Treat teens to the beach, shopping and tapas, with a side order of culture, writes Janet Christie
I don’t know if it’s because in a school play she once played Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama, but once we were on the top deck of our Barcelona tour bus, my daughter would not be moved.
Pointing out it was a Hop On Hop Off, not Hop On and Stay Put tour was fruitless, so as the Barcelona Bus Turistic vehicle circuited the Catalan capital’s top sights, we enjoyed them resolutely from our seats. We swooned at the soaring towers of the Sagrada Familia, still not complete after more than 130 years, marvelled at the massive concrete cauldron of the Camp Nou football stadium and ooohed at the undulating limestone of La Pedrera. All from the outside. As for what lay within, I couldn’t tell you. I wasn’t allowed inside any of them.
“You can do that next time you come. On your own,” said my daughter, pointedly.
Travelling with teenagers always throws up its own special challenges. Too much culture and you’ll put them off for life, no wi-fi and you’ll be very sorry, but there are things they will readily embrace. Food is always popular, for instance, and a great way to discover what gives a city its flavour. So it was that we finally disembarked from the bus as the midday heat began to take its toll and a refreshment stop was required, at a handy café right next to Gaudi’s Park Güell.
Walking around admiring the architect’s monumental structures and crazy mosaics was a hit with my daughter, although the suggestion that we join the serpentine queue for the park’s museum met with an outright refusal. However, as we sat on a bench surrounded by shrubs on which blue butterflies bounced, gazing down across the city and far out to sea, I decided she might be right after all.
Shopping was popular too, and we spent hours wandering Passeig de Gràcia and La Rambla. Stella McCartney, Zara, Mango and the Adidas shop were all thoroughly rummaged, and blissfully cool in the soaring July temperatures. When finally a new bikini was purchased, we headed for the beach, at the top of her must-do list.
Built specially for the city’s hosting of the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona’s beach is an impressive golden strand that stretches right along the waterfront and saw the city embrace its seafront once more. When the heat became too much for pale Scottish skin, we retreated to the string of cafés and restaurants bordering the sand, before strolling along the length of the esplanade as the sun fell below the horizon and catching another bus back into town. Standing room only this time.
My daughter loved our Sandemans walking tour of the Barri Gòtic (the Old Town), appreciating the guide’s “I’ll point out the sights and you come back in your own time and queue” approach. We saw the castle, the labyrinthine Jewish Quarter and the Cathedral, which took 700 years to build and makes the pace at Sagrada Familia appear frenetic. It is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Eulàlia, an outspoken 13-year-old Christian martyred in AD 303 by being rolled in a nail-filled barrel down what is today the Baixada de Santa. The Romans didn’t mess about with mouthy teenagers.
In Plaça de George Orwell the ubiquitous flags of the Catalonian independence movement fluttered in the breeze, reminding us how fiercely the Catalans defend their identity. My daughter remarked that she’d read Animal Farm at school. Maybe she’d like to read Homage To Catalonia? Maybe she wouldn’t, she replied. And on we wound past cathedrals and Roman ruins to end up in the Parc de la Ciutadella where scores of the city’s delightful wild parrots swoop, the apocryphal descendants of a pair of fugitives from a pet shop in La Rambla.
Finally, as previously mentioned, wi-fi is key to holiday harmony when travelling with a teen. Mercifully all of the places we stayed were plugged into the web: Generator Hostel, the Mandarin Oriental and Le Palauet Living Barcelona. The accommodation received the teenager’s approval for other reasons: Generator for its hip vibe and private room with outside decking; and the Mandarin Oriental for the sheer fabulousness of our minimalist, white room – my daughter basically took up residence in the en-suite bathroom with its complex showers, mirrors and dressing table arrangement.
Yes, we both loved the Mandarin’s Michelin-starred food and rooftop terrace swimming pool, where we hung out and splashed around, seduced by the 360 degree views of the city. But those of a more solitary persuasion should meander up Barcelona’s swankiest avenue, Passeig de Gràci, to El Palauet Living Barcelona. This listed, 1906 modernista building is now divided into six contemporary apartments where you can shut yourself away and revel in its select sophistication. Our mezzanine suite had two bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, a terrace, living room, dining room and a kitchen. While my daughter assumed control of the home automation system, I was fascinated by the Japanese toilet. And up on the roof was another oasis of green in El Palauet’s own roof terrace with private spa and sauna, where the sun dipped behind the rooftops as we took the ultimate skyline Barcelona selfie.
Back home with school holidays approaching, it’s so tempting to jump on a direct flight from Edinburgh with low-cost airline Norwegian before they finish at the end of October and do all the things we missed.
Norwegian flies twice weekly between Edinburgh and Barcelona, starting from £34.90 one way (0330 8280854 opt 1, www.norwegian.com/uk)
El Palauet Living Barcelona, Mezzanine Tibidabo Suite, from £630/€720 per night (+34 93 218 0050, www.elpalauet.com)
Mandarin Oriental , from £365/€415 (+34 93 151 88 88, www.mandarinoriental.com/barcelona)
Generator Barcelona, from £11/€13pp per night in an en-suite dorm. Private en-suite twin hostel rooms start from £24/€28pp per night while hotel rooms start from £35/€41pp per night, based on two sharing. (www.generatorhostels.com/Barcelona)
Barcelona bus Turistic tours, day ticket £22.15/€25.20, child £12.70/ €14.40, under fours free (www.barcelonabusturistic.cat)