Barcelona and the Costa Brava
By Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
It didn’t take Golden Globes winning movie Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona to put Barcelona on travelers’ top destinations list. With 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of the best-preserved medieval districts in Europe, it was already among Europe’s five most popular cities and still is.
Barcelona’s combination of Modernista architectural landmarks by Antoni Gaudi and its tangle of charming Gothic Quarter streets, coupled with its reputation for good food and lively street life, assured its popularity back in the early 1990s, and it’s been growing ever since.
The film’s settings provide a good sampling of the city’s top sights. Clients who want to discover Barcelona for themselves can download a map (www.barcelonamovie.com) showing locations from the movie, including four Gaudi landmarks, La Rambla, Fundacio Miro and the National Museum of Art. Hop-on Hop-off tours (commissionable from about $30, www.barcelonacitytours.com, 800-348-7902) on board the double-decker Barcelona Bus Turístic makes it easy to tour these and the city’s other top attractions.
Ever since Frank Gehry’s stunning Guggenheim Museum was unveiled in Bilbao, Spain has been a leader in the comparatively new phenomenon of Architectural Tourism. Barcelona is among its stars, both for its striking contemporary buildings and for the iconic Modernista (Art Nouveau) buildings. Even clients without a particular interest in architecture won’t want to miss Gaudi’s fanciful works that rewrote the book on what buildings can look like.
At the very least they will want to see the still-unfinished church (although it’s Barcelona’s most famous church, it’s not the cathedral) of Sagrada Familia and the undulating apartment house, La Pedera. Urge them to tour La Pedera’s interior and climb to the roof, where they can get close-up perspectives on the bizarre chimneys that are said to have inspired the form of Darth Vader. Casa Batllo, also on Passieg de Gracias, has a roof like a dragon.
One of the most iconic Modernista buildings is not by Gaudi. Palau de la Musica Catalana is a magnificent concert hall whose lavish exterior is only a teaser to what lies within. Tours are given daily, or book clients tickets to performances for the complete experience (www.palaumusica.org).
The easiest way to see all of Barcelona’s Modernista highlights is on the 3.5-hour Artistic Barcelona tour (commissionable from about $60, www.barcelonacitytours.com). Serious architecture fans can choose one that combines Modernist with some of the city’s cutting edge works, including Gehry’s delightful fish at the Port Olimpico.
Suggest to all clients that they stroll this beautiful new waterfront promenade. Reserve them lunch or dinner at one of the two outstanding waterfront restaurants, La Gavina (www.lagavina-rte.com) inside the Paulau del Mar or Agua (www.aguadeltragaluz.com), right on the Maratim de Barcelonetta overlooking the city’s wide white-sand beaches.
Foodies can choose a 2-hour gourmet walking tour (about $30) or a 3-hour Tapas walking tour of the Ramblas and Gothic Quarter, stopping to enjoy and learn about Barcelona’s tapas. The tapas tour is about $70, including the tapas (commissionable; www.barcelonacitytours.com). Catalan cuisine is one of the top draws; Barcelona has 16 restaurants featured by Michelin, and more stars have fallen on the neighboring Costa Brava restaurants. And be sure to give them this insiders tip: head for Boqueria, Barcelona’s extraordinary central market, not only for free entertainment and local color, but to nosh at the food stalls on local specialties they may not find elsewhere.
Deep inside the Gothic Quarter, the Picasso museum, housed in a Medieval palace, contains the largest collection from his formative early years, as well as representative highlights from his other periods of work. Fundacio Miro pays homage to another of Catalonia’s premier 20th-century artists, Joan Miro, with more than 400 of his works on display, including paintings, sculpture and tapestry masterpieces. Look for Miro’s public sculptures elsewhere in the city.
The Catalonian National Art Museum, in the National Palace is a must for those who love medieval churches, since it contains the original wall paintings from the most important of the Romanesque churches in Catalonia, brought here to protect them from environmental damage. Barcelona has a total of 66 museums, covering everything from Roman walls to contemporary art — even the city’s beloved soccer team. Suggest to clients that the shops at any of the city’s museums and at the Palau de la Musica, are filled with unique items that make perfect souvenirs and gifts. A Barcelona Card includes deep discounts on museums along with free public transport (from $25, www.barcelonaturisme.com).
Be sure to advise them that no visit to Barcelona would be complete without joining the evening stroll along La Rambla, perhaps following a performance of Spain’s unique blend of lyric opera and flamenco, called zarzuela, at Gran Teatre del Liceu (www.liceubarcelona.cat).
Accommodations and Dining
According to Joana Homs i Ros, Assistant Director for Barcelona Turisme, “Seasonality has disappeared especially among Americans; there was a time when some hotels closed in August, but that is no longer the case.” The numbers tell the story: in 2008 the city counted 310 hotels and 29,000 rooms, by 2010, it will have an inventory of 352 hotels for a total of 33,000 rooms; another 4,000 rooms are expected to be available by 2011.
Two popular four-star properties that offer spacious rooms and good locations are the Hotel Granados 83, part of the Derby Collection, and the Hotel Fira Palace. Derby Hotel Group is keeping pace with the popularity of the city and now counts eight properties in Barcelona alone. The 77-room Granados is among its most urban and avant-garde properties but this one is equipped not just with modern design but all the practical elements both business and leisure travelers demand and appreciate: wireless internet access, swimming pools and a solarium as well as a chance to dine outdoors in the evenings. (Call +34 93 492 96 70; fax: +34 93 492 96 90; E-mail email@example.com; www.derbyhotels.com
The Hotel Fira Palace, a Summit Hotel member, boasts the biggest rooms in the city in the heart of Montjuic between the Plaza de Espana and Gran Via Avenue and is about a 15-minute car ride from the airport and six minutes from the Central Railway Station. Set on a residential street, as close as it is to main sights, the rooms are quiet, a respite in this buzzing city. Av. Rius i Taulet, 1-3. Barcelona, Tel: +34 934 262 223; fax: +34 934 248 679;www.fira-palace.com.
In a town with a market as famous as Barcelona’s – La Boqueria – it is no wonder that 16 of its restaurants are featured in the Michelin guide. Among the most innovative and popular dining spots are MOO, AGUA located in the La Barceloneta district, La Gavina set inside the Paulau del Mar on Barcelona’s beachfront and the El Principal Restaurant at the Eixample. Among these, MOO is perhaps best known not only for its food but its design. Visually striking, it is located on the ground floor of Omm Hotel on Calle Rossello. Order the exquisite tomato appetizer, tomatoes are baked slow and arrive sweet.
The Wild Coast
Whether your clients are attracted by the city’s architecture, its history, its cuisine, its great art collections or its lively street life and music scene, they will find plenty in Barcelona to keep them busy. But it would be a shame to miss seeing the famed Costa Brava, the beach-lined vacation paradise that begins at the River Tordera, south of Barcelona, continues right into the city itself and stretches north to the French border.
Exactly a century ago, local journalist Ferran Agulló referred to this long coast of cliff-backed beaches as the Costa Brava – the wild coast. The name stuck, and it became one of Europe’s favorite beach destinations.
Arrange for your clients to take a full-day – and commissionable — tour to sample some of its highlights (www.barcelonacitytours.com) or you can book them for a few nights in the midst of the Costa Brava, at the beautiful Hostal de la Gavina in the town of S’Agaro. Guest rooms and public areas of this family-owned hotel are filled with heirlooms and priceless antiques: Flemish tapestries, Sevres vases, a collection of magnificent 17th-century bureaus and French furniture, Romanesque carvings and Murano lights (www.lagavina.com).
New Tourist Route Celebrates Art
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the name, the Costa Brava has a line-up of activities through September 2010, with special attention going to those places associated with the artists who were drawn to its natural beauty and lived, worked and visited the Costa Brava. A new ruta —- tourist route —showcases the region’s art, culture and scenic attractions.
The Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí lived in Cadaqués and at his birthplace in Figueres, Museu Dali is one of Europe’s most popular museums. Even the building – which Dali designed himself — celebrates surrealism, and the experience is a multi-dimensional one. Artists Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall also lived and worked on the Coasta Brava. Cadaqués is still a center for artists, with international painting and music festivals each summer.
Suggest the Costa Brava especially to golfers and foodies. The region is known both for its cuisine and its chefs; eight restaurants here have been awarded Michelin stars. Three went to Ferran Adrià of ElBulli in Roses (www.elbulli.com), who also tops the European Restaurant Ranking. Adrià and fellow Michelin-starred chefs Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca (www.cellercanroca.com) in Girona and Jaume Subirós of the restaurant at Hotel Empordà, near the Dali Museum in Figueres, are creating a centennial menu, and restaurants all along the coast will feature traditional dishes of the past 100 years.
The Hotel Empordà (www.hotelemporda.com) offers special packages that include visits to its famous kitchen.
Golfers will find nine top-ranking courses on the Costa Brava, including Caldes de Malavella’ s 36-hole PGA Golf Catalunya, named one of Europe’s top 10 courses. It hosts an event in the PGA’s 2009 European Tour. Serres de Pals Golf Club is a new championship course designed by Ramón Espinosa, with beautiful views over the Emporda region. Serres de Pals, Playa de Pals and the Emporda Golf Club are often referred to as the Golden Triangle of courses in that part of the Costa Brava. For course descriptions and information on corporate and incentive programs, visit www.barcelonagolf.com.
Other highlights of the Costa Brava that you can suggest to clients include its prettiest town, Tossa de Mar. White houses hug the narrow streets inside 12th-century town walls and towers, and secluded coves and long sand beaches stretch along the nearby shore. Pals is another medieval village, with beautiful views from the 11th-century ruins of Sant Pere de Rodes monastery.
Airport & Cruise Port News
Barcelona’s popularity has pressed the government to plan for major expansion in the air, on the ground and on the sea. Leisure and business travel has increased enormously in Barcelona over the past 15 years and in spite of economic downturns globally and in Spain, the city has seen very strong growth. Among the multi-million dollar projects is the new Terminal 1 at Barcelona International Airport, in El Prat de Llobregat. A total of 19 airlines will utilize the new terminal, including Spanair, Lufthansa, TAP Portugal, Swiss, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, US Airways, Egyptair and Singapore Airlines. At the same time, Barcelona is developing its cruise terminal at Port Vell. The current one has gone from welcoming one to two million passengers within three years. In addition, there are two trains, which leave from Barcelona-Sants for Madrid. The ‘AVE’ train (high velocity train) runs to Madrid Puerta de Atocha during the day, and the ‘Costa Brava’ train runs to Madrid-Chamartin overnight.
For more information, contact the Tourist Office of Spain in New York 212-265-8822; Miami 305-358-1992; Chicago 312-642-1992 or Los Angeles 323-658-7188; www.spain.info
January 2009 Feature
Discover Galicia, the Celtic Soul of Spain!
Ruben C. Lois Gonzalez, Director Xeral de Turismo, Xunta de Galicia.
Hidden away on the Northwest corner of Spain, bordered on one side by Portugal and two sides by sea, is an enchanted emerald green land few Americans are familiar with. It’s a place where nature, culture and cuisine have all conspired to make it the perfect destination.
As soon as your clients arrive, they are greeted by some of the most friendly, cultured, hospitable and artistic people in Spain. Gallegos like the Irish, share a Celtic background and history that dates back 3000 years. They even play bagpipes, called Gaitas. They have their own unique culture which they love sharing, especially with those coming to Galicia for the first time.
If your clients love nature, few places in Spain can match Galicia for its varied terrain to explore. Hundreds of miles of rugged coastline and graggy granite faced cliffs rising from the sea, 700 pristine beaches, mountains, as well as rivers and streams teaming with fish.
When it comes to culture, Galicia has no less to show off. Two of its cities have been chosen by UNESCO as World Heritage Cities. Lugo surrounded by Roman walls and Santiago de Compostela, with its magnificent Romanesque architecture.
Although Galicia has not been fully explored by American tourists, it has long been a favorite destination of gourmands from all over the world. One reason is that it’s home to some of the best chefs in Spain. Another is the fact that five of the best wine regions in Spain are found in Galicia. And, then there are the natural ingredients this bounteous land provides; Full-flavored fruits and vegetables, rich creams and cheeses, tender mountain-grass-fed meats and over two hundred varieties of fish, 54 kinds of shellfish alone.
Pilgrims have trekked to the majestic Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela for over a thousand years seeking paradise in the next life. Today, sophisticated travelers come to Galicia seeking it in this one, in one of their many natural health spas.
To learn more about this enchanted land visit www.turgalicia.org or call destinationspain.us at 1-877-276-6636.