Spain's New Golden Age
Much like Italy in the 15th century, Spain is experiencing a cultural renaissance, one that's transforming the country--city by city, block by block, building by building.
For a virtual tour of the Forum site, see barcelona2004.org. The fastest route to the actual Forum site (the intersection of Av. Diagonal and Rambla Prim) is the new Forum station on the upgraded Metro Line 4 (stop: El Maresme Forum). The exhibits have closed, but you can hang out by the outdoor seawater pools--chairs are even provided. Instead of a hotel, book one of the five design-inspired loft apartments housed in an old post office (Apartments Correu Vell, 011-31/64-560-6674, bcn2stay.com, $108, last-minute specials $81), then tour the nearby artsy El Raval district. Home to the Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona, or MACBA (Plaça dels Àngels 1, 011-34/93-412-0810, macba.es, $9), it's yet another neighborhood that's turning around as we speak. One last note: This month marks the start of the city's "Gastronomic Year"--a celebration of Catalan cuisine, with fiestas, walking tours, and more. See barcelonaturisme.com for info.
Sure, you'll tour the famous cathedral. But do make time to visit the compelling architectural models of the City of Culture, currently under construction (City of Culture Foundation, Rúa de San Roque 2, Hospital San Roque building, cidadedacultura.es). Several other designs--inventive, but ultimately rejected--are also on display. For atmosphere, you can't beat the Hotel Airas Nunes, in a medieval stone building right by the Cathedral (17 Rua do Vilar, 011-34/90-240-5858, pousadasdecompostela.com, from $81). And bear in mind the option of staying in one of Spain's renovated historic inns, or paradores. Parador de Santo Estevo, once a Benedictine monastery, is a group of Romanesque buildings updated with individually designed, antiques-filled rooms (Nogueira de Ramuín, Galicia, 011-34/98-801-0110, parador.es, from $155). The new Spain is fantastic, but so is the old Spain.
Start your art walk at the Reina Sofía museum (Santa Isabel 52, 011-34/91-573-6245, museoreinasofia.es, $4), then head north to the Prado (Paseo del Prado, 011-34/91-330-2800, museoprado.mcu.es, $4, Sundays free), and end at the Thyssen-Bornemisza (Paseo del Prado 8, 011-34/91-369-0151, museothyssen.org, $8). The Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza are closed Mondays, the Reina Sofía is closed Tuesdays. Eat lunch at the Thyssen café, run by chic restaurant Le Paradís. For a more affordable taste of the city's cuisine, cross town for a mint-and-tarragon-topped burger at Fast Good, opened in April 2004 by master chef Ferrán Adrià (NH Eurobuilding, Padre Damían 23, 011-34/91-353-7300, $10). The hotel of the moment is Hotel Urban, a sleek monument to design. Prices are steep, but the company does offer specials ($133 and up) on its website, derbyhotels.es. There's also a wonderful newish group of small, stylish hotels called Rusticae (rusticae.es) all over the country, as well as in Portugal, France, and Argentina. One within walking distance of downtown is Room Mate Mario (011-34/91-548-8548, $133); another is Acis y Galatea (011-34/91-743-4901, $160).
On your way to a day of museum-going, stroll the three miles of unhyped parks along the Turia River, where the city kicked off its transformation. At the southern end of the gardens stands the City of Arts and Culture (011-34/90-210-0031, cac.es). Check out the Hemispheric planetarium's metal "eyelid"; the Oceanographic's underwater aquarium restaurant; and the soon-to-be-finished Palace of the Arts. The 28 rooms at the Ad Hoc Hotel, in the historic Xerea quarter, are done in a semi-modern decor, some with pretty, exposed-brick walls (Calle Boix 4, 011-34/96-391-9140, adhochoteles.com, weekend rate $120).