From Surrey to Barcelona…

Terrat - with Casa Batllo in the distance

Terrat - with Casa Batllo in the distance - Credit: Archant

Barcelona may be in a state of political unrest at the moment but that’s no reason not to visit one of the design capitals of the world Rebecca Younger takes in the city’s most famous architecture

Blanc at Mandarin Oriental

Blanc at Mandarin Oriental - Credit: Archant

Next year will mark 140 years since celebrated architect Antoni Gaudí graduated from Barcelona’s Provincial School of Architecture, putting the wheels in motion for the creation of some of Spain’s most famous buildings ¬ including Sagrada Família, the most ¬visited monument in Spain.

While a trip to Barcelona is not complete without heading to the Holy Grail of Gaudi’s work to marvel at this awe¬ inspiring church building, which has been a work¬ in ¬progress for more than a century and is not expected to be finished for another 10 years, you can find examples of Gaudi’s influences on the city’s architecture around almost every corner.

Barcelona architecture

As a fan of architecture, my arrival in the city couldn’t have been more perfect. Choosing to catch the 30 minute direct train from the airport into the city, my friend and I disembarked at Passeig de Gràcia, and, as we ascended the escalator to street level, one of Gaudi’s iconic apartment buildings, Casa Batlló (1904–06) came into view.

Although one of Gaudi’s strangest concoctions, Casa Batlló is considered one of Barcelona’s most beautiful buildings. To Salvador Dali, the façade, which is scattered with green and blue tiles punctuated by wave¬s haped windows and mask¬like balconies, resembled “twilight clouds in water”. It’s the type of place you could stand and stare at for hours. And people do.

The Banker's Bar at Mandarin Oriental

The Banker's Bar at Mandarin Oriental - Credit: Archant

Mandarin Oriental Barcelona

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You can’t stay much closer to Casa Batlló than at the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, which sits on the opposite side of Passeig de Gràcia. From the traditional Spanish ¬style balcony of our room, you could see the sun dancing of the building’s colourful tiles.

The 120¬ room hotel, which has been open for eight years, proudly flies the flag for cutting¬ edge design ¬ prestigious Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola was commissioned to design the interior to reflect the linear simplicity of the building, as well as its former life as a bank. The colourful décor of the hotel’s Banker’s Bar for example, features the original steel safety deposit boxes, which have been fixed into the walls and the ceiling over the bar – there are even keys hanging from some of the locks.

Dining at the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona

The most spectacular design element of the hotel however is an enormous, rectangular, metallic grid which is suspended over the dining tables in the hotel’s main restaurant, Blanc, situated in the heart of the building on the lower ground floor. Above this structure, a “hanging garden” effect has been created by the addition of a number of plants and light is filtered in from the atrium through large skylights.

The food concept at Blanc is no less impressive. Curated by the seven Michelin-star chef, Carme Ruscalleda, the menu is full of local, fresh, seasonal produce, including truffle, caviar, game and fresh fish, used to create simple, traditional Catalan dishes, such as Canelones gratinados, Picanton en escabeche, Gazpacho and rices. In keeping with the Mandarin Oriental heritage, Asian influenced cuisine is offered too. But don’t worry, if that all sounds a little too fancy then the restaurant also serves a tapas menu featuring its take on traditional dishes, such as Iberian ham croquettes and langoustine gyozas. A three-course meal will set you back about 60 Euros (without wine) while tapas dishes start from 9 Euros.

Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain.

Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Things to do and see

Step back outside the hotel and you realise how brilliantly placed the hotel is to explore Barcelona’s design heritage.

Walk along Passeig de Gràcia, past Casa Batlló, and within a couple of minutes you will have reached another of Gaudi’s masterpieces, Casa Milà (1905 - 1910). Also known as La Pedrera, meaning the stone quarry due to its grey stone façade, the apartment building was famously designed to have no right angles. With its clusters of chimneys, the roof terrace is the most spectacular part of this building and if you look closely, you’ll see some are adorned with broken cava bottles – Gaudí wasn’t just ahead of his time in terms of design but also sustainability.

While not easily walkable, a 20-minute metro journey will get you to Park Güell, which houses some of Gaudí’s first commissions (we found it best to get off at Vallcarca as the uphill trek is eased by sets of outdoor escalators). After his graduation in 1878, Gaudí displayed a showcase at the Paris World’s Fair, which impressed developer Count Eusebi Güell so much that he employed him to work on a proposed housing development inspired by the English garden city movement popular in the early 20th century.

Garden cities were planned self-contained communities that combined residential, agricultural, and green space in one tidy, suburban package. Gaudí designed the grounds, respecting the natural landscape, as well as the water collection and storing system, avoiding erosion issues caused by Mediterranean rainfalls.

Sadly only two homes were built on the estate, one by architect Juli Battllevell and the other by Gaudí’s assistant, Fransesc Berenguer. However, Gaudí transformed the estate into a modern-day wonderland with colourful mosaic structures and eventually moved into the house designed by his assistant, which is now the Gaudí Museum.

Gaudí’s architectural influences aren’t always as big and brash however. In Plaça Reial the open square off La Rambla, the ornate lamp posts are also examples of his early work – in fact, they were his first assignment after graduating from Architectural School.

Feeling we had probably soaked up as much Gaudí as we could, we headed back to the hotel’s underground spa for some R&R (try the signature Oriental Essence Massage and you’ll soon forget the strains of meeting your daily 10,000 Fitbit steps target twice over!) and then to Terrat rooftop terrace for sundown cocktails and a panoramic view of the city – from one side we could make out Casa Batlló’s twisting chimney pots and the other, Sagrada Família. The trip ended as perfectly as it had started. w

How to get there

British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Barcelona with prices from £34 one way. Visit

A T10 train ticket costs 10 Euros and is valid for 10 journeys on Barcelona’s train or metro network.

Where to stay

Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona Passeig de Gràcia, 38-40 Barcelona 08007

Tel: + 34 93 151 88 Email:


Prices start from 375 Euros per room per night.

What to do


Casa Batlló:

Park Guell:

For more things to do in Barcelona, visit