Barcelona's seductive city pleasures

May 27, 2010
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

Editor's Note: The following article is written by David Brice, President of Golf International. Established in 1988, Golf International specializes in the design and operation of quality golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, France, Spain and Portugal. The articles written by David represent trips available to Golf International customers. Click here to learn more about Golf International.

Las Ramblas is one of Europe's greatest pedestrianized thoroughfares.
Barcelona's Barri Gotic where centuries of history is found around every corner.
Barcelona Cathedral is stunning from the outside but amazing within.
Beaches and the Mediterranean Sea are never far away.
Museo Picasso contains one of the artists most important collections.
Barcelona's Fundacio Joan Miro offers a tribute to its native son.
Barcelona's Royal Palace where in 1493 Queen Isabella welcomed Christopher Columbus after his return from discovering the Americas.
Gaudi's whimsical architecture is everywhere.
A Barcelona icon Gaudi's most famous work La Sagrada Familia is still not completed.

Barcelona, capital of the proud and decidedly, autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia, is Spain's second largest metropolis, but this is a town that plays second fiddle to none. It's a city that never fails to enrapture all who visit, as they become tongue-tied, falling over superlatives in their efforts to describe one of the world's truly wondrous cities -- vibrant, sophisticated, inspirational, diverse, dazzling, passionate, energetic...these are only a few of the adjectives constantly used to describe Barcelona, a city that almost defies description.

Taste Barcelona just once and you will know how Adam felt when he tasted the forbidden fruit - regardless of any consequences, you will only reach out to taste more and more -- this is a city over-flowing with so much and you will never get your fill, nor tire of this Spanish seductress who so adeptly wraps every visitor around her little finger, toying with them like small puppies. Show me a person who doesn't fall in love with Barcelona at first sight and I will show you a person who has tired of life and living.

Washed by the warm, clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea, complete with sparkling beaches, quite literally in the heart of town and you begin to get a feeling for Barcelona's idyllic setting. Of course, a year round climate that is nothing less than perfect, only makes things even better and golfers are not about to be disappointed.

Within a half hour's drive of Barcelona's fabled Ramblas, there are golf courses that will intrigue even the most seasoned golf traveler and only a little further, the Costa Brava, Spain's Wild Coast. This is home to some of Europe's most breathtakingly beautiful beaches, and an equally stunning array of top ranked golf courses, including a generous helping of the very best golf in not only Spain, but in all of Continental Europe..

Anyone in search of a special and uncommonly complete Spanish experience, filled with fascinating variety, could do no better than combine a stay in exciting Barcelona with a complementing stay, discovering the pure enchantment of the Costa Brava. It's a vacation made in heaven, with so much to do, to see and experience, the most difficult decision will be what must wait for a return visit -- and return you will, that's all but guaranteed.

No matter how much time you spend in Barcelona, it will never be long enough to even begin to discover the colorful history, the art and architecture, the wealth of museums and galleries and the rich cultural fabric that makes this city so unique.

A good place to start exploring Barcelona is the Barri Gotic, the old Gothic Quarter, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, a time when the city was in its heyday as one of the Mediterranean's major maritime and merchant powers. Built inside the old Roman city walls, this is a maze of narrow streets, sun-dappled squares, ancient buildings and monuments, all celebrating Barcelona's golden age. There are spectacular structures filled with priceless treasures, open-air markets, antique stores, bars and restaurants that are as popular with the locals as they are with visitors.

Set off from Placa de Sant Jaume, the area's main plaza, where you will find the impressive, medieval, Palau de la Generalitat, seat of Catalonia's regional parliament and opposite, the Casa de la Ciutat, Barcelona's 14th century, City Hall. Close by, is the not-to be missed, Barcelona Cathedral, dating from the 13th century, but not finally completed until 500 years later. Take the time to view the amazing treasure-trove of art and artistry contained within this magnificent building with its soaring columns and 28 intriguing small chapels and be sure to include the beautiful 14th century cloister.

Nearby is the Placa del Rei, a delightful square that was once the courtyard of the palace of the Counts of Barcelona, the Palau Reial Major. It was on the steps of this palace where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella received Christopher Columbus after his first voyage to the Americas in 1493. But there is much more to explore in the Barri Gotic, a never-ending history book, where surprises hide around every corner. This is a place where curiosity should be your guide and inquisitiveness will only lead to wonderful discoveries.

Walking this warren of narrow and often winding streets can bring about a failure of your usual sense of direction. Have no fears, you will not get lost, but if you think you are, simply follow any street leading downhill and it will take you out of the Barri Gotic.

After gaining a sense of Barcelona's rich and colorful history, it's well worth exploring another aspect of the city's endless array of delights that thrive here, where the arts and artists have always played an important role. Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro are two of the most famous artists of the past century, both with very close relationships to Barcelona and each has a museum here, devoted to their work.

Barcelona's Museo Picasso draws more visitors than any other attraction in the city, all magnetized by the aura of the most talented and perhaps, most controversial artist of the 20th century. Don't expect to find any of Picasso's more famous pieces, nor any of his cubist work, but this is still acknowledged as one of the artist's most important collections, the exhibit illustrates his development as an artist from the earliest years, until just before his death. For sure there are gaps in the museum's Picasso story, but it also fills many voids left empty in most other Picasso collections. Anyone with even the smallest appreciation for Picasso, cannot afford to miss visiting his Barcelona museum.

Montjuic (the Hill of the Jews) is Barcelona's largest open space, rising to the west, high above the Barri Gotic and Barcelona harbor. Developed for the 1992 Olympic Games, today's Montjuic is home to two important museums, lush botanical gardens and breathtaking views across the entire city.

The Museo Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, housed in the National Palace of Montjuic, is one of Europe's largest museums, boasting a superb collection of Romanesque art, frescoes and sculptures, from isolated churches in the Pyrenees Mountains. The museum's other collection, spans all of Spain, focusing primarily on paintings and sculptures from the 15th and 16th centuries -- all very worthwhile.

Not far away is the Fundacio Joan Miro, dedicated to Barcelona's favorite native son, located in a spectacular yet very simple, white structure. Opened in 1975 and expanded in 2001, this is the greatest collection of this famous Catalan artists work in existence and a tribute to the man who linked surrealism and abstract art together in such a distinctive way. Art lovers, this is one more Barcelona museum that simply cannot be missed.

Barcelona is also world renowned for another kind of art, the art of the architect and especially the Catalan, Modernista school of architecture. It's a totally distinctive, almost whimsical architecture, with shades of Art Nouveau, but Catalan style. The greatest exponent of this now classic style, was another world renowned Catalonian, Antoni Gaudi, who lived, worked and created some of his most imaginative structures in and around Barcelona. Gaudi died in the city he devoted his life to, in 1926, leaving behind a legacy that is as distinctly Barcelonan as the natives themselves.

Examples of Gaudi's unique architectural genius, pop up everywhere around Barcelona, with very few blocks lacking at least one Gaudi designed building, only adding to the beauty and character of this very special and thoroughly unique city.

Once you have seen a Gaudi designed building, you will forever recognize the brilliance and in his day, the total irreverence Gaudi had, for what was considered the acceptable "normal" for architectural design in the late 19th and early 20th century. But avant-garde Barcelona welcomed this revolutionary and with open arms.

Discover as many of Gaudi's Barcelona masterpieces as you have time for, but there are a handful that demand special attention and topping the list is his unfinished church, the Temple de la Sagrada Familia. This was Gaudi's vision of a real house of worship and a project he devoted the final 40 years of his life to. Still not totally finished, there may be no stronger Barcelona icon than this and it certainly stands as a remarkable tribute to the visionary architect himself.

No brief article about Barcelona would be complete without at least a mention of its most famous street, Las Ramblas, one of Europe's greatest and most entertaining, pedestrianized thoroughfares.

Extending from the old harbor, all the way to Placa de Catalunya, where old Barcelona links to the fashionable district of Eixample and many of Gaudi's architectural gems are to be found, Las Ramblas is the heart and perhaps the soul of Barcelona. Outdoor cafes and restaurants sit alongside fashionable boutiques, mansion houses, flower stalls, news-stands and everywhere, street entertainers. If ever there was a place for people watching, this must be it.

Stroll the length of this thoroughly fascinating, tree-lined street and you will pass by Barcelona's Opera House, the charming 17th century church, Esglesia de Betlem and Mercat de Sant Josep (known locally as La Bouqueria). This is one of the largest and finest food markets around the Mediterranean and a place well worth visiting, especially in the early morning.

Speaking of food, Barcelona is also one of Spain's most important centers of gastronomy and amazing dining experiences are to be found everywhere. From the most elegant restaurants focused on haute cuisine, to far less formal establishments, popular with the locals, each offers a dining experience, deserving of a place in any gourmands memory book. Experience as many different restaurants as you can and you will quickly learn why Spain and particularly Catalonia, is acknowledge as having the best cuisine in all of Europe.

Good food demands good wines and Catalonia excels in the quality of the wines it produces. From sparkling Cava, produced in the Penedes region and considered by many to be superior to the best French Champagnes, to the substantial and thoroughly distinguished red wines of Priorat, Catalonia has a wine to suit every taste. Many of the very best are produced in only limited quantities and never leave Spanish soil, local demand, quickly snapping them up, so take full advantage of your stay in Catalonia and do a few, or why not as many wine tastings, as you can.

Barcelona is a city for food and wine lovers, for history buffs and those with an appreciation for architecture.. It's an art lovers paradise and a shoppers delight. Few cities in Europe can match the vibrancy of Barcelona's night life, nor the genuine warmth of her people. And topping everything off, there are excellent golf courses calling out to be played, both close to the city and a little further away along the Costa Brava, where an equally enticing, but quite different Spain calls out for attention. But the many wonders of the Costa Brava will have to be the subject of a future article.

For more ideas and suggestions on how best to include Barcelona and perhaps the Costa Brava in your Spanish golf trip, contact the Spain experts at Golf International by calling toll free 1 800 833-1389 or visit our website by clicking here.

©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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