. A whisper of a breeze carries the occasional sound from the Passeig de Gràcia below, but otherwise all is quiet.
2 HIT THE ROOF
In the lobby of Hotel Majestic, a woman clutching a Chihuahua hails a bellboy with her eyebrows. Staff buzz about, obsequious. Up on the 10th floor, things are altogether less stuffy. Bathers absorb rays and cocktails around the pool, while smiling waitresses attend to those marooned in the deep sofas. There are reminders of the rarified atmosphere – an unspeakably expensive bottle of Rémy Martin Louis XIII Cognac is barely out of place on the drinks menu – but, as long as you’re happy to pay a little more for your rosé, a slice of the high life can be yours. It’s an appropriate democratisation. The tale of Barcelona is very much one of its rooftops. Meagre rain keeps them flat; the constant battle for space keeps them busy.
A few blocks west of the Majestic is Hotel Pulitzer’s rooftop oasis, its wood furniture, trellises and pot plants bringing to mind a Home Counties garden. Here, a bow-tied waiter serves a bottle of white to a group of friends, as cool jazz swirls around the deck.
3 CHANNEL WILLY WONKA
Inside the Museu de la Xocolata’s classroom, a group of visitors in chef’s hats are playing with industrial quantities of chocolate. Littering the worktops are strawberries, lollipops and moulds oozing with silky molten goo. These short classes offer a hands-on appreciation of the versatility of chocolate; next door, in a temperature-controlled exhibition space, it’s a case of look but don’t touch. Everything from La Sagrada Família to the Terracotta Warriors has been immortalised in chocolate as intricate artworks that are a testament to the skill (and self-denial) of their creator.
Fly over Barcelona, gawk at a human tower, eat homemade tapas… Find out how to make it happen in Lonely Planet Magazine India’s March 2017 issue. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.