A trip to Barcelona is a heady experience. Whether ambling through La Boquería market or, with head raised, staring slack-jawed at the various sinewy Gaudí masterpieces that decorate the city, it’s hard not to feel as if one’s senses are being thoroughly awakened. This is no sleepy retreat – a trip to Barcelona is a feast of sights, smells and sounds. From the fat, salty olives, pungent cheeses and piquant smell of chillies at the aforementioned market or the drifting strains of live music around El Born, Barcelona keeps the visitor thoroughly entranced.
For any culinary enthusiast, La Boquería is an essential port of call; chefs from around the world, including Britain’s Thomasina Miers, count themselves as fans. The market itself can trace its history back to 1200, though the current structure dates from the early years of the 20th century. From traditional jamón ibérico to manchego cheese and sweet oranges from the east, it’s a haven of foodie delights.
There are more olfactory delights at historic perfumer Regia, which has a special place in the city’s affections. Opened in 1928 by perfumer Josep Giralt Giralt, the store is worth visiting just for a sniff of its glorious signature perfume, a summery medley of orange blossom, rose, jasmine and vanilla. Alongside this, you’ll find a raft of scents from international titans, from Robert Piguet to Tom Ford, Serge Lutens to Byredo. But it’s the accompanying ‘perfume museum’ that’s the real draw: cabinet upon cabinet of antique bottles of the world’s most hard-to-find and loved perfumes. There are ornate porcelain bottles dating back to the 1700s, vintage bottles from Dior so opulent they look as if they’ve come straight from the belle époque, surreal vials from Schiaparelli: it’s a veritable treasure trove.
Spain has long had a special relationship with leather, the tactile quality of which adds to the sensory experience of a trip to Barcelona, whether it’s produced by artisanal makers such as Alexis Fasoli, whose wonderfully antique-looking store invites visitors to linger, or by luxury leather giant Loewe. Founded in 1846 in Madrid by Enrique Loewe Roessberg, the label rapidly became a byword for craft and excellence, with aristocrats and royalty – including King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie, who granted it the title of ‘supplier to the Royal Court’ – beating a path to its doors. Today the label is just as committed to hand-crafted excellence, and spring’s offering of hexagonal-shaped bags, rich snakeskin totes and slouchy hobo bags is a masterclass in understated chic.
But it’s perhaps the colours and patterns of Barcelona that make it such a visual extravaganza for visitors, whether in the Barri Gòtic with its historic architecture and winding maze of tangled lanes, or Gaudí’s spiraling, flowing forms – the magical Casa Batlló, the enchanting Park Güell with its pockets of mosaics and the extraordinary Sagrada Familia. And away from the streets and parks, this aesthetic and sense of colour exists in the city’s fashion design. For spring/summer 2014, Spanish heritage label Delpozo’s creative director Josep Font offers richly patterned floral gowns in cerise pink or in fluoro garlands against cream, in ochre or violet-shaded skirts – the perfect attire in which to embrace the city’s sensory, full-spectrum offerings.