Not for nothing did the art historian and critic Robert Hughes nickname Barcelona 'the great enchantress'. Whether you're heading here for a culture break or an excuse to party, few cities are sexier or more seductive to explore. But where to go?Featured September 12 Words by Tara Stevens
Photography Mariano Herrera
THE UP-AND-COMING ARTIST
Barcelona has long been a beacon for artists and creative types across Spain, drawing them to its bright lights with the promise of a life less ordinary. Following in the footsteps of Picasso, Dalí and Gaudí, Araya Peralta moved to the city nine years ago and was immediately smitten.
"It was so easy to live here after other cities," says the artist who grew up between Caracas and Madrid. "You can walk everywhere, afford to live in the centre and take advantage of all its culture, much of which is free."
Peralta is now making a name as one of the city's brightest young things. A member of the Cargo Collective (www.cargocollective.com/arayaperalta), she's currently working on a series of visceral portraits that reflect uncontrolled emotions. "It's about all the stuff we repress. It's amazing to be part of the moment when someone suddenly expresses this, whether it's in the form of a scream, rage or pure ecstasy." Her work will be featured in this autumn's WEART (www.weartfestival.com), showcasing new art all over the city.
Peralta on culture
* The Galería Miscelánea (10 Carrer de Guàrdia; www.miscelanea.info) is a multidisciplinary art space. It's unpretentious, but very complete and constantly changing. It has a great café and design shop too.
* Arts Santa Mònica (7 La Rambla; www.artssantamonica.cat) is housed in an old convent with a great terrace. The current exhibit (until 29 September) is contemporary Russian art.
* I love la Caixa Forum (6-8 Avenida de Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia; www.obrasocial.lacaixa.es) for many reasons. The exhibitions are diverse, it's free and it's in an amazing modernist building.
* The Pavilion of Agriculture was built for the 1929 International Exposition and is now home to Mercat de les Flors (59 Lleida; www.mercatflors.cat), a space for world-class dance and theatre.
* There's a mix of concerts, performances and cabaret at the Sala Apolo (111 Carrer Nou de la Rambla; www.sala-apolo.com). You get artists and performers from all over the world here.
THE TAPAS KING
Quim Márquez Durán
If you want to know where to eat in Barcelona, ask someone who works in the Boqueria food market. And they don't come more knowledgable than Quim Durán, owner-chef of El Quim de la Boqueria (Stall 584, Boqueria Market; www.elquimdelaboqueria.com). He's been here for 25 years, achieving near-legendary status for his playful take on tapas.
"Money was tight growing up," he remembers, "but my mother always managed to make amazing food with cheap ingredients. I thought she was a genius. It made me realise cooking is an art and it doesn't have to be fancy to be good. Years ago, an uptown restaurant called Via Veneto had a signature dish made with eggs and angulas[baby eels]. It was wonderful, but very expensive, so I began playing with alternatives. I found eggs fried in good olive oil worked very well with chanquetes [a tiny fish] and chipirones [baby squid]. I've now got about 50 dishes on the menu, but it's still the eggs - which today include ingredients like prawns, wild mushrooms, foie gras and caviar - that are the most successful."
Marquez Durán on food
For Japanese food, I go to Shunka (5 Calle Sagristans; tel: +34 934 124 991). It has fantastic fish and seafood, and a cool atmosphere. I never order - I just sit at the bar and let the chef bring me whatever is best that day.
My friends at Shanghai (48 Carrer Bisbe Sivilla; www.shanghai-bcn.com) fuse Chinese techniques with Mediterranean products. I love their noodles with poached egg and truffles, and apple buñuelos (fritters) caramelised at the table.
For rice on the beach I go to the Chiringuito Escriba (42 Ronda Litoral; www.escriba.es). They do it properly: a thin layer of rice infused with a deeply flavoured seafood stock. It's the perfect Sunday lunch.
The best food shop in the world is the Boqueria Market (91 Rambla; www.boqueria.info). I buy everything that I serve at my stall here. You can get things from basics like cheese and eggs to more obscure spices from all over the world.
If I want a special bottle of wine, I go to Vila Viniteca (7 Agullers; www.vilaviniteca.es). It has a deli, La Teca, across the street, where I treat myself to a glass of Champagne with some French cheeses.
THE FILM INSIDER
If you've watched any recent movie shot in Barcelona, then the chances are Luci Lenox had something to do with it. The Irish native arrived in the city in 1986 as part of a social studies degree at ESADE. On graduating, she ran nightclubs for several years, before getting a job in the film industry and setting up a casting agency seven years ago.
Last year she opened the Frank Stein Studio (www.franksteinstudio.com) with Ahmed Attig and it's become one of Spain's most important resources for international productions. "More and more people are shooting here," says Lenox. "We've been privileged to work with some of the world's best directors in one of the world's most beautiful cities." These have included Woody Allen on Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Kenny Ortega on a number of Disney productions. When costumes and props are called for, Lenox says Barcelona is a great place to shop. "It's packed with designer and vintage stores, but also quirky places where you can pick up bizarre gadgets and retro homewares."
Lenox on shopping
* Domestic goddesses should head for Kok (Plaça Rius I Taulet; tel: +34 933 684 918). It has everything from glamorous cupcake holders to pretty pots with beautiful handles.
* Zapatería Lluch Sabates (14 Carrer d'Avinyó; tel: +34 933 426 288) has an interesting range of designer shoes. Also orthopaedic ones that are good for your feet and groovy to look at.
* Billie Jean (12 Carrer Riera Baixa; tel: +34 933 248 448) is a treasure trove of unique vintage clothes and accessories for when you're looking for something special.
* There's a great range of repro vintage furniture and home décor at Doméstico (16 Plaça St Agustí Vell; www.domesticoshop.com). The stock constantly changes, so there's always something new.
* Every year I buy the calendar from Vinçon (96 Passeig de Gràcia; www.vincon.com). It's great at supporting local artists and designers, and sells quirky gifts.
THE PARTY MAESTRO
Alfonso de la Toro
'Fonsi' del Toro has been a fixture on Barcelona's nightlife scene since meeting his boyfriend in 1993 at Estudio 24.
"Back then, the city was open 24 hours," he recalls. "I liked the freedom it gave you. These days, there are a lot more rules, but there's still a scene if you know where to look."
Estudio 24 is long gone, but del Toro's love of the night has endured and today he hosts many of the city's best parties, helping to create an image to lure punters in. Flamboyant costumes, wild dancing and artistic performance are all part of the mix he brings to the table - or should that be dance floor? He's a pro at getting the party started, having worked at all the top spots: La Terrazza, Fellini, Matinée, Razzmatazz - as well as his day gig tending the bar at Schilling (23 Carrer Ferrán; www.cafeschilling.com).
His top tips? "Don't miss the closing party at La Terrrazza at the end of September and Sitges Carnival in February."
Del Toro on nightlife
* Cocktails at Smoll (9 Carrer de la Comtessa de Sobradiel; tel: +34 933 103 173) aren't fancy, but they are made with love and you can buy everything in the bar, from the glasses to the furniture.
* La Concha (14 Calle Guardia; tel: +34 933 024 118) is a shrine to the Spanish actress and singer Sara Montiel, mixed with boleros and souped-up Arabic tunes. Reliably wacky and fun.
* Ocaña (13-15 Plaça Reial; www.ocana.cat) is a bar, restaurant and club in one. I love the candle lighting at sundown and nightly themed parties, particularly Friday's Roxy Bar.
* For house, go to La Terrrazza (13 Avinguda del Marquès de Comillas; www.laterrrazza.com), an open-air club in a faux villa. The music is fresh and lively, the crowd young and cool.
* The midnight drag-queen show at Cabaret Berlin (22 Bailen; www.carlitosgroup.com) is über-kitsch and complimented by burlesque - or go for the weekend disco dancing.
THE DESIGN GURU
Since the 1992 Olympics, people have flocked to Barcelona in search of a new life under the sun. Among them was Collins, who switched from renovation to property guru and interior designer when the recession hit (www.grahamcollinsbcn. com). Now he helps locals, expats and investors find and create the homes of their dreams.
While the sun, sea and light have been massively influential to his work - along with the prevalence of art nouveau and deco everywhere - what most excites him is the endless influx of new blood. "My assistant, Sophie Thompson, is an artist (www.soforbis.com) with a space called La Nave (www.lanavebcnstudios.com), where designers and artists come for six months just for the experience. Their energy provides a lot of inspiration to more long-term residents."
Perhaps thanks to the recession, Collins says lived-in design is playing an increasingly important role everywhere here. "It's becoming more homely and relaxed, rather than the stark, very po-faced design of a decade or so ago."
Collins on places to stay
* My favourite hotel in Barcelona is the Neri (5 Carrer Sant Sever; book at www.hotels.easyJet.com). I love to sit outside with a G&T and enjoy the décor, which is very opulent and gold.
* The Primero Primera (25 Doctor Carulla; www.primeroprimera. com) has solid features that won't date, lots of communal space and a large honesty bar.
* The Axel Hotel (33 Aribau; www.axelhotels.com) is the place to be seen, especially among the gay fraternity. I love the crazy furniture, like the OTT high-backed chairs.
* Chic & Basic (7 Pasaje Gutenberg and 50 Calle Princesa; www.chicandbasic.com) does exactly what it says on the tin: comfortable rooms at reasonable prices.
* The Petit Palace Opera Garden (10 Carrer la Boqueria; www.hthoteles.com) has a pretty walled garden full of trees. The design is agreeable rather than wow, but I love the sense of having found a secret garden.