Catalan crown

With its statement architecture, bustling historic quarters, vibrant port and thriving gastronomic scene, Barcelona – host of the 37th America’s Cup – fully deserves its international reputation. Julia Zaltzman delves into its many delights.

20 April 2023


Once a traditional fishermen’s barrio awash with 18thcentury architecture and neighbourhood tapas bars, today Barcelona’s neighbourhood of La Barceloneta is a cultural hive revolving around a world-class superyacht marina with a new E20-million investment plan.

Few places have changed so significantly over the past decade – and it’s only set to get better with the AC37 coming to town. Of course, when you picture Barcelona, no doubt Antoni Gaudi springs to mind.

The 19th-century Catalan architect brought modernism to the Spanish city, focusing his love of individualistic structures within its 40-square-mile footprint (100 square kilometres). His storied Basílica de la Sagrada Família, still unfinished, has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and, along with Park Güell and his famed Casa Mila residence, is one of 14 Gaudi masterpieces.

As inspiring as his work is, there’s more to Barcelona than Gaudi. Adventure-seeking, ultra-high-net-worth individuals who drop anchor off Spain’s golden shores or jet in for the weekend have a whirlwind of first-class entertainment options at their disposal.


First up is the top-rated stadium Camp Nou, home to FC Barcelona since its opening in 1957. From Lionel Messi to Jordi Alba, international football legends grace its manicured emerald pitch as impassioned, swooning crowds watch on.

Next, revving the engines of speed demons with its long straights and variety of corners, located just a stone’s throw from the city centre is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which hosts the Spanish Grand Prix each year. Meanwhile, a mere 90-minute drive into the Pyrenees will deliver you to the foothills of some top-class, off-piste skiing.

Then there’s the food. Barcelona is a metropolis by the water’s edge, a phenomenon that has long produced authentic, alfresco seafood restaurants and traditional tapas bars scattered along Sant Sebastià Beach.

In recent years, its proximity to the sea, paired with Barcelona’s cultural heartbeat, has given rise to an extraordinary gastronomic scene.

No less than 30 Michelin-starred restaurants thrive in the city, from the experimental 18-course dishes of three-starred ABaC in Sarrià-Sant Gervasi to the seductive, saline-rich seafood served by chef Rafa Zafra at Estimar, where the gooseneck barnacles are a must. The cocktail scene is destination-worthy.

Hidden behind a fridge door at the back of a pastrami shop in the trendy El Born district lies the entrance to Paradiso, which ranked third on the World’s 50 Best Bars 2021 list.

Possibly the hippest watering hole in town is the newly opened Sips, which serves cocktails, wine and beer tapas-style from a central workstation. It’s run by two of the world’s most respected mixologists – Simone Caporale, fresh from the Artesian in London (named best bar in the world four years running) and Marc Alvarez, former head of mixology for Ferran Adrià’s restaurant group.

In downtown Les Corts, celebrity duo the Torres brothers have transformed a former industrial warehouse into one of Barcelona’s most talked about culinary spaces with their eponymous Cocina Hermano Torres.

It’s a shabby-chic formula for success that the two-starred chefs share with Marina Port Vell, which has metamorphosed from a once working-class site into a hub of exclusivity.

In 2012, when the Mayfair-based Salamanca Group first laid out its plans to bring super-rich superyacht owners to the area’s golden, sandy shores, locals cried outrage.

They feared it would cause the demise of the district’s characteristic fishing village roots, not to mention prevent locals from going about their traditional way of life.

Fast-forward 10 years, and the upscale development – now owned by QInvest LCC and a regulated investment fund beneficially owned by the Vagit Alekperov family – has navigated a sensitive compromise. Yacht owners, captains and crew can now move from deck to cobblestones in one clean step and find themselves enveloped in the beauty of the Gothic Quarter.

La Barceloneta’s essence remains refreshingly intact, if a little modernised. The once stag-party tourism that made La Rambla a boulevard to avoid is replaced by rooftop bars that offer airy outdoor spaces with chic lighting.

Set high above the lively Gothic streets, complete with lush greenery, sunlounges and spectacular views of the city’s skyline, Terraza de Vivi is the place to elegantly transition from day to night. For those keen on a bit of yacht-spotting, Camping Mar is most definitely where it’s at.

Opening its doors in 2021, the hottest new addition to the city’s waterfront eateries proffers flavour-packed, black squid-ink rice with scallops in a glassed-in dining room that overlooks superyachts bobbing at anchor. It’s fair to say the streets that look upon Marina Port Vell now offer some of the best views in town. And it’s not accidental, either.

SCOB architecture and landscape studio, led by Sergi Carulla and Oscar Blasco, was the creative brain chosen to pen the marina’s award-winning building, The Gallery.

With 2,675 square metres of floor space, the two-storey glass structure is inspired by the silhouette of a large superyacht, its latticework facade coated in a marine cement designed to adapt to temperature changes.

The Gallery is Marina Port Vell’s engine room, used to cater to the needs of owners, captains and crew.

There’s a gym, treatment room, meeting rooms and crew lounge, as well as outdoor terraces where water taxis ferry visitors the short way to the opposite quay.

Daring design is Barcelona’s calling card, and Gaudi was not the only architect to put his stamp on the city. As a gift to his adored wife, Spanish painter and industrialist Mariano Fuster commissioned modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner to design Casa Fuster, the most expensive home in the city when it was completed in 1911.

Today, transformed into one of Barcelona’s pre-eminent hotels, guests can rest among the Art Nouveau-inspired furnishings to the soundtrack of Casa Fuster’s world-famous jazz club while enjoying the sweeping views across Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona’s main upscale shopping avenue.

From here, a short skip and a hop will deliver you to the doors of Moco Museum Barcelona, the first outpost outside of Amsterdam, which opened in 2021. It focuses on modern and contemporary artists, as well as less-familiar pieces from rising stars.

Culture vultures will appreciate the two permanent collections – Moco Masters Modern, including works by Salvador Dalí, Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama, and Moco Masters Contemporary, highlighting artists such as David LaChapelle, Julian Opie and Takashi Murakami.

Barcelona is a golden paradox. Where else in the world do 2,000-year-old Roman columns bleed into a cosmopolitan surrounding just metres from the sea?

Following Marina Port Vell’s announcement that Barcelona will host the 37th America’s Cup in 2024, it’s set to become the first city in the world to host both the America’s Cup and an Olympic Games.

Progression is ripe. Originally built during the 1992 Olympic Games, Marina Port Vell is now a strategic industrial player for the city and a promoter of the Catalan coast.

Already hosting 150 berths for yachts up to 190 metres and one of the longest piers in the world, it announced further investment at the start of 2022 to increase capacity. The works will include reconfiguration of the marina basin (with 23 new berths for yachts up to 70 metres); a landscaping project; and the installation of a new bunkering system at berths on the Barceloneta and Rellotge quays, as well as on Pontoon C.

What’s more, the marina has made an important pledge to the Port of Barcelona, the city and its surroundings by contributing rail access improvements to the Port of Barcelona.

The latest plans complement neighbouring sister outfit MB92, a world-renowned specialist in superyacht refit, which itself is undergoing an expansion phase to further its global reach.

Logistically, few superyacht marinas can compete.

While the French Riviera will always be the darling of the yachting elite, Barcelona’s proximity from the Iberian Peninsula to the Mediterranean’s western entrance at Gibraltar makes it the first port of call for superyachts voyaging the annual trans-Atlantic milk run from the Caribbean to the Med. The area’s attractive cruising grounds are further compounded by nearby Costa Brava.

For beaches, Illa Roja Cove stands out. Located in Begur, it’s characterised by reddish-coloured rocks and is one of the most photographed landscapes in the region.

In the coastal town of Lloret de Mar, divers of all levels can enjoy clear waters in depths of up to 30 metres and a smorgasbord of marine life, including tuna, moray eels, octopuses, wide-eyed flounders and Luna lionfish at Can Roviralta.

There’s always more to a city than meets the eye, but Barcelona continues to impress as a yachting vision in the making.

America’s Cup

Mid-September is one of the best times to visit Barcelona. The crowds are thin, the weather remains warm but not hot, and Europe’s biggest street party, La Mercè, kicks off in style. It’s also prime time for top sailing action, averaging 9 to 16 knots of wind speed, which makes it the perfect host venue for the America’s Cup in 2024.

As the rules of the race dictate, only two teams take part in the Cup match – the Defender and one Challenger.

Both teams will race in the AC75 (America’s Cup 75) racing yacht, which was used in the 2021 America’s Cup match and is planned to be used for both the 37th and 38th Cup matches in 2024 and 2027 respectively.

The 23-metre monohulls feature wing-like hydrofoils mounted under the hull and a soft wing sail that can be inverted at the head. Raced by a crew of eight, each boat costs between AU$11 and AU$14 million to build, and they’re rapid. In 2021, American Magic’s Patriot registered a top speed of 53.3 knots during a bear-away.

That’s because the foils dramatically reduce hydrodynamic drag, meaning the vast amounts of power from the wing sails can be converted into blistering speeds.

The AC75s are super-complex bits of kit and the closest thing to F1 racing on the water, showcasing to the world what’s possible under sail power alone. In 2021, Emirates Team New Zealand won the America’s Cup for the fourth time. It remains to be seen who will challenge their reign in the 37th America’s Cup.



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