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Best of Barcelona

Barceloneta Formerly a fishermen's village, the area south of El Born was transformed for the 1992 Olympics and has become the address of choice, as well as a hub for seafood restaurants.

Diagonal Mar Next summer the city will play host to Forum Barcelona 2004, a gathering of globally minded architects, politicians, artists, and urban planners. Almost 150 days of events relating to such themes as cultural diversity and world peace are scheduled to take place in the northeast end of the city near the Besòs River. In the works: an esplanade, a convention center, and additional beachfront and parkland, as well as skyscrapers and hotels.

Where to Stay

Top Hotels The only beachfront address in Barcelona—not to mention the first Ritz-Carlton in Europe—the Hotel Arts (19-21 Carrer de la Marina; 800/241-3333; www.ritzcarlton.com; doubles from $485) is a tower of blue glass and steel that rises 44 stories in Vila Olímpica (the Olympic Port). Some Catalonians find American architect Bruce Graham's ambitious design a bit too, well, American for their tastes, but visitors will welcome the many amenities, notably the efficient check-in, unparalleled in this service-challenged city. The lobby affords an always-entertaining scene, as do the pool and alfresco restaurant, which have impressive views of both sea and skyline. There's also a well-equipped gym, a feature that cannot be found in other hotels (perhaps because chain-smoking remains this city's favorite form of exercise).

In the posh north end of town is the Hotel Claris (150 Pau Claris; 800/525-4800; www.slh.com; doubles from $277). The highlight here is not the service (if you check out during prime time, you may learn a few Catalan obscenities from the harried staff)—rather, inexplicably, it's a second-floor museum of Egyptian artifacts. A small but sleek rooftop pool proves more popular with guests than does the downstairs broom-closet-sized "business center." The even smaller, glass-enclosed "gymnasium" is simply a stair-climber and two exercise bikes. On the bright side, the rooms are filled with original artwork and unexpected accents of rich color, such as deep-purple bedspreads and matching curtains.

The year-old Grand Marina Hotel (Moll de Barcelona; 34-93/603-9000; www.grandmarinahotel.com; doubles from $381) is now attracting the business clientele that once favored the Ritz (668 Gran Vía de les Corts Catalanes; 800/223-6800; www.ritz-barcelona.com; doubles from $416) and Le Méridien (111 La Rambla; 800/543-4300; www.meridienbarcelona.com; doubles from $381), two of the classier, but surprisingly musty, establishments. The 273-room Grand Marina, which from a distance resembles the side view of a yacht, is just one part of a vast complex of multinational office spaces, located on what planners hope will become the MVP (most valuable port) of the Mediterranean. Nearby is the world's widest drawbridge and Barcelona Head, a 64-foot-high concrete-and-ceramic 1992 sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein. In the port, commercial traffic has been replaced by shops, restaurants, and even an IMAX theater.

Boutique Properties When the Arts gets booked up, its reservations clerk suggests the Hotel Banys Orientals (37 Carrer Argenteria; 34-93/268-8460; www.hotelbanysorientals.com; doubles from $93), in an ideal Born location. The 43 rooms may not be spacious, but they are spotless and have perfect feng shui—all angular furniture, shapely bathroom fixtures, and Asian-inspired touches. When its spa opens next year, a massage and facial will make a fitting finale to a shopping spree in the Born.

Farther away from the city center, but worth the pricey taxi ride for its stunning view, is the hillside Relais d'Orsa (35 Carrer Mont d'Orso; 34-93/406-9411; www.relaisdorsa.com; doubles from $234). The turn-of-the-century mansion has been converted into a five-room hotel with perks like L'Occitane beauty products in the bathrooms and high-thread-count bed linens.

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