My younger sister went to Barcelona University to get her master’s degree and my parents sent me regularly to check up on her so I got to know the town well and have been back there many times since her university days.
I am not a big fan of the “modernisme” movement in Barcelona (Spanish answer to Art Nouveau) but I went willingly with her visiting a number of architectural sites created by Gaudi and Montaner, two of the leading masters of the movement. My sister, fluent in Spanish, was of course an expert guide. I had the opportunity to see Gaudi masterpieces such as Guell Palace, Guell Park, Casa Batllo, and of course, Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s top attraction which is visited by over 3 million people a year. Go visit the church at Colonia Guell which is about 30 minutes outside of the city and very hard to reach via public transportation. The Guell Chapel is a World Heritage Site and was the testing group for many of the innovative designs Gaudi later executed at the Sagrada Familia church.
Today, you must do your homework if you want to visit the Gaudi sites in Barcelona. Due to the very strong demand especially in peak season, timed tickets in advance are a must. In addition, some sites such as the Palau de la Musica (Palace of Catalan Music) can be seen in a timed, group visit.
The Sagrada Familia church, under construction for over 100 years, is still only about 50% completed. Having said this, the church has a big boost when the Pope visited three years ago, to mark the completion of the central naves and to formally declare it a basilica. I recommend you visit in the morning, or early afternoon when the light is strongest and the stained glass windows are at their best. Tip, if you wish to go up to one of the towers, you will need to buy a separate admission.
In addition to guided tours of Barcelona, focusing on art and architecture, here are some ideas.
· Jewish Heritage tours of Barcelona, including a private meeting with the owner of the ancient Sinagoga Mayor who personally devoted over 20 years to its restoration.
· Private cooking classes, half day or full day, with chefs from various restaurants, including Michelin starred establishments.
· Private visits to Barcelona’s beautiful Ayuntamiento building (city hall) not open to the public
· Special tours for children, including visits to a castle, the Chocolate Museum and more
· Guided shopping tours of La Boqueria, Barcelona’s most famous food hall, following by a cooking class and lunch
· Visits outside the city, to landmarks such as Montserrat, Costa Brava, Sitges, Santes Creus and Poblet.
Don’t expect to see Flamenco dancing. Barcelona is not richly endowed with places to see this as Catalans are none too fond of this very Andalusian spectacle.
Today, I use a private guide for our clients, an expert and destination specialist, who books everything for me and who can take you on a walk thru the church and explain to you the incredible history of these unique monuments. It is well worth the investment and you avoid the long lines and get VIP access in many locations.
Don’t go in August. Unbearable, hot and sticky.
One last tip. My favorite meal in Barcelona was at Alba Granados restaurant, Enrique Granados Street, number 34, excellent Spanish cuisine at moderate prices.
Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure.