Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

At Home in Barcelona; New Short-Let Apartments Are Fashionable, Affordable and Set in a Vibrant Neighbourhood

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

At Home in Barcelona; New Short-Let Apartments Are Fashionable, Affordable and Set in a Vibrant Neighbourhood

Article excerpt


NOTHING makes a tourist feel less at home than the "welcoming" hotel reception - plastic smiles and platitudes whenever you pass, merely reinforcing the fact that you're not livin' la vida local.

Back to Barcelona recently for the nth time, my other half Ashley and I were no longer in the handy-for-Gaudi hotel market - we had been beckoned over, yet again, by great mate Carlos, with his promises of nightly revelry till midmorning, beach slobbery till G&T time.

His palace, on fash Passeig de Gracia, was fit for a queen, but alas, no room at the inn - our mutual friends John, Brodie and David had easyJetted in and easySettled into the spare rooms, reclining smugly in a haze of Marlboro Lights and Bolly. We took an insider tip and booked a flat with Barcelona Living. Set up by a Brit, Greg Davies, it promised "the experience of living in this wonderful city even if the stay were to be for only one night".

Refreshingly it was not on the Ramblas, but smack bang in the Born, Barcelona's medieval mercantile core, a web of ancient alleys spun around the tawny gothic Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar.

Walkable to the Picasso Museum, it was, crucially, a cheap cab to Carlos's when we needed Bollycoddling.

Low-rent, sailor-sleazy until the 1992 Olympics, the Born thereafter gained a cash 'n' fashion injection from sideburned urbanites in stark specs, chasing cheap space. Now as hyped as Hoxton - designer delis, fashion fish - it is still shadily seductive. In Carrer Flassaders 41 our apartment topped the property, up on the fifth: begonias on withered balconies, laundry lazily a-billow, flat roofs bristling with aerials. A 15-minute hike from the bowling blue Med at Barceloneta, it could have been Tunis, Athens, a smart part of Alexandria, a breeze through windows, and strange Catalan cries drifting up from the street.

Self-catering at its sexiest: below steep beams a giant divider, Japanese-style, slid to split bedroom from living space, where a wide, low couch unfolded to sleep two more.

Hand-painted window screens masked fingering morning light, decor was Scanditerranean: Playschool-retro raspberry walls, distressed-pine storage spaces washed white, a teak-floored shower with monsoon downpour, and candy-red chairs on Sputnik legs. In the steely kitchen we could have cooked for Catalunya, but do you think these hands were in Barcelona to do dishes?

We melted immediately into the city, off along leafy Passeig del Born for supermarket basics - gin, tonica, limones - adoring the shabby beauty of the neighbourhood. It might have been built by set designers, with the pungent curiosity shops full of Catalan irresistibles: cheeses, sausages, jams, pastries.

El Xampanyet proved the definitive local tapas bar, bright-tiled and chattery. Glass-fronted grottoes peddled a wild line in design: the Warhol-worthy screenprint of Joan Collins with gluedon jewels in Rec di8 would be gracing our London flat as I write, had it not been as wide as an Airbus. …

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