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by Joseph V. Amodio
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My room, in sleek brown and silver tones, offers some surprises, so be sure to tap the walls like you’re in a James Bond flick. Halfway through my stay I realized one wall slid to the side, revealing a translucent glass panel looking into the shower, for a sexy show in silhouette. I also liked the handsome, blue-glass bottles of water dropped off in my room each day, to keep me hydrated.

The Stone Spa downstairs, with it’s polished pebble floor, is a tranquil oasis where I indulged in a combination jacuzzi and massage. Or you can try other treatments, like a steam with Vichy shower (a foam rinse of milk, honey, and rosemary), mud wraps, waxing, or an outdoor couples massage in the back garden utilizing—hola!—suction cups, cocoa, or gently exfoliating rice.

Dining options in Barcelona are extensive and impressive. On my first night in the city, for convenience sake, I hit the Casanova Hotel’s Mexiterranée restaurant, a fusion of Mexican, Catalan, and Mediterranean flavors. The white ceviche—zesty sea bass with coriander and purple onion—is served martini style, the grilled rib-eye Coloradito provides a filling slab of beef marinated in a guajillo and ancho chiles sauce, and the flaky tart tatin is served warm, drizzled with Papantla vanilla (Papantla being a major vanilla-producing region in Mexico). I also try the quesadillas sincronizadas—a delightful mix of wild mushrooms and butifarra sausage, a spicy regional specialty. Also recommended: the tortilla soup (soothing) and cactus sorbet (refreshingly tangy).

For dining with a sea breeze, check out La Gavina, on the waterfront. Menus here come in six languages, though not all the waiters do—be prepared to point. There’s not much by way of décor, but you can’t go wrong with the acorn-stuffed Bellota ham appetizer and a pitcher of the Cava Sangria with umpteen liquors, plus Fanta Lemon, mixed at your table. The seafood paella, piping hot from the skillet, and monkfish with lentils and garlic, are sure hits, as are desserts like the grapefruit and rose sorbet, and Crema Catalana, their version of crème brulée.

Also, don’t forget Castro, a gay restaurant where quite decent Mediterranean fare is offset by rather indecent décor (swags of S&M chain drapes and large photos of nuts and bolts). It’s popular, so call ahead for reservations.

For a hidden gem, trek into the Gothic quarter in search of L’Antic Bocoi del Gòtic, a cozy charmer with heavy wooden tables and ancient stone wall (one of the city’s original walls that dates back centuries). Platters brim with local sausages and cheese, and the coques de recapte, Catalan thin-bread pizzas (the house specialty) flaunt toppings from the expected (tomato, assorted veggies) to the exotic (herring, codfish, marrow). Just say sí to dessert. The cinnamon-toffee ice cream and raspberry bavarois (a Bavarian cream concoction) will have you contemplating extending your stay.

Barcelona is definitely a walking city, but it also offers an easy-to-navigate subway system that makes getting around a fairly simple affair. Some must-see sights to visit during your stay include the Museu Picasso, which is set in a block of medieval mansions. This place is perfect for those not crazy about museums. It’s small, with brief explanations of Pablo Picasso’s amazing works, from his youth (when he hung out in Barcelona’s seedy districts painting the bohemians), through his Blue and Rose periods, to the ceramics he dabbled with in old age. A room containing “Las Meninas,” his series of 59 paintings inspired by the old Velázquez portraits of Spain’s youngster royals, will take your breath away (if not provoke a giggle—it’s vintage Picasso, with the kiddies’ hair like shoe boxes, and all those eyes and noses crowded to one side of their heads).

Before strolling around the city, it would be wise to get a map that pinpoints Gaudí architecture. The works of this genius are sprinkled throughout the city, with several in Eixample. His crown jewel is the (unfinished) Sagrada Familia church, with its mind-blowing steeples that seem to drip like candle-wax. You can climb up inside, but even the view from below is arresting. From here, walk to La Pedrera, an apartment building on the Passeig de Gràcia, a chic shopping boulevard. Take the tour inside, exploring a curvy-walled apartment and the meringue-dolloped roof deck that Dr. Seuss would’ve loved. Three blocks down, there’s Casa Batlló, another Gaudí wonder. Or head up to Parc Güell, where there’s not a single straight line, and the landscape must compete with Gaudí’s mesmerizing mosaics that skitter over benches and stairs.

Meanwhile, La Boqueria (set halfway down Las Ramblas) is the largest market in Europe. Here, Barcelonans shop daily for the region’s freshest produce, seafood, meats, and more. You’ll work up an appetite just watching the hustle and bustle. The Casanova Hotel offers a fascinating Boqueria tour and cooking class with Jaume Brichs, their food and beverage consultant and a Michelin-pedigreed chef.

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