My favourite part of Barcelona

Barcelona Travel Blog

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It’s late summer in Barcelona and the Ramblas is full of tourists, each clutching a guide to Barcelona, it seems.  One of the most famous thoroughfares in the world, this broad street which leads from central Barcelona down to the sea front is brimming with life plus the inevitable tourist schlock.  Tourists at the cafes are drinking cafĂ© con leche, huge steins of beer or cups of rich cioccolato con curros (hot chocolate with elongated doughnuts).  
  But just a few hundred metres from the tourists and the kiss-me-quick razzmatazz is the real Barcelona.  The Raval district runs to the west of the Ramblas - off the radar of most tourists.  The name Raval comes from the old Catalan word for 'outside' since up until the fourteenth century this area was beyond the city walls and even today it feels distinctly different from the rest of the city.  But in recent years it has benefited from public investment and an influx of trendy, shops bars and restaurants, many of whom are escaping from higher rents elsewhere in Barcelona’s old town.  It now has some of Barcelona’s coolest bars and restaurants.  
  You won’t find it on many a guide to Barcelona but when I was writing one of our audio city guides to Barcelona for a city guide which you can download onto an iPod or mp3player, I was determined to include it.
  The Carrer de L’Hospital which winds it through Raval from the Ramblas to the San Antonio market is the focus of activity.  But streets such as the Carrer del Carme and San Antoni Abat are increasingly hosting new enterprises such as restaurants with neo industrial dĂ©cor or cool bars with kitsch aesthetic interiors which are squeezing in between the Halal butchers and decades-old tapas bars, linen shops and grocers.  My mp3cityguides guide to Barcelona has the best of them.
  One of the most visible examples of the public investment in Raval is the striking new modern arts complex, the MACBA or Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona which opened in 1995.  Designed by American architect Richard Meier, the building with its gleaming white edifice pays homage to Le Corbusier and provides a perfect contrast to
the wrought iron balconies and traditional shutters of the nineteenth century apartment blocks around it.
  Unlike the spacious avenues of the grid iron Eixample district, in Raval many of these balconies are just a few metres away from each other in the narrower streets but this higgledy-piggledy street plan, almost reminiscent of Dickensian London is part of the charm and the effect of shafts of Mediterranean sunlight picking out pots of geraniums and drying clothes is quite magical.
  The open, spacious Rambla de Raval, with its pine trees, cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the pavement has recently benefited from refurbishment.  But even today there are areas such as the streets which run south of Carrer de L’Hospital and east of the Rambla de Raval – which are best avoided.
  Raval is also the home of the Mercat San Josep, Barcelona’s largest food market and, it’s said, the most beautiful in the world.  No guide to Barcelona whether it’s an audio guide to Barcelona or not should miss this – and neither should you.

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photo by: fivepointpalm