There are two things I can’t resist: beautiful design and a glamorous hotel. They often come in predictable forms- buildings and places so perfect they magnetize the luxury traveller. I am drawn to different things. Places and structures so innovative they force me to look at something familiar, like a window, or a much visited thought form, in an entirely new way. This is why I love Barcelona. Like any great city it is a place one could spend years caressing, forcing it to slowly reveal its secrets. Or, you can compact all its light and energy into a multi-faceted weekend break. This is how I’ve always seen it, and I invite you to join me.
The Hotel Fira, designed by “starchitect” Jean Nouvel. I first noticed his work in Paris, when I visited the Musée de l’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. I fell in love whilst in Abu Dhabi, watching a video installation illustrating his design for the new Louvre. I vowed to myself that the next time I visited Barcelona I would stay in the Fira.
When I booked the room, I was surprised to discover that it is owned by Marriot’s Renaissance Group. I find it a bit odd that such a unique hotel is geared towards the business traveller, but this is the surreal world of Barcelona. It does have its advantages. A hotel this cool would normally have an Ian Schrager worshiping, late partying clientele occupying the glamorous lobby lounge, but the Fira’s customers are nothing of the sort. They’re quiet and well behaved- just how I like them.
The front desk staff is incredibly kind and helpful. Not only did they compliment me on my excellent Spanish* (an exaggeration at best), but they recommended restaurants and helped us purchase advance tickets to the major sites (highly recommended to avoid the queues). Our weekend logistics were taken care of before we even thought about visiting the concierge.
The Fira is a contemporary interpretation of ancient Mediterranean housing: a towering open courtyard filled with silver steel, glass and emerald vertical gardens. The rooms are arranged around the exterior perimeter. When you open the door, innovative lighting and design turn your rather ordinary hallway into a portal. Your gaze is carried directly to a window whose unique shape, combined with the exterior view, gives you the feeling that you’ve in a different dimension than the rest of the city.
The bath amenities are a brand I’ve always been curious about but never tried: Tokyo Milk. I’m still not sure if they’re really from Japan, or just Brooklyn, but I admire their style and their quality is good enough to satisfy most beauty junkies. All the important things are executed cleanly: free wifi, giant flat screen TV, a comfortable bed and hangers that aren’t chained to the closet rod. However, part of me does wish the Fira was a luxury hotel instead of a business hotel. Higher thread count sheets, Turkish towels and chocolate on my pillow from one of Barcelona´s famous chocolatiers, such as Oriol Balaguer or Enric Rovira, would go a long way. Thus is the dark side of staying at a Marriott.
Dinner: Unless you’ve made reservations at one of Barcelona’s renowned restaurants, such as Arola, Dos Palillos, or Passadis del Pep, I recommend spending quiet evenings in the restaurant of the Fira accompanied by an aperitif or after dinner drink on the rooftop terrace. It’s not El Bulli, but the Fira’s food is quite good and the atmosphere spectacular in the evening light. If you’re tired, or simply wish to relax, my preference is to sit in the rooftop Jacuzzi to enjoy the view, followed by room service.
Drinks: If you’re feeling more ambitious, you’re in the right place: Barcelona, like the rest of Spain, is known for its nightlife. To find an interesting place, I refer you to WATC’s recent post on The Trendiest Bars in Barcelona.
Breakfast: The Fira’s breakfast buffet is extensive but expensive- I prefer to make a coffee in my room then take the Metro (Europa-Fira stop, located a few hundred meters from the hotels entrance) into the city for chocolate and churros, or café con leche and croissant, at a local granja, which is a traditional “chocolate restaurant”. I recommend La Granja M. Viadier
Lunch: Lunch in the Boqueria (see below) is a must, and a picnic at the Park Güell is a delightful way to enjoy the view.
Barcelona has a lot to see- here is my heavily edited list of the highlights.
Mercado de La Boqueria: Try and go in the morning, before the tourist hordes arrive. I recommend buying some food to keep in your room’s refrigerator so tomorrow you can have a picnic lunch in Parc Güell. This afternoon, have lunch at one of the many restaurants in La Boqueria. If you’ve arrived early you won’t have to wait in line very long.
Gothic Quarter: Take a stroll through and look in the bohemian boutiques, or perhaps visit the Picasso Museum. Make sure to have a look inside the Cathedral. I love the cloisters, particularly the resident geese. They’re conveniently sequestered in a pen, so you don’t have to watch where you step.
La Sagrada Familia Schedule your visit about an hour before sunset. It will be less crowded, and the stained glass windows amplify the sunset, refracting it onto the walls in a multi-spectrum light show. Take the elevator up to the top of the towers and watch the setting sun cast a pink light over the city. There are no scary gargoyles up here: just candy colored fruit.
Montjuïc Fountain: Go at night and make sure to stay for the light show. I’m a connoisseur of fountains and this is one of the most magnificent I’ve seen.
Miro Museum (Fundació Joan Miró): Take a taxi from the Fira up to the museum, where you can enjoy the clean freshness of the hills above the city in the Parc de Montjuïc. The simple white lines of the building, nestled amongst the old cypress trees, are the perfect backdrop for Miro’s paintings. They are simple and fun with a basic, healthy sexiness lurking somewhere deep beneath the surface.
Park Güell: This is a fairyland and you need to see it, even if it is filled with tourists. I recommend taking a picnic and eating lunch among the trees, away from the crowd.
*The official language of Barcelona is Catalan, and everyone learns Castellan (Spanish) in school. To underscore their independence from Spain, many people speak English to visitors. Most signs and written material are trilingual, embracing Catalan, Castellan and English.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mary Clare Bland has travelled for over 20 years, both for business and leisure. She has been to over 60 countries and stayed in hotels ranging from the fanciest luxury palaces in Abu Dhabi down to a sleeping bag (tent: no, deadly snakes: yes) in the Australian Outback. She lives in Madrid where she teaches yoga, blogs and designs websites and social media strategies for SME’s. To learn more about Mary Clare please visit here