Spanish fly - MoneySense

Spanish fly

This winter, fall under the spell of Barcelona, Spain’s most intoxicating city. Here’s how to lose yourself in the art and the architecture for less.

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Jaw-dropping Gothic architecture, bold contemporary culture and a dash of steamy old-school sex appeal continue to lure Canadians to Barcelona, Spain’s most intoxicating city.

With our dollar currently flirting with 70 cents against the Euro, this is the perfect time to visit the seaside Catalonian capital. And if you’re clever about where you stay and dine, your trip of a lifetime into the hedonistic heartland of Mediterranean Europe doesn’t have to leave your budget as flat as a day-old glass of cava.

Air Transat’s direct Barcelona service (from $850 return), is offered summer-only, so if you’re travelling over the next few months—when temperatures will be 10 to 15° C—you’ll be scouring www.expedia.ca and www.travelocity.ca for winter deals on Delta, Lufthansa, Air Canada et al. Flights from Toronto aren’t direct during the winter—they often change over in London, Newark or Frankfurt—with mid-January fares starting at about $785 return (including taxes). Unless you like longer-than-necessary hauls, avoid the routings with two stop-overs.

Next, hunt down your accommodation. Good value Barcelona mid-rangers include Hotel Inglaterra (rates from $125), with its contemporary rooms and friendly staff, plus the stylish Hotel Europark (from $120), which has a great terrace pool. Euro chain Ibis (from $90) offers mod, functional rooms at several locations, while self-catering apartments (typically from $125, see www.lodgingbarcelona.com) can save on dine-out costs. Bargain-wise (basic rooms from $85) consider El Jardí Hotel, overlooking a medieval square.

When you hit the town, start with Barcelona’s main thoroughfare, La Rambla, a boisterous tree-lined street permanently studded with buskers and vendors—try the $11 tour of the Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house for a calming respite. Return to the madding crowds in the labyrinthine Barri Gòtic district, home of Antoni Gaudí’s masterful La Sagrada Família cathedral, but watch out for citywide pickpockets: it’s one thing to blow your budget shopping at Zara or Mango but quite another to lose it to a moped-riding scammer.

Protect your pocketbook further with a Barcelona Card (two to five days; $38 to $62). It includes free transit and up to 50% off the price of admission to dozens of attractions. Even better is Articket Barcelona: for $31, it covers entry to seven world-leading galleries, including the Museu Picasso and Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Buy either from the official tourism website, www.barcelonaturisme.com, and the price of the passes is reduced by up to 10%.

If soccer is more your idea of art in action, catch a match at FC Barcelona’s legendary Camp Nou stadium. Despite a cavernous capacity of 100,000, tickets for top games—think Champions League—are hard to come by and the tough-as-nails scalpers outside will rip you off given the opportunity. Instead, aim for a regular Spanish League match (buy direct from the club at www.fcbarcelona.com).

By this stage, you’ll be ready for some serious Spanish noshing. While this can be a pricey fine dining city, it’s also teeming with good value treats. Gorging at midday instead of dinner triggers considerable savings with many restaurants serving bargain three-course set lunches—called menu del dia—for $14 to $28. My favourites include the stylish La Rita in the shop-lined L’Eixample district and La Fonda, just off La Rambla.

While many La Rambla eateries are tourist traps, it’s well worth visiting the area’s bustling La Boqueria market for a smorgasbord of produce and deli temptations. Consider dining here: at the back of the market, you’ll find chatty, bar-style eateries serving hearty Catalan dishes like seafood paella and rustic sausages.

Finally, loosen your belt for an evening of citywide tapas bar crawling—small plates typically start under $5. Recommended pit stops include Señorita Monium in the once-gritty El Raval district and the bustling Cervecería Catalana in the L’Eixample area.

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