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Fun and Sun in Barcelona

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What is it? A family getaway to take advantage of the sunny weather.

Where? Barcelona. We spent four nights at Chic and Basic Born, a stylish budget hotel in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

Description: [city.jpg]So many Brits flock to Spain just for the beaches, but a city getaway can be a fantastic way to experience the country as well. Delia Lloyd took her family to Barcelona, where they loved both the coast and the culture…

To drink in the sun, fun and extraordinary architecture of this coastal Mediterranean city.

Begin with a self-guided walking tour of the Born and Gothic quarters. The narrow, winding medieval streets in these adjacent neighborhoods are chock full of shops, restaurants, historic buildings and churches. When the kids get tired of walking, enjoy some hot chocolate and churros at Cafe Bubo overlooking the Santa Maria del Mar church. From there, proceed a short distance to Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous street. Kids will love the jugglers, mimes and magicians who pepper this tree-lined boulevard, while grown-ups can browse the outdoor market. Duck into La Boqueria, an indoor, covered market replete with fish stalls, butchers and colorful displays of dried fruit and nuts. Re-fuel at Pinotxo, a stall at the entrance to the market where locals queue for the best espresso in town. If you’re in the mood for some shopping, proceed to the narrow, boutique-lined alley between Carrer de la Princesa and the Passeig del Born. Be sure to stop by the Palau de la Musica (on the edge of the Gothic quarter), an ornate art deco building with great classical concerts. Then take the kids up to the old-fashioned Fun Fair on the top of Tipidabo.

Tapas. Tapas. Tapas. I particularly recommend Xaminets in the Born district, right next door to the pre-Colombian museum. Queues are huge for this family-run, tiled tapas bar with homemade cider and cava, so get there early. Cal Pep – a narrow bar that specializes in flash fried tenderloin – is also worth a visit. Sit at the bar and devour sublime seafood. (The local custom is to suck the heads out of the prawns so be forewarned!) Afterwards, head out to Jamboree – a legendary jazz club in the Placa Reial which spins R&B and hip-hop after hours. If you want a quieter evening, Cafe de l’Academia on the tiny, ancient San Just square in the Gothic quarter is a great place to sit, talk and people-watch late into the night. For a cultural evening out, head on over to the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona (CCCB), a gorgeously rehabilitated 18th century hospice in the Raval neighborhood which hosts prominent festivals and multi-media exhibitions throughout the year. Kids will love the evening magic fountain light show at the Palau Nacional.

Although we didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, Chic and Basic was happy to book a sitter for us and other hotels can make similar arrangements.

Chic and Basic has a small gym which is free for patrons. It does not have a Spa, but the hotel is happy to book you in to one.

Local activities: See above.

Wish we had known: Tourists should avoid drinking water from the tap.

Our top tip: Barcelona is a great walking city but to get to many of the city’s main attractions, public transportation comes in handy. You can purchase a T10 travel card from any metro station which gets you 10 trips on buses or the metro for 8.25 Euros and can be renewed as often as you like. If you plan on visiting more than three of the main museums and galleries, the Articket is great value at 22 Euros.

Kids say: Isaac, 10: “I don’t normally like zoos, but this zoo is amazing!” Allie, 7: “I loved swimming in my blue jeans!”

Getting There: All major European airlines fly from London to Barcelona, as does Easy Jet. Book early to get good seats and fares. For a more expensive but exciting option, take the Eurostar from London to Paris, and then an overnight train to Barcelona arriving in the Born area in time for breakfast. Hotels in Barcelona come at all levels and prices. Chic and Basic Born do not have a family suite, but apartments for a family of four begin at 129 Euros per night. If you book in three weeks early, you can get a discount of 15% on the best available rate. Check the website for additional special offers.

About our stay: We loved Barcelona. If at all possible, try to stay in either the Born or Gothic districts. These historic neighbourhoods are beautifully laid out, easily accessible to many of the city’s main cultural attractions and also boast a lively and diverse night life. We stayed at the Chic and Basic Born, which is – as the name suggests – an upscale, budget hotel right in the heart of the Born district. If you’re travelling with only one child, I would highly recommend staying in the hotel itself, which brings the term “cool” to a whole new level. The space is exquisitely designed with curved, white formica walls (no right angles!). The rooms themselves feature beaded curtains, crystal showers and sky lights that open up above every bed. Adding to the contemporary feel are flat screen, plasma TVs and iPod docs. But the coup de grace is the coloured lighting (which spans the colour wheel), allowing for “colour therapy” as you relax. Larger rooms also boast balconies where you can take tea overlooking a typical Spanish courtyard. Equally charming – if not a bit more subdued – are the large, brightly lit apartments the hotel rents right down the road, which are perfect for families of four (and in a pinch, can fit five). These flats have two adjoining bedrooms and a small kitchen, as well as balconies that look out over this storied neighbourhood. All flats come with television and internet access. The staff at Chic and Basic are friendly and knowledgeable, and are happy to recommend restaurants and give directions as needed. True to its name, the hotel manages to convey a chic ethos at very reasonable rates, and if you have a small family and elegant tastes, it’s hard to imagine getting better value in this city. Any trip to Barcelona must begin with the city’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi. Make your way to the Eixample neighbourhood, where you can wander the wide streets and take in the exteriors of many of Gaudi’s most famous buildings. Casa Mila’s (aka La Pedrera) remarkable wave-like facade is worth the price of admission alone, but be sure to proceed up to the roof, which boasts a host of chimneys and vents resembling abstract sculptures that beautifully capture this architect’s signature style. Our kids loved running around these weird shapes and taking in the views of the city. Then run, don’t walk, to have lunch at Me, which offers cuisine blending a fusion of Vietnamese, New Orleans and Catalan flavors. The other must-see Gaudi highlight in this city is, of course, La Sagrada Familia, a massive cathedral that takes up an entire city block and is breathtaking to behold, both inside and out. The one-hour tour provides a detailed explanation of the Cathedral’s two intricate facades as well as some of its majestic interior. (If nothing else, the kids will enjoy the headphones!). Afterwards, book a passage on the lift to the top of one of the Cathedral’s towers for great views of the city. Then have lunch at Can Ravell, a foodie’s paradise which is about 15 minutes from the Cathedral. While the downstairs of this establishment looks like any upscale deli, head to the very back and go up the winding staircase. There, you will find yourself in a large room filled with long marble tables and lined with an array of oddly-shaped liquor bottles. You’ll feel like you’ve entered like a private club circa 1950. The menu changes daily, so order the shared tapas tasting menu and brace yourself to try out some delicious – if not unusual – Catalan comfort food. [family.jpg]Round out your Gaudi tour with a trip to Park Guell – a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the trip. This park high above the city is full of Gaudi sculptures and mosaics, but also has a number of playgrounds, fountains and cool summits which allow the kids to burn off some energy while the adults take in some (more!) architecture. One of the things that makes Barcelona such a stunning city to behold is its waterfront location. We enjoyed wandering the streets of Barcelonetta, with its bustling, outdoor markets and port-side view of the harbour. The city beach is quite decent, and even though they weren’t wearing bathing suits, our kids ran right into the water and had a fantastic time jumping in the waves. (Showers are conveniently located along the beach for a quick rinse afterwards.) The Museum of Catalan history is located nearby, with small, really interesting exhibits on the region’s rich heritage, as is the Aquarium. Afterwards, do yourself a favor and find a tiny, hole-in-the-wall called Can Mano on Baluarte street. This local diner with dirt-cheap seafood caters to an eclectic clientele of lawyers, cops, garbagemen and courting couples, with only the occasional tourist. Sit outside and drink a beer in the sun as you wait to be seated. Bliss! From Barcelonetta, take a cable car up to Mont Juic, a hill which rises 213m above the city with spectacular views of the surrounding area and an array of family-friendly activities on offer. Art lovers should begin at the Museum Nacional of Catalan Art (MNAC) (located inside the Palau Nacional), which houses Europe’s finest collection of Romanesque frescoes. There’s also a huge, 18th-century castle (and military museum), an Olympic stadium, a cactus garden and a “Spanish Village” containing replicas of buildings from various regions in Spain. We were particularly taken with the Fundacio Joan Miro. The colourful tapestries and paintings of Catalan’s most famous artist appealed to our entire family. Finally, the Barcelona Zoo is a must-see for children of all ages. Make your way there through the beautifully sculpted Ciutadella park, which houses a boating lake, orange groves and a waterfall. The park is particularly popular on Sunday afternoons when people gather to play instruments, dance and wander through outdoor markets selling jewellery and textiles. The zoo itself is superb: it is small and manageable, and yet features a really eclectic mix of animals, from gorillas to elephants and everything in between. Do not miss the dolphin show (included in the price of admission)! Your kids will talk about it for ages. [monkey.jpg] Delia Lloyd is an American journalist and blogger based in London. She blogs about adulthood at www.realdelia.com.

Created: 2011-06-09 12:11:23.343

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