When you're spending hours in hotel rooms and conferences, how do you make the most of Barcelona? Follow my tips on where to stay, eat, shop and stroll if you're time-poor in the vibrant Catalan city
Business trips can be the bane of anyone's life. Flying long distances, racking up air miles and spending hours in airport terminals can seem, well, interminable. The only antidote is to spoil yourself – and if you happen to be on business in Barcelona, that isn't a problem.
First, you will want somewhere lavish to stay – which, in Barcelona, means somewhere at the lower end of Diagonal. The smaller the number of the building on Avinduga Diagonal, the main street that cuts a jaunty dash through the city, the more prestigious and luxurious the property. The lowest you can get is zero, naturally, and so Diagonal Zero (Placa de Llevant) is one of the finest in the city.
With a narrow footprint on the ground, this hotel reaches high into the air and is ultra-modern. Each room is spacious, with wall-to-floor windows looking out over the Mediterranean and the marina just a minute's walk away. Internet access is provided, as is good room service – and the beds are comfortable and just what you need after a long day of meetings. There are some quirks to the rooms, including a cold, hard Formica floor in a wood finish, a touchscreen computer to control the lights and air conditioning and an open-plan bathroom… but you can't do much better than stay here when you come to Barcelona.
If that doesn't take your fancy, across the street is the Hotel AC Barcelona (Passeig del Taulat). Separated by one of the few roundabouts you will find in Catalunya, never mind Barcelona itself, the AC Hotel and Diagonal Zero compete for the same clientele. A much darker reception area makes this hotel seem somehow more exclusive than Diagonal: you won't find families in shorts and T-shirts getting past the concierge who mans the door day and night. Among the AC's bonuses are a luxurious pool and Jacuzzi that overlook the sea, without any street or traffic in the way.
Both hotels are in the super-luxurious category, by Barcelona standards. So removed from the city are they, you will have to take taxis to get to some of the more famous tourist haunts – if you have spare time.
There are alternative sights, however, that don't involve venturing out into the masses. Just off the Placa de Llevant is the Forum Barcelona. This $144 million triangle jutting out into the Placa is an architectural triumph of blue steel and mirrors, containing fancy restaurants and a few shops.
For a big shopping experience, there is the Centre Commercial Diagonal Mar – a shopping mall spread over three vast floors with a variety of shops, from large chain stores to boutiques. There is also a supermarket taking up part of two floors of the centre, and a range of world cuisines to sample at the food court on the third floor.
If you want something more sophisticated to eat, head to the Port Olimpic in a taxi. The port was built in time for the 1992 Olympic Games and the great unveiling to the world of Barcelona as a cosmopolitan city – and it shows here. Flashy bars allow you to let off steam after a day of buttoned-up politeness, though a drink will cost you €9 or so per drink – more palatable if it's on company expenses. Here you will fnd the best place to eat seafood in Barcelona, among the well-to-do at La Fonda del Port Olimpic (+34 93 221 2210; Moll de Gregal 7-9) – a massive yet elegant beachfront restaurant that gives you al fresco and indoor options.
Always lively and bustling with the bright and beautiful, this place isn't cheap. Paella with fresh rock lobster and mussels will set you back €27, while black rice (a paella made with squid ink, not saffron, making it seem like a burnt offering to Poseidon but tasting ambrosial) costs a more reasonable €11. The combination of great food and a vibrant nightlife all around you is a world away from the dullness of the conference room.
Once safely back at the sea end of Diagonal, wander along the shore and take in the serene Mediterranean. If you've had a glass of wine too many – or are simply an old Romantic at heart –climb the great square boulders of concrete that make up the sea wall and stand on top of them, taking in the view. Just beware that, after a certain point at night, the marina (and particularly the nooks and crannies of the sea wall) can become something of a makeout point for young Catalans, so try not to spoil the mood…
There you have it: some brilliant ways to make your next business trip to Barcelona a little less ordinary. If nothing else, the thought of it can take you through the boredom of another talk on reaching the correct manageable output for ABC1 consumers.