Travel: Barcelona, the art lover's paradise

Art nouveau accommodation and an overdose of Gaudi keep Gaby Soutar happy in Barcelona

Santa Caterina Market Hall, Barcelona
Santa Caterina Market Hall, Barcelona

I’m in Barcelona. I should be taking photographs of La Sagrada Familia.

Instead, I’m staying indoors more than I usually do on a city break, lining up endless snaps of our self-catering apartment – El Palauet Living.

This art nouveau residence, built in 1906, and situated along the upmarket Passeig de Gracia, is the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed in, though it’s difficult to capture, as so much of the appeal is in the detail.

El Palauet, Barcelona

There are the carved words – Ascensor – above the old-fashioned lift, which takes us to our suite, Principal Tibiado. Inside, it’s all ivory, white, mirrored tables, and dusty grey, with beautifully ornate cornices, like the ones you find in Edinburgh tenements, but ramped up on steroids and featuring curved palm leaves.

It’s calming, and feels like a refuge from the lights, sounds, Gaudi brights, parakeets and motorcycle diesel smells of this sensorial city.

After a day of exploring, it’s bliss to prise off your shoes in one of the two beautiful double rooms, both of which connect to open plan en-suites boasting tech rain showers and a selection of Aveda products. One of these also has a humongous tub complete with “colour therapy” (ie. a light box on the wall that gradually changes tint) and a chandelier that resembles a sea anemone.

If only we had some Catalonian friends, so we could do some entertaining and show off the sitting room with its curved stained glass window of graphic flowers rendered in boiled sweet colours. There’s a smart and well-equipped kitchen, with a dishwasher, Dolce Gusto coffee machine and full fridge (everything costs, so don’t go crazy).

El Palauet, Barcelona

Fiddle about with the switches all over the suite, as they allow you to change the temperature and lighting effects, the latter of which ranges in brightness from ambient, to one that just flatters the fancy cornices.

Although I’m a technophobe of sorts, I found all the futuristic gizmos pretty self explanatory. For example, at night, press Goodbye and the lights power down theatrically.

Each apartment also has its own PA. Ours must have been bored, as we were too embarrassed to ask her to do anything, though you can get them to book tickets, restaurants, offer advice on what to do in the area, or even prepare breakfast.

Both mornings, we made our own desayuno and sat out on the apartment’s private balcony.

El Palauet, Barcelona

There’s a fantastic bakery just five minutes along the road – Baluard at the Hotel Praktik – where we stockpiled almond croissants, a huge icing sugar-powdered Catalan pastry, and their pains de barrio (bread of the area), Barceloneta.

Aside from the suites’ balconies, sun-worshippers can also munch or drink cava on the building’s rooftop patio. Just don’t drop crumbs into the bubbling hot water-bed, or leave crusts in the wooden sauna. There’s also a massage room here, in case you want to book a rub down via your PA.

But, of course, one cannot stay indoors, faffing around in luxury, all holiday. For ideas on what to do, the tourism agency Visit Barcelona, which has an office near the hotel (or see website), has the answers.

As it was my first visit to the city, we overdosed on Gaudi – Park Guell, Casa Batllo (five minutes from El Palauet) and, my favourite, the atmospheric Grimm fairytale-style fantasy that is Palau Guell.

El Palauet, Barcelona

In the Gothic barrio, there was Santa Caterina market, with its undulating ceramic roof designed by architects Enric Miralles (of Scottish Parliament fame) and Benedetta Tagliabue, and the Museu Picasso. And, in the leafy Montjuïc, there’s the wonderful Fondacio Joan Miro, where the work of this Spanish artist glows in its native habitat.

We also went up the hill on the Funicular railway, to see the fortress of Castell de Montjuïc, then had to use our vertigo-induced jelly legs to walk all the way back down.

Although navigating a city is part of the fun, and I usually think of tourist buses as being a bit of a cop out (especially in a city like this, with such a great metro), I conceded in Barcelona. Their hop-on hop-off Bus Turistic service, e28, features three routes of varying lengths that take in all the city’s attractions. On our second day, we took the Red Route to mop up the places we hadn’t been.

And we did eventually make it to La Sagrada Familia, where we took almost as many pictures of this building (now scheduled to be completed in 2026) as we had of our hotel room. I know which ones I’ve fawned over the most since I got home.