The archbishop of Barcelona recently proposed canonizing the city's most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí, whose surreally undulating, ornate stone buildings give the prosperous Catalan center its wonderland air. Home not only to Gaudí but to Miró, Dalí, and the young Picasso, Barcelona is a psychedelic village, simultaneously grand and earthy, antique and high Modern, sophisticated and bubblegum pop. But it's also deeply pragmatic—you will see laundry hung to dry on the roofs of even the toniest addresses, or strung from tiny 13th-century windows in the labyrinthine Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter. Gaudí was hit by a tram before he could finish his most famous work, the astonishing Sagrada Familia cathedral, but this is a city so devoted to the imagination that it would make him a saint anyway, for the beauty of his dreams.
Where to Stay
Hotel Claris 150 Pau Claris; 800/525-4800; doubles from $268.
Modernist luxury is not an oxymoron here. Rosy wood furnishings and parquet floors are set off by royal-purple bedding and hushed geometric lighting. It's just close enough to prime shopping and has a superior rooftop Catalan restaurant (open May-September): grilled monkfish by the pool will make you feel as glamorous as Alain Delon in Purple Noon.
Hotel Majestic 68 Passeig de GrÀcia; 800/448-8355; doubles from $225.
There are Chanel and Armani shops on the ground floor; the refurbished Majestic provides gratuitous pleasure to even the weariest of its guests, who are mostly business travelers. With a 360-degree rooftop view of the city, ample rooms, and a location on the fashionable Passeig de GrÀcia, this is the place to close a deal—or just to buy the clothes for it.
Ritz Hotel 668 Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes; 800/223-6800; doubles from $248.
Haven't lived out your My Fair Lady fantasy yet?Then this classic eyepopper, teeming with white-gloved doormen, is for you. They don't call it the Ritz for nothing. High tea is served daily in its wedding-cake lobby; the staff wear cutaway jackets. Salvador Dalí stayed here for months at a time, perhaps to generate ideas.
Hotel Regente 76 Rambla de Catalunya; 800/448-8355; doubles from $175.
For the price, you won't find a better location: a stone's throw from the Casa MilÀ on the deluxe reaches of the Rambla de Catalunya. Hotels in the tourist-clogged Ramblas district (Barcelona's main drag, more Times Square than Champs-Élysées) ask much more and give much less than this comfortable Art Deco-inflected find.
Bar Hivernacle Parc de la Ciutadella; 34-93/295-4017.
Sip a glass of wine or a cortado (a bracing thimbleful of coffee and steamed milk) under the towering palms of this 19th-century greenhouse, just inside the gates of Barcelona's formal centrally located park.
El Xampanyet 22 Carrer Montcada; 34-93/319-7003. Near the Picasso Museum, this tapas and cava (Catalan sparkling wine) bar is usually packed. After the late-afternoon rush, the blizzard of napkins on the tiled floor makes it look like an OTB parlor.
Schilling 23 Carrer Ferran; 34-93/317-6787. The tailored lines and golden lighting flatter the very young and stylish crowd, come here to graze on pastas, panini, or tapas.
Bar Bodega Fortuny 31 Pintor Fortuny; 34-93/317-9892. A postmodern, faintly tropical, loosely sapphic establishment where men are welcome, too. Despite the arty Raval address, it has a come-as-you-are neighborhood feel.
Jean Luc Figueras 10 Carrer Santa Teresa; 34-93/415-2877; dinner for two $130. A Kama Sutra-like dining experience, inside an impeccable town house in Barcelona's gently hip GrÀcia district. The nouvelle Catalan-influenced cuisine is sensually imaginative—shrimp with pumpkin cream, pork with goat cheese and peach honey. Try the tasting menu (about $110 for two), and ravish your tongue.
Cal Pep 8 Plaça de les Olles; 34-93/310-7961; dinner for two $45.
Patrons happily wait three-deep to get a seat at the counter of this Barri Gòtic favorite, because that's where the action is: spotlessly white-coated chefs rapidly deal out platefuls of superb fried scallops, prawns, and other delights. Finish up with a crema catalana, a tiny mousse topped with cinnamon, and make way for the next hungry customer.
Beltxenea 275 Carrer Mallorca; 34-93/215-3024; dinner for two $130.
You have to ring at a wrought-iron gate for entry to this hushed, gracious retreat with a garden view. Order the steamed hake with vegetables and lilac-tinted potatoes. Word of advice: Don't wear jeans—the menu may be Basque, but the flocked wallpaper and genteel service are closer to ancien régime Paris.
Bilbao 33 Carrer de Perrill; 34-93/458-9624; dinner for two $45. The two floors of this relaxed, atelier-like neighborhood spot are often filled with local families tucking into wide platters of some of the city's best Catalan food: grilled calamari, boatloads of shrimp, and a resplendent construction of bitter chocolate, a wafer, and ice cream that's easily mistaken for a UFO.
La Cuineta 4 Carrer Paradís; 34-93/315-0111; dinner for two $60.
Getting here is half the fun. You wind behind the Catedral de Barcelona, think you're lost, then suddenly arrive at an elegant wood-paneled dining room with an international clientele eating sturdy Catalan dishes.
Senyor Parellada 37 Carrer Argenteria; 34-93/310-5094; dinner for two $45.
The Barri Gòtic building is centuries old, but the ecru-and-brass interior is strictly of-the-minute—and the mostly Catalan menu of meat and fish is top-quality without breaking the bank.
Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia Plaça Sagrada Familia; 34-93/455-0247. As Henry James is to the novel, Gaudí is to architecture—elaborate, metaphor-mad, strange. This intensely personal spiritual reverie in stone is the great unfinished masterpiece he labored on for 40 years.
Carrer Montcada Down an ancient byway of former palaces lies Barcelona's famous museum row: the Picasso Museum (featuring a paper cutout from the nine-year-old artist's little-known dog-barking-at-duck period), the Museu Barbier-Mueller of pre-Columbian art, the Museu Textil i d'IndumentÀria, and the galleries Montcada and Maeght, for contemporary art.
Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona 1 Plaça dels Àngels; 34-93/412-0810. A showcase for post-1940 work by such artists as Joan Miró and Joseph Beuys. The neighborhood, known as Raval, is home to a small, vibrant gallery scene.
Parc Güell and Casa-Museu Gaudí Carrer Olot; 34-93/219-3811. Gaudí's secular art park, complete with the curvy pink house of this architect who reputedly died a virgin (check out the narrow iron bed), is possibly his most vital legacy: children race remote-control dune buggies beneath the delicate arbor while lovers lounge on the extraordinary mosaic benches.
A Lunch Spot for the Sleek and Slim
Diminutive sandwiches, wee caviar canapés, and stamp-size croque-monsieurs are laid out for the hungry but soigné shopper. You're charged by the plate, as with tapas, but these morsels are closer to madcap hors d'oeuvres. Farga 391 Avda. Diagonal; 34-93/416-0112; lunch for two $12.
Adolfo Dominguez 32 Passeig de GrÀcia; 34-93/487-4170. The Spanish Armani, which is to say an Armani with hips. Dominguez's suits for men and women, in stores dotting Spain and all of
Europe, are austere but not strict, forgivingly cut in urbane earth tones.
Groc 100 Rambla de Catalunya; 34-93/215-0180.
Dedicated to the svelte fashions of Catalan designer Antonio Miró, whose subtly bell-shaped men's leather jackets with fur collars and wonderfully draping suits for both sexes lend new meaning to the word limpid. Super-foxy and super-expensive.
On Land 273 Carrer Valencia; 34-93/215-5625.
A careful selection of women's clothing by Catalan designers such as Celia Vela, who transforms this year's long skirt by casting it in rough umber chenille. Also sells closely cut suede jackets by Poncif that fasten with magnets instead of buttons.
Passeig de GrÀcia and AvInguda Diagonal Barcelona's most expensive crossroads, and fertile ground for names you know—Helmut Lang, Loewe—as well as some you may not, such as Josep Font. X marks the spot to at least ogle the best of both interior and clothing design.
Museu Textil i d'IndumentÀria 12 Carrer Montcada; 34-93/310-7403.
The gift shop of the textile and fashion museum, just across from the Picasso Museum, is like a miniature mall of Catalan design. If you don't want to traipse from store to store, check the racks here.
Cocktails on the Roof…
…at the Gaudí-designed luxury apartment building
Casa MilÀ (also known as La Pedrera; 92 Passeig de GrÀcia; 34-93/484-5900). Fantastic chimneys and ventilators look like melted totems and, though made of limestone, feel as soft as skin.
Styled for Living
BD 291 Carrer Mallorca; 34-93/458-6909.
The two vast floors constitute a graduate course in contemporary design, from Philippe Starck to the more textural Catalan Modernists such as Pep Bonet and Oscar Tusquets.
Vinçon 96 Passeig de GrÀcia; 34-93/215-6050.
Like Ikea gone to heaven. Three times as expensive, but worth it.
Pilma 403 Avda. Diagonal, 34-93/ 416-1399; and 1 Carrer Valencia, 34-93/226-0676.
A classic Barcelona mix of Spanish, Italian, and Scandinavian design. Also has Norda's affordable nylon luggage.
Els Encants Plaça de les Glories; no phone; open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
Every house on earth appears to have exploded at this supernova of a flea market.
Let There Be Light
On a slip of a street in the Barri Gòtic that you fear you'll never find again, ceiling lamps of wrought iron and leatherlike paper hang with a gentle, earthy glow, mixed in with stray bits of spare wrought-iron tables and chairs. It's a cluttered Garden of Eden for lighting. Gemma Povo 5 Banys Nous; 34-93/301-3476.