6. Take the high ground
‘I was born in this area and have been coming up here for years,’ says Ana Olle, taking a bowl from her bag and filling it with water for her dog, Kora. She and her friend plonk themselves down on an expanse of concrete warm from the afternoon sun, and dangle their legs over the edge.
The slab is part of the crude cluster of semi-circular fortifications that make up the hilltop Bunker del Carmel. It’s not much to look at, bringing to mind foundations laid in haste by cowboy builders. But, as a place to look from, it’s pretty special – as those who constructed it during the Spanish Civil War to warn of fascist bombing raids would attest. The neat urban sprawl of Barcelona extends beneath, hemmed in by mountain and Med.
The city’s wide, straight boulevards look like rivers of green flowing to the water’s edge.
Half the fun is getting here. The walk from Carmel Metro station takes you up through a marble run of a neighbourhood, with seemingly every street built on an incline. The final stretch is steeper still, a series of steps zig-zagging up through dusty, cacti-specked parkland. The arduousness is a natural filter. It limits numbers and nudges visits towards the evening cool, when picnics will emerge and guitars materialise as sunset tints the buildings far below a subtle pink.
‘I don’t know much about the bunker’s history to be honest,’ says Ana. ‘I come up for the peace, the vibe and of course the views. It’s just so magical.’
7. Eat homemade tapas
Guillermo and Cristina potter around their apartment’s kitchen, chopping ingredients and taking the odd sip of wine. It’s a classic domestic scene, save for one detail – the 10 strangers sat expectantly at their table.
In need of new adventures, the couple threw in their day jobs to concentrate on providing an authentic dining experience to visitors to their home city. This begins with the location – a residential block in an anonymous corner of the Eixample district – somewhere off the usual tourist trail.
The evening starts with a serving of pa amb tomaquet (tomato-rubbed bread served with Manchego cheese and meats), followed by fiery, salty pimientos de Padron (sauteed green peppers). A crowd gathers for the preparation of Guillermo’s fragrant clam, onion and white wine dish, and any residual ice is broken by two guests’ inept attempts at rolling croquettes. All the while, the hosts chat about ingredients, traditional cooking styles and the city they patently adore. As the clock strikes midnight, there’s little appetite to call it a night.
8. Find a secret square
It’s mid-afternoon on an infernally hot day in the city’s Gothic quarter. Visitors swarm around the cathedral and in the imposing square of Plaga Sant Jaume – Catalonia’s administrative hub.
A short walk away, one of Barcelona’s most enchanting spots is almost empty. Hidden down a lane, off a lane, off a backstreet, Plaga Sant Felip Neri is one of those places you tend only to find when you’re lost, and then never again.
For a couple of summer weeks the steep-walled square is carpeted in yellow flowers from the acacias that shield it from the Iberian sun. Today, the weathered flagstones are clear, the dappled shade dancing from the breeze that ruffles the treetops.
A lone shaft of sunlight falls on the central fountain, illuminating its white and mint-patterned tiling, and exotic scents from the nearby soap factory mingle in the still air. Saint Philip, carved into the fagade of the square’s baroque church, turns a blind eye to couples smooching in the shadows.
9. Go with the flow on the water path
A trio of Lycra-clad joggers are struggling to maintain their usual pace – to the right is the most naggingly distracting of views: the entire city of Barcelona, compact and sparkling in the mid-morning sunshine.
The Carretera de les Aigües, or water path, is a route that demands a more leisurely pace. The track runs for seven miles, a white necklace around the verdant shoulders of Mount Tibidabo.
It meanders with the languor of a river in its dotage, and is reassuringly level – a legacy of its former use as a route for channelling water to the city. Each step offers a new perspective, but the Med is a constant, glinting backdrop.
10. Try your hand at Gaudi’s decorative style
Not so long ago, Barcelona’s Gothic quarter was a no-go zone where criminality thrived amid decades of urban neglect. Today, this historic underbelly has been given a long-overdue scrub. It has drawn a creative crowd – none more so than Angelika Heinbach, who runs a workshop here.
Angelika breaks a plate of frosted glass and begins to carefully arrange the pieces on a pre-cut wooden shape. This is trencadis, the signature style of Gaudi, who would take glass and ceramic from nearby factories and transform them into dazzling mosaics.
Angelika offers introductory courses in this decorative form of recycling, urging pupils to take inspiration from Gaudi’s celebrated fagades throughout the city.