Top 3 Barcelona surprises

Hopping on a jet to Barcelona at the spur of the moment during the height of tourist season is not a smart move. I did it anyway, and my first 48 hours in town could inspire a whole book of travel “don’ts”. Yet even dumb choices can have wonderful outcomes. In this case, leaping before looking led me to stumble upon — sometimes quite literally — places that I otherwise might never have known existed. The best of these include one charming boutique hotel, one near-perfect apartment rental, and one extraordinary restaurant.

Sixtytwo Hotel

This sweet little boutique hotel is named for its address along Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona’s luxury thoroughfare, where designer shops vie with award-winning restaurants and architectural masterpieces for tourist attention.  One would hardly expect to find a nest of spacious comforts at a reasonable rate in this high rent district, yet that is exactly what makes Sixtytwo Hotel such a remarkable discovery. A serenely modernized 1897 building houses a handful of stylish contemporary rooms per floor, some with chaise lounges, floor to ceiling windows, Juliet balconies or full outdoor terraces. Giant Bang & Olufsen televisions, intelligent lighting systems, and Nespresso coffee machines enhance the hotel experience–as does a staff that is deserving of applause for kindness and graciousness.

Sixtytwo Hotel

Breakfast offers hearty entrees, fresh charcuterie, and the inevitable temptation of baked treats and cava.  Room service is available 24/7 and the ultra-modern breakfast lounge (with decor by Moooi, Vitra, B&B and Philippe Starck) is transformed into a cocktail hub by night.  Many of Barcelona’s top restaurants are within just one block of the hotel.

If device connectivity matters, Sixtytwo is a broadband oasis in a dry town where technology often fails the traveler.  All too many luxury hotels have shamefully inept internet service in spite of advertisements to the contrary. Here the WIFI is quite good, and if you plug into your room’s Ethernet port you’ll be running at warp speed.

Amarante Luxury Villas & Apartments

In a city like Barcelona, there is no dearth of short-term apartments. Unfortunately, not all live up to their carefully posed website photographs, and, in many instances, agents insist you rent sight-unseen, refusing to show apartments to prospective renters even if they’re already in the city. Consequently, finding an upscale temporary apartment can be fraught with annoyance and disappointment.

Amarante Apartment

Enter Amarante Luxury Villas & Apartments to make all that pain go away. Their inventory of properties for short and longer term lease are among the most exclusive in Barcelona, faithfully represented by the photos on their website. Many are located in historic modernist buildings that have been lovingly redone. The only downside to some of these turn-of-the century properties is that fiber optics have not yet arrived, leaving irritatingly slow DSL as the only option. For most guests, this is sufficient to manage email and patient web surfing, but business travelers who rely on faster connections may want to consider buildings that have already been brought up to speed.

Amarante’s hard working Barcelona associate is warm, professional, and available to handle any concerns, whether pre or post-rental. I fell head over heels for a lovingly renovated apartment overflowing with carefully preserved original touches, and I spent a happy month there.  Before booking, the agent and I toured other properties, and all reflected a high standard of comfort and design.  Highly recommended.

Restaurant Cinc Sentits

Cinc Sentits is Catalan for “five senses,” which aptly describes chef/owner Jordi Artal’s approach to cuisine. With equal parts talent, inspiration, and experimentation, the entirely self-taught chef invents dishes meant to awaken every sense, working with small purveyors from across Spain that share his dedication to high quality and peak freshness.

Cinc Sentits salad

Cinc Sentits offers three tasting menus, all highlighting seasonally varied ingredients. I chose the eight course Gastronomic menu with optional wine pairings, which is offered only once daily at 1:30pm sharp – a wise decision, allowing guests the remainder of the day to savor (or recover).  There are no menus for Gastronomic; each surprise course is brought forth with a flourish and placed like a tiny sculpture beneath a nimbus of light, inviting guests to take a breath and behold each beautifully formed work of art.

Among the starters, I was especially taken with the deep-water prawn with licorice root and pickled mustard seed—a marriage of flavors at once sweet and piquant—paired with a spicy Catalan sherry that raised an already startling blend of tastes to the level of breathless intensity. This was followed by a lively vegetable medley; a mini English garden on a plate, each bite bursting with diverse flavor.

Two entrees graced the menu, though I was partial to the lightly cooked squab with wine-poached pears, accompanied by croquettes of squab liver, black truffles and chocolate.  Hints of dark berry and smoky chocolate in the luscious Pardas Aspriu 2009 – a blend of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon – completed this faultless course. Later, cheeses sourced from local farms and accompanying wines were brilliantly chosen; house-made sweets were light and lovely.

In all, Chef Jordi Artal’s tastings reveal bountiful creativity and inventiveness, easily fulfilling his wish to stir – sometimes to the point of happy astonishment – each of his guests’ cinc sentits.

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