More Then Meets The Eye
Executive summary by Darmansjah
Garish, gregarious Barcelona doesn’t guard its secrets jealously, but the Catalan capital does seem to get a kick from hiding the best of them in plain sight. We sample the city’s lesser-known delights. By Timm Moore
Barcelona’s best-ketp secrets are often just a stone’s trhow from more popular areas, such as Port Vel.
sculpture-like Alfredo Lanz’s
The magnificent Palau de la Musica Catalana was built between 1905 and 1908 for the choral society orfeo Catala.
The Gaudi-Free Guide To Architecture
The amazing fin-de-siecle sturctures that define Barcelona are testament to an exhilaratingly peculiar phase of its cultural history, when sober, wing-collared captains of industry happily commissioned building inspired by melted wax and skeletons. Beyond the well-chronicled contibutions of Antone Gaudi, a hos of less feted but just as adventurous architects helped shape Barcelona in the late 19th andearly 20th centuries. Tak Josep Guigi Cadaflach, the verstile genius with a name like a Welshman talking with his mouth full. A host of madly turret-clustered townhouses pay tribute to his belief that a Catalan’s home was his castle. And not just his home: Puigi Cadafalch’s Casaramona textile plant – now the CaixaForum museum of contemporary art – looks more like some extravagant Fortified palace. Walk out onto the fooftop ‘modrnist terrace’ and you ‘ll discover that the whole flamboyant edifice is built from nothing more than house bricks.
Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia
Athen there’s lluis Domenech i Montaner, whose sprawling Hospital de Sant Pau Lies just up the road from Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, and is no less monumentally eccentric. Part Gothic cathedral, part Teutonic frotress, part sulatn’s palace, its roofline is a riot of spires, beehive water towers and gaudily tiled domes, and its flanks are decorated with heraldic symbols and heroic-scale frescoes of the hospital’s benefactors. Since June 2009, the ambulances have pulled up in front of a new hospital that’s been takced ont the back, and the majectic old buildings are slowly being transformed into a museum and cultural centre.
Montaner’s Palau de la Musica Catalana
As befits a city that hates to go with the flow, Barcelona’s take on modernism was the ebulient antithesis of the rigidly functional interpretation that defined it elsewhere. An offshoot of art nouveau, Catalan modernisme was kick-started by the reawakening of the region’s art and language during the late 19th century, following 200 years of suppression by their Spanish overloads. Perhaps the movement’s most glorius, unshckled expression is Montaner’s Palau de la Musica Catalana, a glittering confections of polychromatic glass and cramic flora that could be Europe’s most exuberant building.
‘Every time I come in here, it’s like I forget there is a town outside,’ says Mariona Soler, who shows tour groups around the concert hall’s auditorium, overseen by a clestial, kaleidoskopic skylight of such disconcerting beauty, it once caused opera singer montserrrat Caballe to forget her lines. ‘With the flowers on the walls and the sun above, it’s like waking up in the summer countryside.’
CaixaForum is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm, and on Saturdays until 10pm (free; de Francesc Ferrer i Guardia, 6-8; Metro: Espanya; obrasocial.lacaixa.es).
Hospital de Sant Pau offers 90-minute tours in English at 10am,11am, 12am and 1pm, daily (US$15; Sant Antoni Maria Claret, 167-171;Metro: Hospital de Sant pau; santpau.es).
Palau de la Musica Catalana has tours hourly in English from 10am to 3pm (US$18; Palau de la Musica, 4-6; Metro: Urquinaona; palumusica.cat).
Gbr, Miquel Barcelo’s gravity-fefying Gran Elefant Dret on display at CaixaForum
Gbr, Barclona’s cable car was built in 1929 and gives passengers a birs’s eye view of the city and harbour.
See Barcelona And Die
A ride by funicular and cable car upt to Montjuic Castle lays a famously vibrant city out at your feet, and a brisk walk along the hilltop behind delivers its eerie antithesis. Filling a whole flank of mountain, the Cementri del Sud-Oest is a bona fide necropolis – a perpendicular city of death hewn into the living rock, so vast it has its won bus route. Since 1883 Barcelona’s bereaved have come here to inter their great and good, along with their bad an ugly: poets, artists and anarcho-syndicalist; industrialist in pocket cathedrals created by Montaner and pugi i Cadafalch; gypsy gangsters beneath life-sized marble depictions of their opern-shirted Elvis prime. The tombs once looked out at a silent sea, but today there’s a great clanking container port in between, a surreal counterpint to the whispering relatives who come to pay their respects.
‘The people who made Barcelona so beautiful, so special, they also wanted to make a show when they died,’ says Joseph Diaz, curator of the Museu de Carrosses Funerbres. It’s due to move to Montjic in the next few yars, but for now the world’s only museum of funerary ornamentation lies buried in the basement of the civic morgue. Given the location, it’s perhaps not surprising that the authorities seem a little reluctant to promote its existence; ask at a couple of reception desks and you’ll eventually be escorted downstairs by a guard, who’ll unlock a few doors, turn on a few lights and follow you alone into the shadow of death. The experience justifies this portentous build-up – the museum is an extraordinary insight into Barcelona’s baroque way of death, a black-plumed homage to morbid magnificence. The most compelling exhibits are the ornate horse-drawn hearses that ferried 19th-century notables on their final journyeys to the dark side of Montjuic. If the guard hasn’t transmogrified or turned to stone, ask tehm to pint out the black-curtained carriage that allowed a mistress to attend a funeral in respectful anonymity.
Cementiri del Sud-Oest is open from 8am-6pm daily and can be reached by taking the funicular and cable car to Castell de Montjuic (Carrer mare de Deu del Port 56-58, Montjuic).
Museu de Carrosses Funerbres is open from 10am-1pm and 4pm-6pm weekdays, and from 10am-1pm weekends (free; 00 34 93 484 1700; Carrer de Sancho d’Avila,2:metro:marina).
One of the exhibits at the Museu de Carrosses Funebres – White hearses like this were used for children and virgins.
Imposing Cementiri del Sud-Oest covers 56 hectares and is home to a number of deceased writers and artist, including the surrealist Joan Miro.
The Only Way Is Up
Their than a few glass towers on the reclaimed docklands and a token Gherkin-esque downtown phallus, Barcelona reamins a pleasingly low-rise city. This explains why the Grand hotel Central’s ninth-floor roof terrace feels more like a helicopter pad atop Dubai’s Burj Al-Arab. Butted up against the cathedral towers and construction cranes, the infinity pool beside the terrace bar exudes all the dizzying wrongness of a Dali dreamscape.
In general, looking down on Barcelona means going up one of the peaks that girdle the city. The creaky attractions at the amusement park on Mount Tibidabo might seem underwhelming on paper, but even a modest Ferris wheel gets the pulse racing when it’s 110 years old and perched on top of a 500-metre-hight cliff. ‘I’ve been to modern parks with big rides,; says Carolina Adreu, a student on a history field trip at Tibidabo. ‘But this place feels for me more authentic, maybe even more dangerous!’ Her favourite ride is El Avion, a giddying spin over the city in a wobbly period replica of the plane that plied Spain’s first ever passenger route. The park is another legacy of that turn-of-the-century golden age and comes accessorised with a Gothic-rocketship chapel, the Sagrat Cor, as well as the a funicular railway that connects with the ‘blue tram’ into town.
Proud as they are of their hilltop vistas, the locals seem unaware of the unique 360-degree views available from the mid-town summit of the parc del Guinardo. That might have something to do with access issues, as the park and its nearest Metro station are seperated by umpteen fights of stairs. The gardens were laid out in 1913 by Jean-Claude Forretier – who designed the Champs-de-Mars behind the Eiffel Tower – then promptly forgotten. For antyone with the physical wherewithal, teh pick of the park’s propects – amongst them the best view by far of the Sagrad Familia – is down from the old Civil War-era anti-aircraft batteries atop the highest crest.
Say No To Cava And Cerveza
There’s hardly a shortage of bars in town, and on a warm summer’s night it’s difficult to resist the lure of the nearest free table and cold bottle. But resist it you should: chances are that one of Barcelona’s finest watering holes lies close at hand, hiding its neon light under a bushel.
Take Cocteleria Boadas, hard up against La Rambla and right in the eye of the tourist storm, it’s dark, anonymous and ovelooked. Barcelona’s first cocktail bar, it was opened in 1933 bt Miguel Boadas, who’d learned his trade mixing up Hemingway’s daiquiris at El Foriditia in Havan. The luche sophistication he cultivated seruvives; jaded roues and glma couples, all having a stylish stiffener in a triangle of deco panelling, rich with the patina of rare old nights gone by. There’s no menu, each of the bar staff holding the recipe to 680 coctails in his head.
These days, the supervisory presence is Miguel’s daughter maria Dolores, who, at 75, is an immaculately turned-out fixture. ‘What we do here is like an art,’ she says. ‘I once heard my father say to an actor, “What you do on the stage, I do at this bar.”
A couple of left turns away is a rather more wholesome time warp – Granja M Viader, a family-run milk bar that’s been lining local stomachs since 1870. spain’s leading brand of sickly-sweet chocolate mil was cocnocted here, but the current Viader signature drink is a Llet mallorquin, an imporbably successful blend of cinnamon, lemon juice, sugan and milk.
Just up the road lies the splendidly dishevelled Bar Marsella, late-night hangout of choice for the city’s boehemians an, um, colourful street characters since 1820. as befits the ambience – cobwebbed bottles, peeling varnish, chairs that Picasso and Miro might have wielded in a bar brawl – the house speciality is absinthe. A glass of green death, a sugar cube and a box of matches; if you don’t know how to combine these ingredients, you’ve most probably come to the wrong place.
Towards the docks, Barcelona’s neat grid of boulevards fractures into a crazy-paved comapction of ancient alleys. Bar-crawling around here after drk is an avigational challange: the key is to find the Carrer de la Merce, and then stay on it. This tight cleft thrugh the steepling old warehouses is clustered with bars that date back to the drunker sailr’s heyday. La Sucarrena is a hole-in-the-wall didreria whose Usp remains as sit ever was: drink anything you like, as long as it’s a large bottle of Asturian cider. The fizz-free scrumpy is a neat fit with the barrel-vaulted interior, and with the hearty tapas on offer, flambeed at your table with pyromaniacal relish.
Boadas Cocteleria is open from 12pm-2am, Monday To Saturday (00 34 93 318 9592; Carrer dels Tallers, 1;metro:Catalunya).
Bar Marsella is open from 10pm-2,30am daily (Carrer de Sant Pau,65; Metro: Liceu).
Granja M Viader is opern from 9am-1.30pm and 5pm-8.30pm Tue-Sat,5pm-8.30pm Mon (Carrer d’en Xucia, 4-6;Metro:Liceu; granjaviader.cat).
La Sucarrena is open unti 2am daily (Carrer de la Merce, 21; Metro: Jaume 1).
Bar Marsella’s dusty, bottle-lined interior is little changed since the days when Picasso used to stop by.
Feast Your Eyes And Full Your Belly
A city studded with a whole consteallation of Michelin stars, Barcelona is also home to some delicious restaurant interiors. Being hidden away down a side street probably helped 1960s throwback Flash Flash survive intact through the decades when aloof minimalism dictacted restaurant design, and resembling an orbiting tortilleria from kubrick’s 2001 wasn’t a bankable looks. Now its time has come again, with a new generation of native hipsters marveling ata the monochrome majesty of a restaurant unchanged since fashion photographer Leopoldo Pomes opened it in 1970 – that Catalan Twiggy strutting her stuff on the walls was his wife. The staff – and most of the diners -are dressed in black-and-white in sympathy, and it’s probably no accident that by far the most popular of the 80 immaculately presented tortillas on the menu is the colour-coded morcilla de arroz de Burgos: black sausage and white rice.
In an even quieter part of town lies Tapioles 53, a restaurant so understated it chooses not to identify itself in any way: dinner is by reservation only, and you must ring a bell to gain entry. The muted, lofty interior thus revealed feels almost ecclesiastical, but is in fact an old umbrella factory: the route to the loo offers a view of the boss’s old office. Nothing restrainerd about the food, though, concocted with adventurous elan by Australian-born chef and owner Sarah Stothart.
‘The Catalans are pretty conservative about cooking,’ she says, running through a menu which changes daily, depending on what’s taken her fancy at Santa Caterina market that morning. ‘They have wonderful ingredients, but are scared to do anything new with them. That’s where I come in.’
Indeed: you suspect that Tapioles 53 is alone in sprinkling manya of its offerings with a blend of ground toffee and pork crackling (‘I call it gold dust,’ says Sarah). Her most fabled creations are her plaate-caressing gnocchi, fashioned largely from goat’s cheese made by nuns. ‘You’ve got to eat them whole,’ she orders. ‘If I see anyone cutting one in half, I’ll go and hit them.’
Flash Flash is open daily from 1pm-1.30am (00 34 93 237 0990; Carrer de la Granada del Penedes, 25; Metro:Gracia).
Tapioles 53 opens Tuesday to Saturday. 9pm-12am, and booking is essential (Carrer de Tapioles,53; Metro: Poble Sec; tapioles53.com).
Make It Happen In Barcelona
The Catalan capital never fails to deliver. Rich in architecture history and culutre, it’s also hip and exciting when it comes to cafe culture and nightlife, and is pure heaven for dining out.
Getting There; Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com) files direct from Singapore to Barcelona. A taxi to the city centre costs around US$30.
Getting Around; Barcelona’s extensive Metro system is the quickest way to get around. Ten-trip tickets (valid also on buses) cost US$11 (tmb.cat).
Further Reading; Lonely Palnet’s Barcelona City Guide (US$19.99) is a cetailed guide to the city, and Barcelona Encounter (US$12.99) is a pocket-sized version. For events, see barcelonatourism.com
The Final Word; ‘There is where it all began...There is where I understood how far I could reach.’ Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
Three Ways To Do It.
Sleep; Close to la Rambla’s top end, Chic and Basic is a perfect fit for Barcelona - a slick hotel with bold colours set against a backdrop of minimalist white. Hi-tech fittings round out a stylish package (from US$135; chicandbasic.com).
Eat; Acontraluz takes the freshest market ingredients, with a global play on local flavours, in delicacies such as pig’s tortters stuffed with mushrooms and foie gras (meals US$28-US$55; acontraluz.com).
Drink Tapas; Visit Granja De Gava in the colourful El Raval district for coctails and poetry (carrer joaquin costa 37).
Shop; Tutusaus is an integral part of Barcelona’s culinary traditions with its carefully selected international products – raw – milk cheese from Touluse, rare Iranian caviar and cured meats from Huelva in Andalucia (tutusaus.com).
Petit Comite has patio dining
Sleep; at Barcelo Raval the views from the massive windows are among the city’s best. Asplash with lime greens and ruby reds, the white rooms hav plasma-screen TVs and open-plan bathrooms (from US$160, baceloraval.com).
Eat; Petit Comite is traditionally Catalan at heart, serving hearty Pyrenean stews and seafood-rich frice dishes the dining area, drom the patio to greenery and artworks, is cool and contemporary (mains from US$22; petitcomite.cat).
Drink Tapas; Catalonia’s cava is the toasting tipple of choice throughout Spain, and Xampany is one of its finest purveyours, An Aladdin’s cave of cav, it serves as s shine to this finest of drinks (Carrer de Valencia 200)
Shop; if one clothing shop captures the city’s avant-garde spirit, it has to be Custom Barcelona and its daring style (custo-barcelona.com).
Quimet i quimet’s tiny bar
Sleep; Sleek and stylish Hotel Omm resembles an ultra-modern take on Gaudi’s flights of architectural fancy. Accessories range from projector TVs to kimonos for making your way to the rooftop pool (from US$295; hotelomm.com).
Eat; Fonda Gaig plays sutly with traditional Catalan dishes like sauteed scallops (meals from US$81;fondagaig.com).
Drink Tapas; Bargain, Teh tiny bottle-lined den Quimet I Quimet specialises in gourmet tapas. The cheeses and razor clmas have few peers, backed by fine wines adn house speciality Belgia beer (Carrer Poeta Cabanyes 25).
Shop; Designer homeware stores are a Barcelona speciality, but Againts pillages the pas for inspiration in its retro furniture (againtsbcn.com).