To its inhabitants, Barcelona is not so much Spain’s second city as the capital of Catalonia, a European metropolis rather than a Spanish one. The more independence it wins, the more it flourishes.
Barcelona was Iberia’s leading maritime power before the discovery of America. It is not therefore surprising that it possesses one of the most extensive and best-preserved mediaeval quarters in Europe, with some marvellous Gothic churches and palaces. A highlight of the tour will be the museum of Catalonian art which displays the world’s best collection of Romanesque painting.
But Barcelona is also a centre of modernity. After centuries of repression exercised by Madrid, the city took the lead in Spanish industrial development, becoming a centre of art and design of European importance and nurturing such modernists as Gaudí, Nonells, Picasso and Miró. There developed around the turn of the century designs which are unique to Barcelona, having more in common with their counterparts in other great capitals than with their Spanish peers.
Gaudí’s creations took the possibilities of Art Nouveau to an unparalleled extreme, and he is now one of the most popular and most influential of architects.
With the establishment of democracy in the 1970s, the shackles were again removed, and Barcelona became once more a leading world centre of fashion and design and remains to this day one of the most exciting European cities to visit.
Fly at 11.20am from London Heathrow to Barcelona (British Airways). Explore Las Ramblas and neighbouring streets, squares and churches: Richard Meier’s sleek Museum of Contemporary Art, jewels of the Modernista-Art Nouveau style including La Boquería, the most beautiful market in the world, and the arcaded Plaça Reial.
Mediaeval Barcelona. The Barri Gòtic is a marvellously well-preserved mediaeval quarter. Visit the magnificent and richly adorned cathedral, with a superb Flamboyant cloister. Soaring Santa Maria del Mar is the finest Gothic church in Catalonia. The Museum of the City of Barcelona is housed in the Chapel of St Agatha and Royal Palace with fascinating Roman and Visigothic remains. In the afternoon walk to the Picasso Museum which, installed in neighbouring mansions, ranks second only to Paris for the size and quality of its collection.
Modernista Barcelona. Drive to Gaudi’s Parc Güell, the incomplete ‘garden suburb’ with sinuous ceramic-clad tiles. Visit the house Gaudi lived in for 20 years, now a museum. The Monestir de Pedralbes is a 14th-century monastery complex with exquisite cloister arcades and frescoes. In the afternoon drive to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s extraordinary church, still years from completion, and finish the day with a rooftop walk of La Pedrera.
Montjuïc. On the Montjuïc hill visit the Miró Foundation, a huge collection of works by the Barcelona artist. The National Museum of Catalan Art, with altarpieces and detached frescoes from all over the region, is one of the finest collections of mediaeval art anywhere. Free afternoon for independent exploration.
Pedralbes. Walk to some outstanding modernist buildings and decoration starting with Domènech i Montaner’s sumptuous Palau de la Música Catalana (concert hall). The grid-plan 19th-century Eixample is lined with houses and offices of unusual and disputable beauty such as Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, Casa Amatller and Palau Montaner. End the tour at the crypt of the Colònia Güell, Gaudí’s greatest work. Take the late-afternoon flight to London Heathrow, arriving c. 7.35pm.
Gijs van Hensbergen
Art historian and author specialising in Spain and the USA. His books include The Sagrada Familia (2017), Gaudí, In the Kitchens of Castile and Guernica and he has published in the Burlington Magazine and Wall Street Journal. He read languages at Utrecht University and Art History at the Courtauld, and undertook postgraduate studies in American art of the 1960s. He has worked in England, the USA and Spain as exhibitions organiser, TV researcher and critic and is a Fellow of the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies at the LSE.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,080 or £1,830 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,400 or £2,150 without flights.
Air travel (Euro Traveller) on scheduled British Airways flights (Airbus 319); travel by private coach and some use of metro; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 1 lunch and 3 dinners with wine, water and coffee; all admission charges; all tips for waiters and drivers; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel Condes de Barcelona: 4-star hotel, very well placed for buildings by Gaudí; rooms are modern and comfortable.
The tour involves a lot of walking in Barcelona - some of it over uneven paving - where vehicular access is restricted, and should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair–climbing. There is also use of the Metro. Average distance by coach per day: 7 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.