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Barcelona celebrates Games Gain.

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Barcelona is one of Europe’s most exciting destinations, so rich in art and architecture, culture and cuisine, shopping and Mediterranean sunbathing. I sift through the Catalan capital’s many delights to make this don’t miss list.

Olympic legacy

If you want to see how the Olympics can transform a city, walk the Barcelona
waterfront, a glamorous two miles sweep of sandy beaches, esplanades,
marinas and boardwalks. When the Catalan capital hosted the 1992 games it
transformed itself into one of Europe’s most user-friendly destinations. They
moved dreary waterfront industry and the port, and opened up to the Med.
Today Barcelona is one of the few big cities in Europe with sea bathing in
good unpolluted waters. (Take the subway to Barceloneta.) A lively beach is
Platja de Sant Sebastià. Or start at the Columbus Monument and walk east.
Highpoint include the splendid Aquarium and Frank Gehry’s fish sculpture at
Olympic Port. They are redeveloping a further 2-mile stretch of shoreline
towards the river Besòs, with new leisure areas, a marine wildlife park,
and calm waters bathing.

Centre stay

We stayed at the hotel Rialto (www.hotel-rialto.com), the building where
the artist Joan Miro was born. His sunny works decorate the corridors. It’s a
short walk to Las Ramblas, the motorway-wide avenue with the feel of a
medieval pageant. One of the newest hotels is the 4 Star Barcelona Catedral,
close to the great Gothic cathedral. Ask for a room facing the courtyard.
Another chic, new and convenient city centre
hotel on Las Ramblas itself is Hotel 1898, in the former headquarters of
Philippines Tobacco, recreating the opulence of 19th-century Spain.
For a room with a sea view, try Ritz-Carlton’s big
luxurious 5 star Hotel Arts, built for the 1992 Olympics, and recently
renovated. (Quickest way to your hotel from El Prat airport is by Underground -
30 minutes to the city centre, € 2.30).

Sweet stones

The architect Gaudi’s elaborate creations are dotted around the city, a delicious confectionery in stone and ceramic. The fantasy begins, and still hasn’t ended, in the unfinished cathedral Sagrada Familia. See it close up by all means, but it does draw the crowds. I prefer to wonder from afar, in one of Gaudi’s other great creations, the hillside Park Güell. (Look for the Dragon Fountain at the park entrance). Don’t miss the benches, with contours likebHawaiian surf, made from shattered ceramic fragments. Another of Gaudi’s eccentric masterpieces is La Pedrera, a city centre apartment block with walls like waves. We took the tour and emerged on to the roof, where chimneys became dragons. (adults 8 €) If you only have time for one Gaudí creation, go to Plaça Reial in the city centre for his ornate lamp-posts.

Top Tapas

Barcelona serves gold standard tapas, these splendidly simple yet brilliantly
inventive little dishes that take the mystery out of dining abroad. You sit at a
counter, and if you see something you like, point to it. It will shortly appear in
front of you. You want more? Just ask. Tapas is ideal for filling those hunger
gaps. Also helps you cope with Spain’s eccentric (to us) dining hours, where
it’s lunch at 3 and evening meal at 10pm. Or tapas is a meal in itself. Try either of the two versions of Taller de Tapas, where they bring you plate after plate, of marinated
anchovies, grilled asparagus blades, fried crispy artichoke shavings ,
chickpeas sautéed with baby squid and much more. Enjoy more culinary heaven in a glass of cava and a plate of succulent jamón Serrano at
the Restaurant Passadís del Pep down an unmarked narrow passage.

Paint perfect

The teenage Pablo Picasso found the world in 1890s Barcelona, although he
quit Spain during the Franco regime and never returned, The Picasso
Museum, housed in five converted palaces, displays works from his early
years, demonstrating his drawing skilsl. Among his later masterpieces is The
Harlequin. (To sample his alleged inspiration,order a glass of absinthe at Bar Marsella in Carrer Sant Pau). Then lighten your
day with a visit to the Miro Foundation in Montjuïc, for part of the huge
collection of works by the city’s famous son. Miro pleases the eye like few
contemporary artists with his exuberant colours and playful abstract lines.
Bask in the glow of his Gold of the Azure.
See these galleries, and other Barcelona collections (inlding La Pedrera )
with the ARTICKET, 20 eu,

Catch the bus

Bus Turístic was one of the first, and is certainly among the best, of the city hop on, hop off tourist buses, now up to 44 stops along three circuits. The latest is
the Green Route, which heads out to the sea at Port Olímpic. There’s far too
much to see in a day, so buy (at least) the 26 €) two day card. Tombus, the
Barcelona Shopping Bus, is an alight-where-you-like service along the major
shopping streets (1.50 €).). The Tibibus shuttles to Tibidabo Hill for the theme
park and astounding views. (2.40 €). There is also a funicular to the top.
If you are traveling on in Spain, the amazing new AVE 186mph trains run to
Madrid in 2 1/2 hours.

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