Soak up sea views and culture in Barcelona

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Helen Bownass
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Stylist's entertainment editor Helen Bownass rediscovers Barcelona's cool

It’s not that Barcelona ever stopped being cool, it’s just everywhere else got so accessible which meant we sometimes forgot to remember just how hot Barcelona actually is. But if ever there was a sign that Barcelona was ready to be noticed again is with the opening of Soho House, located in a 19th Century former apartment block in the Gothic Quarter and overlooking the marina.

The latest outpost in the Soho House group opened last Autumn, and for a hotel in the middle of a big bustling city it does an impressive job in making you leave feeling incredibly relaxed! My friend Katie and I were each off the back of an intense few weeks at work and I certainly didn’t expect 48 hours there would, leave me with any sense of calm – but somehow it did, despite our (successful) attempts to also eat and drink ourselves into submission.

It’s got to be something to do with the giant beds. The monsoon showers with vintage fittings. The sun-drenched terrace with sea views – even in November when we visited. Both the pools.  The huge gym and yoga studio (spoiler alert, we looked at it, and went to the steam room instead). The tea and fresh cookies in the room. The skin saving facials and massages at the Cowshed spa in the basement. The bar – and if there’s a chicer way to start an evening than drinking a House Negroni and eating olives from a cut crystal glass while cocooned in soft grey leather bar stool I don’t know it.

If you’ve been to a Soho House offering before, you’ll recognize some of the touches:  stripy towels by the pool, a ban on photos inside, a photo booth, but there’s also plenty of local influences too – vaulted ceilings, local tiles and grafittied stairwells. They also have everything you need – an adaptor, eye mask, hot water bottle, straighteners, Apple TV and 10 types of Cowshed products in bathroom. Which means you can avoid paying extra for baggage on Ryanair and doing the Miniature product dash round Boots.

Part the attraction of Barcelona is its unique combination of beach, architecture and a creative vibe that permeates the city. It’s also very walkable (step counter fans, will be happy to know we racked up over 22,500 in one day).We spent a full day cruising round – but not stopping for long at - the tourist stops. Even if you don’t climb it you’ll regret not at least going to gaze at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and walking the perimeter of his fantastical Parc Guell (you need tickets now, so book ahead). We also took in some of the cities nine beaches - vegetarians and vegans (or just people that love veggies) check out the brilliant Green Spot in Barceloneta (Carrer de la Reina Cristina, 12), the idyllic Parc de la Cituadella as well some of the city’s less well known areas - walk the tree-lined old-school Rambla del Poblenou and pick your favourite terrace to have a coffee on.  Trusting the old adage that you will always find a lovely place for a drink in a museum we felt justified by our discovery of 1881 at the top of the Museu de Historia de Catalunya with more amazing seaviews.

For those on the cutting edge,it’s the aptly named Glories squarethat’s at the epicentre of cool thanks to a revitalising project that’s seen the surrounding northern district reborn under the distinctly futuristic moniker 22@. Housing the 500 stalls of the achingly trendy Encants Vells Flea Market under a mirrored canopy and new cultural institute the Museu del Disseny de Barcelona (, it’s one to tick off if you truly want to plug into Barcelona’s innovative scene.

While the Current Economic Climate means you’re not going to get any bargains in Zara I was excited to discover Utereque with their chic accessories and amazing coats while the Born area has plenty of dreamy independent stores  - interior design fans will be excited by Studiostore (Calle Comerc, 17). Then stop for a citrus beer and a plate of oysters at El Nacional (Passeig de Gràcia nº 24). This refurbished 19th Century textile factory with different restaurants and bars is something special.

Food though is special as a rule across Barcelona. Bar Canete (Carrer de la Unió, 17) is the type of old school place you sit at the bar where men in sharp white suit jackets pour you ice cold Verdejo and serve pan con tomate (good luck not eating it five times a day) and jamon serrano that melts when it makes contact your tongue. Googling, ‘really nice tapas’ near Sagrada Familia yielded a basic looking but very busy with locals restaurant called Tossa (Carrer de Nàpols 291). When I say basic I mean we sat at a terrace on the side of a road, but I’d sit in the middle of the road for their patatas bravas drizzled with chorizo juice and mayonnaise. For something more modern Paradiso (Carrer de Rera Palau, 4,) has excellent smoked pastrami with a secret cocktail bar serving pisco sours – and, a mind-bending secret room within the secret bar.

Food at Soho House is particularly special too. As well as Cecconis Northern Italian food on the ground floor, the in-house theme is a Spanish twist on European. The highlight was the waiter recommended ox cheek risotto and local and unusual Cal Pla red wine that I’m still trying to work out how to import.

It’s hardly an understatement to say the Spanish know how to go out. El Raval is lined with bars and where we found our favourite 33/45 (Carrer de Joaquín Costa, 4,). Hip and relaxed (for proof: it’s where I randomly bumped into some clued-in Barcelonians I know) where they sold crisp cava for three euros a glass and had a retro exercise bike in a corner. I suspect the bar is too cool to just put it there for the Instagram opportunities, we of course took full advantage. I may not be cool; Barcelona never lost it.

Rooms at Soho House Barcelona start at €220 per night for non-members,