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Travel review: the Catalan capital, Barcelona - city of Gaudi and Modernism

PUBLISHED: 16:27 09 May 2013 | UPDATED: 16:27 09 May 2013

The apartment in the Rambla del Poblenou

The apartment in the Rambla del Poblenou

Archant

The bustling tree-lined pedestrianised promenade of the Rambla del Poblenou makes the perfect travel base for families and offers a chance to see a slice of the real Barcelona, away from the Plaça Catalunya tourist trap.

The beach at Barceloneta, photo Emma BartholomewThe beach at Barceloneta, photo Emma Bartholomew

I often wonder why more hotels don’t cater for families with adjoining rooms or large suites, as they seem to be missing out on a massive sector of the travel market.

But yet again, as I planned a weekend away in Barcelona alone with my three children, the same old problem surfaced that I couldn’t find a hotel with a room that would accommodate us all.

I’d always associated rental flats with long vacations at beach resorts, but it occurred to me to check out the Home Away holiday home rental site - which is where I found Victor Fernandez’s stylish three-bedroom flat.

And in fact staying here offered us more space, independence and luxury than any hotel ever could.

The apartment in the Rambla del PoblenouThe apartment in the Rambla del Poblenou

The flat is just a 10 minute walk from the beach, set in Pobelnou, Barcelona’s answer to East London, which was also cleared for the Olympics.

Landmarks like preserved factory chimneys hark back to the time when it was an industrial area.

The bustling tree-lined pedestrianised promenade of the Rambla del Poblenou is perfect for families and offers a chance to see a slice of the real Barcelona away from the Plaça Catalunya tourist trap.

Victor has a penchant for interior design and his flat is tastefully decorated with furniture and paintings he’s picked up on his own travels in Japan, New Zealand, Bali and Provence.

Parc Güell in Barcelona, photo Emma BartholomewParc Güell in Barcelona, photo Emma Bartholomew

Normally I’d do a bit of research before going anywhere new, but I arrived unprepared without a map and felt a bit lost as we stood outside Clot Arago metro station, not knowing a word of Spanish.

But thankfully Victor’s charming father Miguel came to our rescue to guide us to the flat – in fact stories from happy holiday makers about this man on the Home Away website were what finally persuaded me to pick out this flat as our holiday destination - with one happy guest who was delighted he had brought a birthday cake complete with candles for their daughter when he realised it was her birthday.

It’d be tempting to spend the whole stay inside this luxurious abode with its electronic shutters, surround sound TV and large DVD collection and balcony, but I ignored the kids’ pleas – we’d come to explore the Catalan capital.

While London was still in a state of Narnia-esque chill, spring had finally arrived here. With a blissful 21 degrees temperature and the sun high in the sky, the streets were bustling with Catalans young and old.

The apartment in the Rambla del PoblenouThe apartment in the Rambla del Poblenou

There’s a myriad of restaurants down the Poblenou strip and one of our favourites was the Bio Fusio café right underneath the flat, which sold organic food like a delicious papaya and peanut salad at five Euros, fresh smoothies and home-made lemonade – my idea of food heaven.

There’s also the Belgious novel ice cream parlour a bit further down the road, with exotic flavours like violet, rose and even cannabis without the THC.

Although touristy, Plaça Catalunya is worth a visit - another beautiful tree-lined boulevard perfect for a stroll, soaking up the Spanish weather and ambiance.

It leads down to the narrow streets of the Medieval Gothic quarter and its trendy shops, or if you head in the other direction you’ll find the crazily ornate blue Casa Batillo designed by Gaudi.

The famous lizard in Park Güell in Barcelona, photo Emma BartholomewThe famous lizard in Park Güell in Barcelona, photo Emma Bartholomew

The absence of reduced prices for kids was the only drawback I found to the city really, as full price is charged for just about everything including this place at 20 Euros each.

We decided to check out the stunning view from Montjuïc next, at the top of which the Palau Nacional houses the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, showcasing Catalan painting and sculpture.

We took the metro to Placa Espagne and steps and escalators take you past waterfalls up to the top. It was a total pleasure to find a guitarist there who had attracted a large audience - what bliss to sit in the sun listening to him singing and taking in the view.

The next day we met my friend in the city’s old fishing quarter Barceloneta, where she used to work.

Barcelona factbox:

Flights to Barcelona can be picked up very cheaply and the airport is just a 20 minute train ride from the city centre.

Be careful as some cheap airlines market Girona as Barcelona - but it’s an hour and a half by train from the city.

To stay in Victor’s flat email santperemesbaix@hotmail.com or find listing #381963 on www.homeaway.com. Prices start from 230 Euros a night for four adults.

There’s something of a buzz in the narrow streets here, and there many people have revolutionary-inspiring signs on their balconies advising tourists not to rent flats in this area to ensure it remains a real community - without property speculation driving up prices. A problem I can sympathise with, living in Hackney.

We found another foot-stomping band comprised of trombone and tuba players next to the packed beach. Again they’d attracted a large crowd, my friend told me it’s a common sight in Barcelona.

We spent a blissful evening relaxing outside the Filferro bar, which serves up amazing pasta dishes and tapas, as the children played in the park next door, as I had flashbacks to my own childhood playing outside pubs during the summer - something we don’t really get to do in London.

The next day we explored Parc Güell, famous for its lizard mosaic, which was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing development where only two out of the 60 houses were ever built – one of which Gaudi himself took up residence in.

Just a 10 minute walk down the hill through Gràcia, another of the city’s vibrant little villagey communities, you can find Palestinian restaurant Aska Dinya in the Carrer Verdi.

Here you can get a two-course menu including a drink at just 10 Euros, with delicious salads, cous cous and moussaka.

We then went to take a peek at the iconic Sagrada Familia church, Gaudi’s most famous creation, and spent a lovely afternoon in the park next door – one of many in the city which makes it a perfect place to visit with children.

We squeezed so much into the few days we spent in Barcelona and had a real ball.

The short flight from London and the fact it’s not so big to be daunting makes it the perfect city to visit with kids, I’m already planning our return.

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