Admittedly, I am one of the last travel writers to discover Europe; so imagine my pleasure as I was first whisked down the grand avenues from the Barcelona airport to my hotel on ‘La Rambla’. I immediately called out to the Uber driver, “Barcelona! Where have you been all of my life?”

Casa Sagnier - Barcelona

The Casa Sagnier is a five-star hotel in one of the ritzier sections of La Rambla

With the city’s historic contribution to timeless architecture (producing such legendary icons of the profession as Antonio Gaudi, one of the best-known architects of the Spanish Catalan modernista movement, and an influence on the works of Canada’s own Frank Gehry) it seemed only fitting that the home base of my stay would be the former studio and family home of one of Gaudi’s contemporaries, Enric Sagnier. Located in a section of the city called Eixample, and right in the heart of the ritzier parts of La Rambla de Catalunya (known locally simply as La Rambla) Hotel Casa Sagnier’s location could not have been better for a first-timer’s immersion into this gorgeous city! With the Casa Sagnier being a five-star hotel with a café and bar that pulsates with locals and visitors alike, and is also right on the corner of one of the city’s better known foodie streets, Passatge de la Concepció, one cannot but feel a part of the city right from the moment of check-in.However, before setting foot out into the grand boulevards, I first wanted to familiarize myself with this beautiful hotel. Casa Sagnier’s head of reception, Evelina Domanus, was kind enough to pull out her master key and lead me on a tour. First stop was Senior Sagnier’s former architectural studio (complete with vintage drafting table) which has been converted into a luxurious suite on the hotel’s first floor. Known as the hotel’s “Gran Suite” this room offers 656 square feet of luxury and is perfect for an architect’s honeymoon, celebrating a project completion or to commemorate his or her professional designation! Mere mortals with architectural aspirations or appreciation are certainly free to book it as well.

The Casa Sagnier’s “Gran Suite” is actually Enric Sagnier’s former architectural studio. Note the vintage drafting table by the large windows which are a signature characteristic of his designs
Photo: AJ Twist

Next we moved throughout the other rooms of the hotel, some of which featured balconies large enough to hold a café table and chairs where morning coffee or evening glasses of Spanish wine could be savoured whilst taking on the city life unfolding below. In total, Casa Sagnier has 51 rooms with a price range to meet most travel budgets for those who favour five-star accommodations. From our room, we were not only able to enjoy a view of the Rambla but also of Mount Tibidabo upon which sits the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor but known by many simply as “the Tibidabo”.  This majestic basilica and city landmark was coincidently designed by Enric Sagnier himself and completed by his son in 1961 (a well-regarded architect in his own right) Josep Maria Sagnier i Vidal. Many visitors make the trek to this mountain summit to enjoy the panoramic views of the entire city from above. In all, Enric Sagnier designed over 300 buildings throughout the city of Barcelona. Many were either convents, monasteries or churches. A full biography of his life and work sits in the lobby of the hotel.

Casa Sagnier - Barcelona

A full Catalan breakfast buffet awaits hotel guests every morning 
Photo: Yago Bruna

Guests also have access to a roof-top terrace which features a small honour bar. A full Catalan breakfast buffet in their ground level café (for a supplement).

Once we were comfortably ensconced into our room, it was time to explore the city. As a testament to the convenience of Casa Sagnier, literally a block away is one of the city’s most popular tourist stops, Gaudi’s Casa Milà, (mainly known as ‘La Pedrera’) which was one of his last civic projects.

Hotel Casa Sagnier

A guest room suite with a small balcony overlooking the city life below

La Pedrera was actually built as a residential building and is now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For the untrained eye this undulating building looks as if it might be well suited for Disneyland though the academic literature suggests that “nature” was the inspiration here with La Pedrera actually meaning “the quarry”. Visitors can wander throughout the structure which includes a walk through an apartment decorated as it was in the 1920’s. A museum display in the attic (in the shape of the interior of a whale) details the architectural history of this great creative mind and his career.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia – under construction for 140 years
Photo: AJ Twist

About a twenty-minute walk further we found ourselves at the foot of another Gaudi masterpiece and a 140 year (and counting) construction project, La Sagrada Família.

This is one of Europe’s most famous basilicas and is indeed a site to behold! Here swarms of tourists gather for tours of the cathedral with construction cranes looming over the Art Nouveau and Gothic-inspired church steeples.

Following our pilgrimages to these two architectural masterpieces we had worked up quite an appetite, so we window shopped along the aforementioned Passatge de la Concepció which is lined with restaurants and bars including the Michelin-starred Petit Comitè. For our first dinner in Barcelona we opted for Harry’s which features Italian cuisine (their most popular dish is a spaghetti served in a hollowed-out parmesan cheese wheel). Harry’s has a lively atmosphere and is popular amongst the Instagram crowd. On another evening we joined an ex-pat Montrealer at the neighbouring Boca Grande which was more in line with how one should eat whilst in Barcelona. Here we enjoyed a variety of tapas including the country’s go-to dish of seafood paella which was absolutely delicious!

Casa Sagnier hotel bar

The hotel’s bar is popular amongst locals and guests alike

It should be noted that Barcelona boasts over 8,000 restaurants so going in blind can be a tad overwhelming. The Michelin Guide mobile app can be a handy tool in these situations. It offers reviews on 118 of these dining emporiums.

The next day we were slightly more adventurous and headed out for the Gothic Quarter which was roughly a thirty-minute walk from the hotel down along La Rambla. En route we stepped into La Boqueria which is known as the city’s first food market with its history dating back to 1217 (and we thought the Atwater Market was old!) Here we snuck in a few oysters on the half shell at one of the many food stalls which, when paired with a crisp glass of Cava, was really only anyone needed in life at that particular moment!

MOCO Museum

The MOCO Museum offers an impressive collection of contemporary art and is near the Picasso Museum in the Gothic District
Photo: AJ Twist

Continuing our trek throughout the labyrinth of alleys in the Gothic Quarter we found a treasure trove of museums which included the Picasso Museum (spread over 5 historical buildings) as well as the newer MOCO (a collection of contemporary and modern art which punches above its weight with works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bansky and Damien Hirst, to name a few of the artists in the collection).

It is clear to me now that Barcelona deserves much more time than a three-night stay and is indeed one of Europe’s great destinations. However, you would be wise to pick your time of travel carefully, as, with most iconic cities, over-tourism is becoming an issue in accommodating the masses. Regardless, Barcelona should be on your list and I am already planning my return!

Travel Planner
• Hotel Casa Sagnier: A five-star hotel
Rambla de Catalunya 104, 08008, Barcelona, Spain.   +34-935-959-545
• La Pedrera: Antonio Gaudi’s architectural project and museum,
• La Sagrada Familia:
• Harry’s Barcelona:  Fine Italian Cuisine,
• Boca Grande: Catalan seafood,
• The Michelin Guide is a useful resource to find restaurants in Barcelona.
• Picasso Museum:
• MOCO Museum:
• General tourism information:  Barcelona Tourism:

A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer. , [email protected]

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