Pleasure / August 2018

What to Do and Wear in Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a critically acclaimed destination, the intimate heart of Catalonian culture… and home to most of the good things in life.

The roof terrace at the Mandarin Oriental.

Regrettably, Barcelona trips are all too often for work. Nevertheless, I have spent enough time there to be able to make some recommendations for your weekend away. It is a city I love, and compared to other European cities it is too often overlooked, as far as I am concerned. Usually I like to stay in the centre of Barcelona, because it makes it easy to travel to my meetings. ‘Central’ for me is the Passeig de Gràcia; my favourite hotel there is the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, which is also, in my opinion, one of the best city hotels I have ever stayed in. It is a converted bank and retains a lot of the individual character, and the breakfast buffet is fantastic, which is crucial for a good hotel. The rooms blend modern and quirky Catalunyan touches, which makes them smart but comfortable at the same time. A room or suite with a terrace is a must. The spa is fantastic, with the added bonus of a Bastien Gonzalez mani-pedi studio. Charlotte the therapist can do wonders to your hands and feet. Before the Mandarin opened, the other place to stay on the Passeig de Gràcia was Casa Fuster. This is more gothic and gaudy in its design but equally comfortable, and with excellent service. A new contender is the recently opened Soho House Barcelona, which overlooks the Port Vell Marina in the Gothic Quarter. This would be my choice if I were in Barcelona for leisure. The hotel is very Soho House but, again, it manages to capture the Catalunyan essence very well. Their signature rooftop swimming pool and patio is fabulous, as is the in-house Cecconi’s restaurant, one of the best I have been to.

Restaurants
One has to be careful with Barcelona restaurants. For a city that is a major tourist attraction and commands huge numbers of international visitors, there is an abundance of restaurants that are ‘tourist traps’ and must be avoided... Below is a list of my go-to places:

For authentic tapas…
Bar Mut: Excellent tapas and seafood.
Cal Pep: Legendary tapas institution, which has been copied several times around the world but never to the same standard. Their tortilla with aioli is to die for.
Tapas 24: The tapas is average but their breakfast bocadillos are fabulous!
Cervecería Catalunya: Consistent tapas and very popular with locals and tourists alike. The restaurant always has a buzzy atmosphere.

Alternatively…
Boca Chica Boca Grande: Great restaurant and bar with a very lively terrace where, after a superb meal, I usually smoke my cigars. The baked gambas is an absolute must.
Botafumeiro: A Barcelona institution — it’s like the Scott’s of Barcelona. The seafood is exemplary and the choice is phenomenal, with everything caught and served fresh every day. Their percebes (goose barnacles) and espardenyas (sea cucumbers) are out of this world.
Barceloneta: A fantastic seafood restaurant in the Barceloneta area and by the beach. It always feels like a party in there, with great people-watching and food.
One Ocean Club: A very stylish restaurant and beach club on the water. Perfect for long cigar lunches on the outdoor deck when the weather is good.

Cigars
I always avoid Las Ramblas. The only reason for me to venture there is for Gimeno’s (100 Las Ramblas), the best place to buy cigars in Barcelona and where I have been going for more than 20 years. From the outside the shop looks like one of the many unassuming tourist souvenir shops you see on the Ramblas, but once you are inside and the staff realise you are after some serious cigar action, they will take you down to the Cigar Vault in the basement — a cavernous cellar lined with boxes of vintage Havanas, regional and limited editions. A truly salivating experience!

Shopping
Bel y’ Cia on Passeig de Gràcia: Barcelona's answer to Charvet in Paris or Turnbull & Asser in London. It’s an institution for menswear in Barcelona.
Santa Eulalia on Passeig de Gràcia: A well curated selection of multi-brand menswear and womenswear. I always find some fantastic buys there from brands very difficult to source elsewhere. They also offer MTM and bespoke services.
Carmina: The legendary Mallorcan shoe brand with a new store on Passeig de Gràcia. Always worth a visit.

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Shary Rahman