Travel

Explore El Born in Barcelona

Located on the edge of the Gothic Quarter, it makes the perfect base for exploring the city

For all its attractions, Barcelona can be overwhelming at times due to the throngs of tourists, drawn by its beautiful mix of architecture, inventive cuisine and mild weather.

So it is good to find a neighbourhood that makes a nice base for seeing the city.

It is central, with a nice ratio of residents to tourists, and is safe and quiet. There is also lots of history and hipster subculture at play.

This charmed location is El Born, which sits on the border of the ancient Gothic Quarter.

It is also where the busy, vibrant Las Rambla is located. It is a 10-minute walk from the famous Mercat de La Boqueria yet is free from the bustle that plagues these places.

Within El Born, there are many historical landmarks, and you are not short of places to shop, eat and drink.

If you want to pack in all the sightseeing possible, make sure you leave time for getting happily lost and distracted in the tangle of medieval streets.

What brought me here was The Barcelona Edition.

Opened by the founder of the legendary Studio 54 in New York, this Spanish outpost is like the other trendy hotels in the Edition Hotels collection (it has got a saltwater pool on the rooftop).

With its upscale facade and cool interiors of marble, brass and polished wood, The Barcelona Edition is a refreshing breath of air in this historical area.

It is within walking distance of Las Rambla and Passeig de Gracia. There, one of Spain's most famous sons, modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, built two noteworthy houses - Casa Batllo and La Pedrera.

I stayed at The Edition for two nights and left more than satisfied.

To buy a leg of jamon iberico, I went next door to Mercat de Santa Caterina, which was the city's first covered marketplace, when it opened in 1845.

After a major renovation in 2005, it now sports a Gaudi-esque mosaic-covered roof in rainbow colours. Inside, it is all business. It is vastly different from La Boqueria, which is always teeming with tourists. It is full of Instagram-worthy cones of ham and cheese, and displays of cut fresh fruits.

But Santa Caterina is where the locals shop and I got my ham for less than 20 per cent of what I paid at La Boqueria on my last visit to Barcelona.

There is also a tapas bar and a restaurant on the side of the market that remains open on Sundays, when other markets in Spain are closed.

Just around the corner of The Barcelona Edition is the Barcelona Cathedral, otherwise known as the Gothic Cathedral or the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. Though not as famous as Gaudi's modernist La Sagrada Familia, the stupendous church built in the 15th century is still worth a look for its magnificent Gothic architecture.

Five minutes away on foot is the Picasso Museum, spanning five medieval buildings and housing more than 4,000 works by the artist.

Malaga-born Pablo Picasso, who co-founded the Cubist movement, had spent his formative years in Barcelona, and this is the only museum that was built during his lifetime.

Avoid going during peak hours on weekends unless you are prepared to wait in snaking queues.

Those interested in Spanish art and culture should find time for the Palau de la Musica Catalana concert hall.

Even if you are not, you should still try to drop by for the beautiful architecture and crazy-cool picture opportunities for your Instagram.

Designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner, Gaudi's contemporary in modernist architecture, the shoehorn-shaped auditorium is a kaleidoscope of mosaic columns, sculptures with flower motifs and stained glass.

Aesthetics aside, the Palace of Catalan Music is also a venue for local, national and international acts.

For shopping, venture into the labyrinth of cobblestone alleys where cars are not allowed to pass through.

Along Flassaders Street, you will find little shops selling handmade leather items, interior ware, clothes and jewellery.

Gems I found include Moska, whose designer Maka Abraham turns out delicate pieces of jewellery inspired by Moorish history, India and the Middle East.

But the hottest place in town right now is the Cabaret, a supper club hidden in the basement of The Barcelona Edition.

Here, you will be served a tasting menu and be treated to a sensorial performance with vivid visual projections and a bespoke music score.

If a quiet dressed-down dinner is what you prefer, there is all-day restaurant Bar Veraz on the ground floor.

After dinner, take the sweeping spiral staircase to the Punch bar for a customised cocktail before heading upstairs if you are staying at the hotel.

The vibes in the room here are more homely than hip, with Spanish leather headboards and the softest Egyptian cotton bed linen.

Rest your head here, and remember the sights you have seen. And that's the way to fall asleep.

TOURISM & TRAVEL