The chic, meandering capital of proud Catalonia is best known for the hallucinatory architectural visions of Gaudí, but it’s the great food and amiability of the locals that make it one of Europe’s great cities.
Author Chris Wright Photography Francisco Guerrero
BARCELONA IS NOT a place given to posturing. This former Roman outpost, now the capital of the northeastern Spanish province of Catalonia, isn’t as self-consciously pretty as Paris, as studiedly vibrant as London or as achingly stylish as Milan. It’s secure enough to refrain from draping banners from lampposts advertising its status as “Europe’s City of Culture.” Most important, its leaders seem to understand the principle of benign neglect. There’s little in the way of the compulsive scrubbing and sandblasting you encounter in other historical cities. This has a couple of benefits. First, you see buildings rather than scaffolding. Second, many of these buildings look and feel like they’re supposed to: old.
The overwhelming sense is that this is a city comfortable in its own skin. Barcelonans are fiercely protective of their Catalan heritage, they simmer with emotional heat (fender benders can be theatrical affairs) and they are inordinately friendly. This is a town where you can walk into a shop, wildly mispronounce the name of the place you’re looking for and then wait while the shopkeeper consults Google Maps. This is good not only for your faith in human nature, but for your feet. A lot of what Barcelona has to offer is unheralded, even hidden, and this allows for wonderful moments of discovery. Of course, it also means you’re going to need some help from the locals to find this stuff. Luckily, you’re in good hands.