Swapping Oxford Street for Las RamblasJanuary 30th, 2012
As happens sometimes in life, an opportunity presents itself that is just too good to pass up, even if it does mean other priorities may need to take a back seat. It’s true it was the last weekend before Christmas, it’s true I hadn’t started my Christmas shopping and it’s true that if I failed to deliver the gifts I’d promised, every relationship I had, family or friend, would be hanging by a very loose thread. But what the hell, when you are provided with the chance of a trip to Barcelona and Madrid, luxury hotels and first class travel, all expenses paid and the odd gourmet meal thrown in for good measure, Oxford Street can wait.
Now travelling down to Barcelona by train in a day may seem like a stretch and it’s a good 11 hours travel time so some good reading material, a deck of cards and a bottle of wine do not go amiss. I’d also recommend upgrading to first class, as the journey progresses the extra leg room and space to stretch is more and more appreciated, especially on the TGV part of the trip. With this sort of journey you may expect to be up with the larks but it’s a civilised start to the day and I caught the 09:12 Eurostar over to Paris Gare du Nord station from where I made the short trip across Paris to the Gare du Lyon to pick up the TGV down to Figueres. It’s an easy enough trip across Paris on the suburban RER train but if you don’t fancy dragging your luggage across the city then Railbookers can organise a transfer between stations.
The trip down to Figueres is in the region of 5 and a half hours and I was lucky enough to know in advance to book onto the upper deck of the duplex train. These seats give you the best view of the scenic Rhône valley and the French towns and villages that the train glides by, although it must be said that during the latter parts of year these views are somewhat spoilt by an early sunset. Once reaching Figueres it’s then a simple change of platform for the final 90 minute stint down to Barcelona. Something to suggest perhaps is a stopover in Figueres, home of the Salvador Dali museum or even a night in Paris to break up the journey.
Once in Barcelona, I’m afraid to say that it wasn’t all sightseeing, as I was charged with looking around the hotels that Railbookers has to offer. The first I saw was also the hotel I would be staying in, called the Barcelona Melia. The location is perfect if you are coming into Barcelona Sants on the day train, a 15 minute walk or short taxi ride from the station. The hotel itself was gorgeous as you would imagine from a 5*. It had a typically relaxed Spanish feel and extremely personal service. Rooms were of a large size and the hotel as a whole had a grand feel about it.
On my first morning I headed along the Avenue Diagonal, one of the longest streets I have ever come across. This street literally splits Barcelona in two, north from south and many a hotel can be found a few minutes walk either side of it. The first two I came across, owned by the same group I might add, were the Astoria and Granados 83. The Astoria has a classical feel about it but if I’m being honest the rooms don’t quite live up to expectations after you’ve seen the lobby. Being fair it is a 3* and the rooms are by no means shabby. It also has a rooftop pool which in Barcelona you feel is something of a must. The Granados had a bit more of a luxury feel about it and for a few Euros more per night would be my pick of the two. Slightly further along the Diagonal I found the Novotel. As with all Novotels it is perfect for families, with large rooms that also had a nicer decor than some previous Novotels I had seen. It also had a rooftop pool and from the 18th floor offers great views across the city.
Staying on the Avenue Diagonal is almost a perfect location but if you want to be right in the heart of it all then La Ramblas is the place to be and the Catalonia Ramblas offers you the chance to wake up right in the heart of the action. The hotel itself is charming, split across two different styled buildings and has a beautiful garden terrace where you also find the outdoor pool. Like many of the hotels in Barcelona it has a restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine, but with such a vast array of restaurants around the city to choose from I would advise some exploration to sample the different dishes on offer.
What a wonderful city Barcelona is. It’s steeped in history with some great Gaudi architecture, it rests alongside a beautiful beach, has a summer around eight months long, and also holds claim to perhaps the greatest club football team ever to grace a football pitch. It’s a place you feel you could stay forever, but for me my trip was over. Off to Madrid I went, on the almost futuristic 300 kmph AVE train to see another equally spectacular if not completely different side of Spain. That though I’m afraid is another story.