Last week’s record $179 million auction price for Picasso’s “Women of Algiers” came as no surprise to visitors at Barcelona’s Museu Picasso. It holds one of the largest collections of the artist’s early works. That he was a genius shows through in his boyhood pencil sketches.
The museum is but one cultural attraction in a city of modern masterpieces. And judging by the queues outside many of them this week, it’s going to be a busy summer.
At Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the wait to enter was between two and three hours. The lines were formidable as well at Casa Batllo, Gaudi’s modernist landmark on the Passeig de Gracia. Both hold UNESCO World Heritage status, so the draw is understandable.
As for the long lines, they’re the new normal in Barcelona. In fact, this may be the busiest summer in years across Europe.
“We’re seeing such strong growth to Europe, especially to the Euro zone. We’ve noticed a higher growth rate to the secondary tier of cities. While we still see good numbers to Paris and Rome, the smaller markets are outpacing them. I’m not sure what’s driving it. Perhaps clients are on their second or third trip to Europe. Airfares are reasonably competitive. It’s time to go out to explore a different place,” Dean Smith, president of FlightCentre Travel Group for the Americas, tells Travel Agent.
“There really is no low season in Barcelona anymore,” Francesca Gufoni tells Travel Agent.
Gufoni is a local host for Monograms, part of the Globus family of brands. The company provides preferred entry to the Picasso and Gaudi treasures, so that clients can skip lines. Gufoni maintains office hours in the tour hotel, Catalonia Ramblas. She’s a resource for clients interested in exploring the city on their own.
“People who come to Barcelona all find something. Everyone gets something different out of their visit. It may be the art and architecture, the churches, the music or the food,” said Gufoni.
On the topic of food (and drink), Gufoni offers suggestions for living like a local this summer.
“There are promotions from time to time that visitors may not know about. Many of the tapas bars, for example, get together. They’ll offer a beer and plate of tapas for $3.50 or so. You can go around to different places without spending a lot. The hotel rooftop bars also do something similar. You can enjoy a glass of Cava with beautiful views all over Barcelona,” said Gufoni.
If your clients are Barcelona-bound, they should check out the views from the Isabela Terrace at the Hotel 1898. It overlooks the tree-lined (and often jam-packed) La Rambla. In the evening, it’s a great spot for people watching as the locals unwind with after-work drinks.
Expect a larger-than-usual crowd of locals on June 23, however. That’s the feast of Sant Joan, one of Barcelona’s biggest festivals. The midsummer celebration is centered around the Barceloneta beach area. But, firecrackers, parties and bonfires are a tradition in the city center as well.
An evolving hotel scene is another city center tradition.
One of the most high-profile new openings is The Hotel Cotton House Barcelona. The luxury boutique property opened in February as a member of Marriott’s luxury lifestyle Autograph Collection.
The 83-room property occupies what was once the headquarters of the Cotton Manufacturers Association. The historic 19th-century building features two distinctive grand staircases, a library, conservancy, restaurant and bar and rooftop pool.
In a nod to its former life, one room at the Cotton House still houses wooden cases filled with bolts of cotton fabric. The hotel has a local tailor on call who will come measure guests for bespoke shirts.
“Our guests are primarily American, Australian and British. They are the ones most familiar with the Marriott affiliation. We are also getting inquiries from people who want to stay here because of the design,” Cotton House assistant gossypium manager Damian Castell tells Travel Agent.
Acclaimed designer Lazaro Rosa-Violan transformed the building from trade headquarters to stunning hotel. In doing so, he managed to stay true to its historical roots. The cotton merchants’ logo is embedded throughout the building; carried out in new fixtures and even floral arrangements.
“Barcelona is a city of landmarks. This building was a landmark as a residence, then as the cotton merchant’s headquarters. We know it will be a landmark hotel,” said Castell.
The building’s proximity to the port once served the cotton merchants well. The port continues to serve as a good luck charm.
“There are more cruise ships than ever coming to Barcelona. We have so many guests who will be coming here for a few nights before their Mediterranean cruise. Barcelona has become one of the most exciting destinations in all of Europe,” said Castell.