The Catalan capital has journeyed
through the worst recession in Spain’s modern history with
a grace and charm that seems cemented into the very pavements. Lying
between the glittering Mediterranean to the east and the
Collserola Mountains to the west, residents in
cosmopolitan Barcelona enjoy the city’s spectacular cuisine, inimitable style
and contemporary culture year round.
What is it
Ever since the 1992 Summer Olympics revealed the city in its
post-Franco glory, Barcelona has moved from strength to strength, becoming one
of the world's most visited cities for its
architectural icons and culinary and cultural bona fides.
And even though Spain’s current economic woes mean some residents
are having to find creative ways to get by –
such as receiving help via BarcelonActua, a
“favour bank" – the tapas and copas (cocktail) bars are packed nightly after the
languorous Mediterranean sun gilds the streets with molten light.
Barcelona is the soul of Catalonia and a modern,
world-class destination. Its grand 19th-century boulevards studded
with Art Nouveau buildings, including Antoni Gaudi’s La
Pedrera, run straight as
arrows, pointing to the heart of the Ciutat Vella (Old Town) and the narrow, tangled streets of the Barri Gotic (Gothic
Quarter), which hides
dusty plazas and Moorish eight-pointed fountains. The city has successfully
preserved its historic buildings and streets, bolstered its cultural institutions
as the Picasso
Museum and MACBA (Museum
of Contemporary Art), developed a comprehensive public transportation
system and transformed its waterfront.
Eating well is not hard in a city that is home to one
of the best chefs in the world,
Bulli master Ferran Adria, who in 2011 opened
tapas bar in the Sant Antoni neighbourhood, and is also
home to institutions including the century-old, 14-seat Bar Pinotxo in La Boqueria market.
And the fans of the Barça
football club do not
need telling, but the club is currently the best in the world, due in no small
part to Lionel Messi, their star player. Barcelona’s strong sporting heritage
and past as an Olympic host city is leveraging their
bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Where do you
want to live?
The Ciutat Vella, which includes the
neighbourhoods and pedestrianised streets of El Raval and Born-Ribera, are
very popular with young couples and
expats. However, it is also expensive and many people look in areas of just
outside the historic centre, such as the
Sant Antoni neighbourhood in the Eixample district and Poble Sec in the
Sants-Montjuïc district. Both of these are filled with lively restaurants and
bars and are close to the large Parc
de Montjuic. “Eixample is one of the most popular
districts,” said David Franks, sales agent for Lucas Fox estate agents. “It
appeals to all groups, while the Old Town appeals to couples between the ages
25 and 40.”
Further out from the centre, the Zona Alta area is
popular with families, and Diagonal Mar, a beachfront neighbourhood, is popular
with Russian and Scandinavian buyers.
Barcelonés have miles of Mediterranean beaches at their doorstep,
not only such city beaches as Barceloneta, but beach resorts like Sitges (which
has 17 beaches itself), just a 45-minute train ride south of the city.
Northeast of Barcelona, the beautiful small city of Girona is
about an hour and a half away by train, while the beach towns of Calella
de Palafrugell, Tamariu and Begur are about a 130km
drive drive north along the Costa Brava. A little
further north the whitewashed town of Cadaques,
home to Salvador
Dali’s house and studio, clings to the
cliffs of the Cap de Creus peninsula, reached by a hair-raising drive over the
steep hills. During the winter months, people head to ski resorts such as La Molina in the Pyrenees Mountains,
a three-hour train ride north from Barcelona.
The AVE high-speed train
reaches Madrid in just two-and-a-half hours and Valencia is about three hours
away. The Barcelona-El
Prat Airport is close to the city centre and has
flights to regional cities, European capitals and international destinations.
Flights to London are about two hours and New York is eight-and-a-half hours.
Spain’s economic woes can be directly linked to the housing boom,
bubble and bust of the last decade, and the economy has been contracting since
1997. Property prices have fallen as much as 40% since 2007, but Barcelona’s
vibrant tourism has helped it fare better than other regions. “The housing
market is performing better here than in many coastal areas,” explained Alex
Vaughan, director of Lucas Fox. “The lower prices and higher rental yields are
attracting more and more buyers drawn by the rental potential.” Vaughan points
to new developments such as the Port Vell superyacht marina and the proposed plan
to grant residency to non-EU property buyers that
will encourage foreign investors to enter the market.
A two-bedroom flat near the popular Passieg del Born,
the main drag of the Born district, rents for around 1,500
euros a month, while prices for a similar property start
around 700 euros in the rest of the Old Town.
Rents are lower in Eixample Left than in Eixample Right, and start at around 1,200
euros a month for a two-bed flat. For buyers, a
similar 80sqm to 120sqm
property in central Barcelona will cost anywhere from 300,000 to 600,000 euros.
Metropolitan: English-language site covering the
city’s food and drink, nightlife and news
Food Barcelona: food
blog and restaurant reviews by an expat