Having only ever seen the beautiful art and architecture of Barcelona in pictures, I couldn’t wait to see it for myself! The concierge at Hotel Arts Barcelona organised a private tour guide for us who had a vast knowledge of the city plus she pre-booked tickets for us and we were able to jump the queues. Our history lesson began with the name of one man. A man who characterised the city of Barcelona with his designs and a leader in Catalan Modernism and Art Nouveau; Antoni Gaudí. Even without knowing much about Gaudí, it’s easy to see the buildings in the city that can be identified by his distinctive style.
Our first stop was Park Güell, one of Gaudí’s great works built between 1900 – 1914. It was commissioned by his patron Count Eusebi Güell’s to be a private estate but when this project failed it became a public park and is now also home to a museum that was once Gaudí’s house. It has been an UNESCO world heritage site since 1984.
The design elements of the park are a perfect blend of architecture and nature – with the columns looking a little like trees so that nothing is out of place.
From the park there are beautiful views across the city and I could see all the way to the beach, and the Hotel Arts and the W Barcelona.
The curved bench covered in vibrant mosaic tiles is so much more than a place to rest your feet. The curvature is reminiscent of a serpent and technique using broken tiles and pottery is called ‘trencadis’ in Catalan – seen throughout the city. And by the way it’s also much more comfortable than it looks.
From here you can see the two gatehouses which look like something out of a fairytale.
One is Gaudi’s former house where he lived for twenty years and now the museum with a collection of furniture designed by him. The other is a shop where you can pick up souvenirs of your visit to the park.
You can get a rather beautiful perspective from the bottom of the stairs where you can also see ‘el drac’ or ‘the dragon’ fountain and the network of Doric columns.
I really enjoyed our visit to Park Güell and I was already in love with Gaudì’s unique style. Our next stop was to take a look at Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s most famous work.
Unfortunately due to an event we couldn’t actually enter the beautiful Basilica but seeing it from the outside was awe-inspiring enough.
The architect started work on it in 1892 and it’s actually still not even finished with the estimated completion date being 2030. Gaudi himself was devoted to the project right up until his death in 1926.
It’s a seriously beautiful building and like something out of a gothic fantasy with the artistic designs and sculptures representing the relationship between man, nature and religion.
Next on our tour was another important part of Catalan culture; eating!! Our guide led us to Cervecería Catalana, one of her favourite tapas bars in Dreta de L’Eixample.
You can chose from the counter or order off the menu and everything is super quick, tasty and great value for money.
After our lunch it was time to explore more of L’Eixample and more of Gaudí’s work…
This beautiful building made of undulating stone is known as Casa Milà or La Pedrera meaning quarry. It’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the last residential building designed by the architect.
As you can see it’s more a work of art than a building and there is not one jagged corner or right angle on this beautiful modernist building. Nowadays this spectacular and unique structure is open to the public as a cultural centre and though we didn’t have time to go in, it’s on my list for next time.
Casa Batlló lies slightly down the road also on Passeig de Gràcia – forget the fairytale houses, this one looks like something out of the Nightmare Before Christmas…
With balconies made out of skulls, and bones providing the support it could almost be a Gothic horror story but Gaudi also used colours and shapes inspired by marine life and coral while the roof looks like a dragon.
Originally commissioned by the textile industrialist Josep Batlló, it is now a cultural space and museum…
And chocolate shop serving some of the best hot chocolate in town!
Gaudì aside, Barcelona has one of the most vibrant art scenes in Europe and our guide led us to this beautiful mural known as The World Begins with Every Kiss in Plaça d’Isidre Nonell. It’s actually a mosaic made up of thousands of tiles with an image of a person or place that represents freedom. Renowned photographer Joan Fontcuberta collected the images through a request in the newspaper El Periódico in order to commemorate the fall of Barcelona during the Spanish War of Succession.
It’s actually quite hard to see properly through the naked eye and is better viewed through your phone or camera.
Our final destination for the day was a walk around The Gothic Quarter, the centre of the old city of Barcelona.
The district includes the original Roman wall but most of it is made up of 19th and 20th Century architecture. It’s a beautiful maze of narrow streets, much quieter than the busy byways of Las Ramblas, and though we didn’t have much chance to explore fully we loved soaking in the beautiful buildings and the atmosphere. It’s also the location of the Jewish Quarter, Barcelona Cathedral and City Hall as well as lots of lovely looking shops and restaurants.
We had worried a four hour tour might be too long but all too quickly it came to an end and it was time to say goodbye to our guide. Though Barcelona is a very walkable city and easy to explore by yourself we really enjoyed having a guide to get the background on the city, I can’t wait to return one day and explore further in depth!
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