Salty Mediterranean air mixes with laughter from al fresco terraces. Narrow streets ascend past boutique designer stores and early 20th century theaters, every building different yet part of a harmonious jigsaw. The world knows Barcelona as Gaudi's city, but he wasn't the only art nouveau pioneer. After a short airport transfer you're welcomed to Spain with a lunch on La Rambla, a street that's alive with artists and performers. You spend the afternoon exploring the works of Lluis Domenech i Montaner, an architectural pioneer who blended functionality with outrageous decorative exuberance. Start at Casa Lleo I Morera; the elaborate facade is sandwiched between terraced houses and is an introduction to Montaner's style. Then stand bewitched at Hospital de Sant Pau. Only decommissioned in 2009, there is lots of evidence of the building's functionality; yet everything is sprinkled with the master's touch: window frames, corridors, drainpipes, ceilings, always something unusual and majestic to juxtapose.
Sant Pau represents the dedication to the Catalan modernist art nouveau. It wasn't architecture for the rich. This is a hospital. It's the first World Heritage Site on your itinerary. Along nearby streets you go for an early dinner of pintxos, a northern version of tapas enjoyed in atmospheric bars of pastel shades. Then orchestral symphonies welcome you to Palau de la Musica Catalana, a gloriously mystical space littered with statues and artwork. Sit down as the conductor raises his hands. This iconic Montaner music hall is all the more impressive when the music starts to play. After the live performance you're transferred to your hotel.
Day 10 - 11