Saturday, April 13, 2024

Barcelona: Sea, Sun, & Plenty of Catalonian Fun

Explore Barcelona’s treasures, from captivating Gaudí landmarks to delectable tapas, pristine beaches, and everything in between, immersing in the city’s undeniable charm.



Chances are your trip to Barcelona will turn out much better than some of those who spent time at the Castell de Montjuic. The fort, planned and constructed beginning in 1640, looms large over the city’s skyline – offering a real trip back in time. The fortification provides a bit of a juxtaposition – meant to protect the capital of Spain’s autonomous Catalonia region while also getting bombed itself during an 1842 insurrection when Barcelona rose up against the Spanish government.

The facility, which dates back to 1779, served as a political prison and was the site of several executions for dissidents such as Catalan nationalist Luis Companys, who helped lead the Catalonian efforts during the Spanish Civil War. Today, Barcelona is one of the most-visited cities in Europe, with Castell de Montjuic now accessible by cable car – a contrast to the heavy stone and cannon fortifications that offer brilliant views of the cityscape, port, and the Mediterranean below. There are no more executions, but plenty of visitors flock to imagine what life might have been like in the fort when the bombs started falling.


That sense of Old World history meets modernity. It carries over to today’s Barcelona, beckoning those looking for brilliant cuisine and cocktails, outstanding Spanish and Catalonian cuisine, a bit of urban exploration, brilliant beaches, and so much more.


Vibrant Destination

Grab a seat on a park bench or at one of the city’s numerous cafes, and visitors will quickly recognize that Barcelona is a bustling, active city. From jogging to biking to rollerblading, locals take their outdoor time seriously. There may be a sense of density, but parks and green spaces make locals and visitors alike feel like they’re not exactly in a concrete jungle. Located in northeastern Spain, Barcelona traces its roots to the 1st Century B.C., when the Romans founded the city. Since then, the Kingdom of Aragon, the Moors, and even the French have all controlled the region.


History and architectural fans may be overwhelmed as there is seemingly a culturally significant building, cathedral, or critical site on every block. Taking in the sights and sounds of this city of 1.6 million people can offer plenty of options: an all-encompassing double-decker bus tour, a relaxing bike ride along the cobble-stone and brickwork streets, walking along tourist spots like the La Rambla shopping epicenter, or even zipping along on a rented electric scooter, the latter quite a fun trip for the equally dextrous and adventurous.


Those looking to practice some español may be in for a bit of a surprise. While Spanish may be understood and spoken, the favored tongue is Catalan. This language dates to the 9th Century and slightly differs from the rest of the country. 


Along with the Castell de Montjuic, there are a few “musts” that most tourists hit, but there is so much history that a bit of wanderlust can go a long way. The city has numerous cathedrals, including the Sagrada Família, a towering presence that has become one of Barcelona’s main attractions. Construction began in 1882, and the basilica remains the world’s most significant unfinished Catholic church. Like many buildings and venues, the cathedral, designed by renowned Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudí, brings in millions of believers and non-believers alike each year – awed by the sheer size of the monolith. The venue may soon shake that “unfinished” distinction, with construction finally projected to wrap up in 2026 after almost a century and a half.


Gaudí’s impact on Barcelona can’t be understated. The Catalonian architect and designer lived from 1852 to 1926. They were inspired by nature and religion, with his works running the gamut from neo-Gothic to Oriental techniques to an organic style. A quick trip around the city will reveal numerous works by the hometown hero. But beyond architecture, Gaudí focused on every project detail, incorporating crafts such as ceramics, stained glass, iron forging, carpentry, and mosaics.


“It is impossible to deny that he was an extraordinary man, a real creative genius,” contemporary Uruguayan-Spanish artist Joaquim Torres-Garcia noted. “He belonged to a race of human beings from another time for whom the awareness of higher order was placed above the materiality of life.”


Park Güell is another popular destination showing Gaudí’s attention to detail. The park, built from 1900-14, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the 45-acre green space attracts visitors seeking an outdoor experience among gardens and architectural elements and a link to Gaudí visionary artistry and craftsmanship. The multicolored El Drac (the dragon) mosaic may best exemplify this. The mosaic salamander stretches through the park, incorporating benches and millions of tile shards. The maze-like park is truly something to behold.


Out on the Town

While there is no shortage of historical sites to check out, relaxing for a nice cocktail or meal is an excellent opportunity to enjoy some of the Barça vibes. Fresh seafood is always a great option, but numerous other options exist. On my trip, a delectable tapas meal made for a great night out atop the roof of the Duquesa de Cardona Hotel. The location offered excellent cuisine, an elegant ambiance, expansive views of Port Vell, and some excellent conversations with friends and new acquaintances alike.

A trip to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete without the time-honored flamenco tradition. This iconic Spanish music dates back to the 15th century and gives audiences an authentic cultural experience. Tablao Flamenco Cordobes offered my group quite a performance. Appreciate the crescendos and decrescendos that highlight this music and dance – with soft then frenetic guitar strumming, synchronous stomping that echoes off the walls, cascading ornate dresses as female dancers spin and gesticulate, and a true passion for the artistry of this Spanish phenomenon.


A trip to Tablao Flamenco Cordobes also offers some drinking and dining while visiting another famous landmark – La Rambla. This three-quarter mile stretch is the most well-known pedestrian street, offering restaurants, bars, shops, and much more. Grab a nice Cuban for cigar smokers at one of the many tobacco stores. For a more immersive experience, check out one of the city’s cigar bars or lounges. The Bluesman Cocktail Bar at the El Palace Hotel is a lovely spot to light up and sip a cocktail, complete with live music three nights a week. Puff, sip, and perhaps work on Catalan phrases while chatting with friends.

Sports fans may also want to join in on one of the city’s true passions – fútbol. Or, more specifically – FC Barcelona. Visitors to the city can tour the club’s home stadium, Camp Nou, the largest in European soccer, with a seating capacity for almost 100,000 rabid fans. Catalonians live and breathe the action on the pitch, and the club dates back to 1899. Barça is one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world and has secured 77 trophies since the club’s formation. Beyond simply checking out the club’s HQ, perhaps grab a ticket and check out the action in a stadium home to superstars like Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho, and others.


In recent years, Barcelona has also become known for competition of a different sort. The PokerStars European Poker Tour has brought together some of the best in the game since 2004. The festivities occur at the Casino Barcelona, adjacent to the high-end Hotel Arts Barcelona. The annual series is held each August and September and has become one of the most significant stops on the tour. The city has become one of Europe’s most important poker markets and was also the EPT’s first stop when the tour began.

This year’s series saw online qualifiers, poker pros, and amateurs compete in tournaments, with buy-ins ranging from €1,100 to €100,000. The €5,300 championship event saw France’s Simon Wiciak come out on top for $1.2 million. However, even those heading to Barcelona for some poker action are in store for numerous activities beyond the tables. PokerStars offers plenty of opportunities for players to take in some of what the city has to offer, including catamaran brunch excursions, city bus tours, wine tastings, city tours, and more.


“I think Barcelona is special because the weather is so nice, and we have the casino in a nice area with good restaurants all around,” PokerStars ambassador and Barcelona native Guillermo Sanz told Enthusiast Report in September about his hometown. “And the schedule for the EPT is also helpful for (sightseeing) because we start early, we finish early, and you get time to go out and see the city.”

Hitting the beach is always an option, with the Hotel Arts and Casino located right along Somorrostro Beach. Along with all that’s available in this fascinating locale, sun lovers have plenty of options. Barcelona boasts two and a half miles of sand on the Mediterranean, including 28 Blue Flag beaches. Hit the sea and sand by day, and enjoy some of what the city’s nightlife offers in the evening. Whether a tourist, poker player, sports fan, or history buff, there’s something for everyone in this Spanish getaway. And experiencing this breathtaking city is something anyone will appreciate.


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