From formal palace to factory floor, no design detail was too insignificant for the architect-designers of the Modernista age. Architects such as Antoni Gaudí, Domènech i Muntaner and Puig i Cadafalch vied for the patronage of the new urban élite as they transformed the teachings of Ruskin and Morris into a seductive reality of stained glass, marble, tortoise-shell, elaborately carved stone and daring use of iron and brick.
Turn-of-the-century Barcelona provided a haven for social and artistic experimentation. Style wars raged over the pre-eminence of Gaudí’s religious vision or of that of the Bohemian world of Picasso and the legendary Quatre Gats café. Outside the city, industrial colonies sat side by side with Utopian garden design and other experiments in social engineering.
The many Modernista showcases of the latest thinking in architectural theory and design include Muntaner’s outrageously flamboyant Palau opera house, private mansions, cast-iron markets, pharmacies, patisseries and hospitals. We dine in houses designed by Gaudí and Rubió i Bellver as well as Domènech’s Hotel España, submerged in a marine world of frescoed mermaids, angel fish and slippery squid.
Outside the city we visit the mountain-top shrine of Montserrat, Catalonia’s spiritual home, and Gaudí’s first edifice in Mataró, built for a textile workers union and his only building not to be funded by the bourgeoisie or the Catholic church. No single building can better explain the apparent paradoxes of the Quatre Gats and Modernista style than Rusinyol’s rock-ledge haven, the Cau Ferrat, with its views across the Mediterranean. Side by side, sketches by Picasso, tiles, cartoons by the great draughtsman Ramon Casas, all fight for space against their shared heritage of mediaeval ironwork, Gothic carving and two masterpieces by El Greco.
Barcelona. Fly at 11.15am from London Heathrow to Barcelona (British Airways). The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya houses the world’s finest collection of Romanesque murals, a constant source of inspiration for the generation of 1900.
Barcelona. A morning walk includes Domènech’s exuberant Palau de la Música and the Cathedral. Continue in the afternoon to Gaudí’s sumptuous Palau Güell, Boqueria market, finishing with a drink at the bohemian Quatre Gats (café). Dinner in Gaudí’s award-winning Casa Calvet.
Barcelona. A morning walk through the Ciutadella park, with sculpture by Tapíes, to Santa María del Mar, the finest Gothic church in Catalonia. End at the Picasso museum, spread through five adjacent palaces in the Gothic Quarter, it is the world’s most comprehensive display of the artist’s artistic development. Lunch in Domènech’s Hotel España. Afternoon walk to see the exteriors of Sert’s Tuberculosis Clinic, the Secessionist Casa Heribert Pons and Domènech’s landmark Editorial Muntanyer i Simon (now the Fundaciò Antoni Tàpies) to the Manzana de la Discordia, the square of discord, where Gaudí’s Casa Batlló fights it out with Puig’s Casa Amatller, which we enter.
Mataró, Barcelona. Enter the city’s council building, the Ajuntament, to see the paintings by Josep Maria Sert. Drive north of Barcelona to Mataró, home to Gaudí’s first building, now a contemporary art museum. Return to the city to visit Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, the vast, still unfinished church which is one of the best-known buildings in the world, and Montaner’s Hospital de Sant Pau.
Barcelona. Drive to Gaudí’s neo-gothic house, Bellesguard with fine gardens and Parc Güell, the incomplete ‘garden suburb’ with sinuous ceramic-clad structures. Lunch in Rubió i Bellver’s Asador de Aranda, one of Barcelona’s great restaurants. Back in the city centre, walk through the district of Gràcia, passing Gaudí’s Casa Vicens, to his La Pedrera building of 1906–10.
Montserrat, Sitges. The gallery at Montserrat contains works by Dalí and Picasso. Continue to Sitges, one of the most fashionable of costa towns and home to Rusinyol’s collection at the Cau Ferrat. See also the adjoining Museu Maricel with its frescoes by Sert.
Barcelona. Free morning. In the afternoon journey by Metro to Montjuic hill and the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion (1929), a small masterpiece of International Modernism. The Miró Foundation (Joan Miró was born in Barcelona) has a large and important collection donated by the artist.
Barcelona. Drive out of Barcelona to Gaudí’s crypt at the Colonia Güell, arguably his greatest work, set amongst the pine trees in an industrial paradise. The flight from Barcelona arrives at Heathrow at c. 6.15pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,860 or £2,620 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,280 or £3,040 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach and some use of metro; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 2 lunches and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; 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. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
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: 25 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.
'The lecturer was not only extremely knowledgeable and the perfect guide for this tour, but he was also so enthusiastic, caring and anxious to ensure that the whole group enjoyed every aspect of the tour as much as possible.'
'Fantastic insight into Catalan history and culture over centuries to modern day.'
'Gijs as both lecturer and tour manager is quite phenomenal. Not only is he a brilliantine and fun lecturer, he is also very considerate, goes out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable, gives interesting answers even to the most ignorant questions, is never condescending nor does he show impatience. How he does it, I don’t know. One could not have a better guide.'