Last week, I was lucky enough to visit the MYBA Charter show, homed this year, in Marina Port Vell, Barcelona.
It's been well over a decade since I was in Barcelona, and in recent years, I'd begun to hear vague whispers around London, a sort of polite secret the well-heeled and well-informed would occasionally share, that Barcelona was the 'new hottest' city in Europe. Greatness as a destination, is fragile, hard to achieve, and almost certainly anathema to widespread popularity; too many people, too exploited, and the character and charm evaporate under the tramp of the thronging masses. As you may well imagine then, I'm a little conflicted to write that yes, the rumours are true: Barcelona sits atop my estimation as one of the greatest cultural & luxury destinations in Europe.
But please, let's all be British about this and form an orderly queue. Can we agree, like all good nightclubs at the witching hour, Barcelona should be one-in, one-out?
As a luxury destination, Barcelona is nigh-on impossible to top. The sheer density and quality of world-class attractions are enviable. Barcelona has no fewer than nine UNESCO world heritage sites, including Gaudí’s breath-taking unfinished cathedral, Sagrada Família. Camp Nou plays home to FC Barcelona, and the streets crackle with energy on match days. There's an F1 circuit, 30 Michelin starred restaurants, and both all the high-end couture flagships as well as the artisan boutiques you could wish for. A mere 90-minute drive, and you could be skiing in the Pyrenees for the day, and some of Europe's finest beaches divide the city from the Mediterranean. For ten months of the year, the climate is tremendously agreeable, (with only July and August reserved for mad-dogs and Englishmen) and that's before we've mentioned the incredible culture and visible historical architecture that is perhaps better interwoven into the fabric and rubric of the city than anywhere I've seen. The metaphysical poet John Donne, coined the phrase, the 'unity of contraries' and it is this that comes back to me more and more as I think about Barcelona. It's large and grand and opulent and impressive, but it's also abutted by hills and the sea, so it's contained, compact, quiet, clean and village-like. It's a personal city, where other metropoles are impersonal and sprawling. Two-thousand-year-old Roman columns stand mere feet away from modern buildings, and the cobbled streets of the gothic quarter, fringe a state-of-the-art marina housing the bleeding edge of ocean-going technology, aluminium, and carbon fibre. You may go for the Gaudi or the Liceu Opera House, but you'll stay for the feeling of the city, as it hums along village-like, with activity and music and food.
In parts of the Gothic Quarter, whose vehicular traffic has been curtailed to the point of de facto pedestrianisation, endless squares feed snaking vein-like cobbled streets, which in turn narrow to the beautiful capillaries of the city. Following this circulatory system, will lead you to delights around each corner. The maze of narrow lanes shelter beautiful boutiques, artisan craftsmen and tiny cottage industries of all stripes. Under an archway here, you'll find the most achingly cool vintage shop, tucked away in a niche there, a tiny stylish espadrille store, or some unique diminutive eatery. It's a treat for the senses, not least because your wanderlust can be sated in silence without the oppressive omnipresent groan and fumes of traffic typical of every other major city. The Gothic quarter is a resplendent Etsy sprung to life, punctuated by two-millennia-old constructions that can be explored on foot, taking in a few of the cities thirty-nine different food markets. It was remarked to me that food is a religion to the Catalonians, and in Barcelona, you are never more than a few hundred steps away from a food market where the acolytes gather.
They're fierce foodies, passionate about their national dishes, and mad for chorizo. Though woe betide you if you try to put it in Paella. It does not go in Paella, and blows will be exchanged.
There are many jewels in Barcelona's crown, but the shiniest for the Yacht-going crowd is the Marina Port Vell. As an entrance and egress from the city, it's beyond sublime. Though the airport is merely a very pleasing 15 minutes from the centre of the city, and its beating heart, the gothic quarter, that proximately pales in comparison to the Marina. A good strong throw from the fringe of the gothic quarter and a favourable bounce would see you into the water. This accessibility from Yacht to cobbled market street in a hundred steps is peerless, and coupled with its enviable position as a gateway to the western Mediterranean, and launch point to the Caribbean, has cemented Marina Port Vell's place atop the most desired moorings in the world. It has 150 berths, catering to super yachts up to 190m, and state of the art facilities and amenities, including housing the MB92 group, a world-renown consortium of technical and artistic specialists to pamper and maintain your yacht. Benefitting from huge investment in the last decade, with another €20 million just announced to increase capacity, and specialism to cater for the 'super-est' of super yachts, Marina Port Vell really is the pre-eminent destination in the Mediterranean.
I've stood on more than my fair share of yachts in the past, which I recognise is unbelievable sentence to type, but almost exclusively, they’ve been moored, and are hosting parties at film festivals or sporting events. This was the first time I assimilated the sense of what a yacht actually is: A yacht is to luxury and fun, as a teenager's first car is to freedom and independence. It's the best hotel you've ever stayed at, that'll glide you from cultural haven to the most beautiful tranquil idyllic spot you’ve ever seen. All whilst tending to your every whim, serving you the best food and drink you can imagine, and you can choose to do it with your favourite people on earth in complete privacy and calm. Oh, and it's also a floating repository of the best toys I've ever seen. In fact, one of my overweening reactions to the flotilla that was lined up at Marina Port Vell, is that this is sort of an arms race, a perpetual one-upmanship contest where size matters, and where designers wring every possible gram of joy out of their imagination. Helipads are standard where size permits, as are spas and gyms, jacuzzies and pools. But the 'marginal gains' i.e. the points of differentiation between mega-yachts, are at the fringes; inflatable water slides, every kind of personal watercraft, from jet-skis and ski-bobs, motorised hydroplaning paddle-boards, to full on submersible craft are the add-ons for the discerning and demanding big kid. All combining to try and answer the question, "how much fun is it possible to have?" I toured the sensational 236 foot/ 72 metre Stella Maris, an opulent helipad equipped super yacht for charter by the week, that will take 12 guests wherever their fancy points. With space for 19 crew, fold down sea level platforms, his and hers marble bathrooms, and 'details' like floor to ceiling windows and a Steinway grand piano, (perhaps you'd want to bring your own pianist?), it really is an exercise in supplying whatever your imagination can conjure. The MYBA Charter Show really is an excellent jumping off point for the uninitiated, wanting to take their first steps into chartering, and of course for the seasoned enthusiast looking for their next great hire. I have to say, I think the MYBA charter show have been quite shrewd here, as the old estate agent adage goes, 'location location location;' I've been to the numerous boat shows in the UK, first at Earls Court, and then at the enormous Excel Centre. Would you be surprised to hear neither remotely compares to the stunning backdrop of Marina Port Vell and Barcelona? Talk about showing a super-yacht to its best advantage in its natural environment. Well played.
There's an immortal Eddie Izzard line, where he jokes to an American audience that Europeans are so sick of castles, we've all got them, 'we're up to here with them'… and we long for a bungalow. Never has the first part of that been more aptly applied to a city than Barcelona. It is awash in former palaces to the point or near ubiquity. The five-star Hotel Casa Fuster is a prime example of a former palace converted to the zenith of modern-day luxury. Originally built in 1908 as a gift from Mr Fuster to his wife, and said then to be the most expensive private home in Barcelona, it's located on one of Barcelona's main arteries, the Passeig de Gracia, a straight line stretching the 3 three miles to the water's edge; a view most worth taking in from their lavish roof terrace bar. It is a striking and imposing building, elegant and lavish externally, and internally rich and august. Sometimes luxuriousness is misinterpreted as form over function, but I was delighted the anthesis was true here. The Casa De Fuster is beautiful and blissfully comfortable and quiet, and just works so faultlessly. It's as elegant a home-away-from home as one could wish for.
Jordi Cruz has just won his third Michelin star for ABaC, and it's an experience. Like many places at this top level of Michelin acclaim, there's some art and theatre to the proceedings; it's far from all smoke and mirrors, though the dry-ice does create the same effect. Their tasting menu is in the region of 18 courses, depending on how you count, and you should budget 4 hours to do it justice. Though this menu fits on to half a side of paper, the wine list by contrast, was the size of a telephone directory for those who remember those, and one needs to be in great condition to wrestle it open. The exertion though, is well worth it. The incredible menu and experience was paired with a rare white Spanish Dominio del Aguila, that I must confess has rather ruined other whites for me. The tasting menu is something of a journey and every course, a narrative beat. Every taste has been measured to complement its companion, and our 'guide' who talked us through the journey pointed out at every course that the same consideration had been heaped on the textures too. The food was rich and rounded, varied and interesting, and in the loveliest way, entertaining; I can't recall a meal as surprising, and certainly it was the first in my experience to feature both dry-ice and helium. Apparently it needs a little diligence or luck to secure a table, but your efforts will be rewarded.
Estimar is the brainchild of Andalusian chef, Rafa Zafra, and to be frank, it's one of the best meals I've ever had. Everything about the setting, atmosphere and fare could have been tailored to my sensibilities: the restaurant is small and intimate (perhaps 20 covers at a time?) and rather than separating the patrons from the kitchen, you sit amongst the workings of it. But this is not some shouty Gordon Ramsey experience, on three sides, artists worked on tiny projects of food, which they then bring to the table. They pluck whole fish from a display, a parade of bounty and freshness, before beginning their craftsmanship. I was absolutely stunned, I tried seafood I had never considered, (including a crustacean delicacy that sounds like it requires danger-pay to retrieve,) along with the creamiest oysters in recollection, and a langoustine carpaccio that I will never forget. Finally, a John Dory fillet appeared upon which such magic had been worked, that I think of it as a semi-religious experience. The wine was tremendous and rounded out a simply perfect meal. I feel my adjectives straining here a little, because an accurate description of Estimar is really testing my superlatives. Beg, borrow, steal, maim or kill for a table.
Can you call it Retail therapy when the calibre is so high? How would we describe its zenith? Retail Nirvana? Perhaps. On the Passeig de Gracia, and actually making contact with the magnificent Gaudi building, the Casa Mila known as La Pedrera, stands Rabat, an old family jewellery business born in the late 70s. With a genesis in high quality handmade jewellery, it has grown and blossomed into the premiere fine jewellery destination in the city, and they've expanded beyond, to Ibiza, Madrid, Valencia and Tarragona. As one generally unfazed by shiny objects, I must confess that even my un-aesthetically driven head was turned by the staggering craftsmanship, colour and clarity of the pieces I saw there. For myself, I would choose from their sensational collection of timepieces, but my mind was immediately thrown to the scores of women I know who would have died happily in that stunning (and secure) homage to all that glistens.
Just across the Passeig de Gracia, Santa Eulalia welcomes those seeking their sartorial utopia. What Rabat is to jewellery, Santa Eulalia is to stylish elegance. Founded in 1843, and subsequently acquired by the Sanz family who moved it to its current location at number 93, Santa Eulalia is a benchmark in the world of fashion, and Barcelona's oldest fashion store. It's a boutique, except I fear calling it a boutique may conjure the wrong image, it's both large, but also compact, full of nooks and glorious opulence. It's a beautiful collection of the finest garments in the world, and often hosts the splashiest of launches, and has welcomed Kings and Queens through its doors. In fact, legend tells, it was royalty that suggested making the tailors and ateliers who work tirelessly crafting bespoke suits and shirts for their male patrons, visible and proudly displayed, rather than hidden away. No visit to Barcelona is complete without stopping in at this chapel, and it has become an ambition of mine to have my cutting pattern stored in their archives. For international buyers wanting to top up stock of their award winning perfumes, this can now be arranged with ease via their website here.
The final feather in Barcelona's redoubtable cap, must be the recent announcement that after a long and competitive venue selection process, Barcelona will host the 37th America's Cup in 2024, and in so doing, become the first city to host both The America's Cup and an Olympic games. The successful bid saw an unprecedented alliance of public and private companies, including local and Catalonian governmental bodies championing the city.
Though perhaps the deciding factor was no less than Marina Port Vell itself. As Europe's leading superyacht and marine facility, they're dripping in technical expertise and state-of-the-art facilities. It's speculated that hosting an America's Cup can bring in up to $1 billion, so this really seems to be a case of shrewd investments into MPV reaping colossal dividends for the entire city. It certainly doesn't hurt to have a thrilling city like Barcelona mere steps away, and I think Port Vell is unique in how far into its city it penetrates. Barcelonians will have a front row seat to the premiere ocean-going event come 2024.
The conditions in September and October are perfection for some thrilling racing; Barcelona averages 9-16 knots of windspeed in that racing window, and the sight of the high-speed AC75 class of foiling yachts racing a few hundred metres off the beach will be "nothing less than spectacular" said defending champions, Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton.
More details will be forthcoming in the fullness of time, but I'm beyond excited to see this, and can only hope that Barcelona and Marina Port Vell will have me back!
For those seeking an opulent and immersive experience, we’ve curated a list of the world's most prestigious music festivals that provide an unrivalled blend of world-class performances, lavish amenities, and breathtaking settings.
London's socialite scene is a playground for the city's affluent and influential personalities. From exclusive private members' clubs to high society events and lavish soirées, this elite community indulges in a world where opulence, connections, and wealth converge, leaving an indelible mark on the city's cultural landscape.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises® announces Sarah Fabergé as Godmother of Seven Seas Grandeur, in an elegant christening ceremony featuring entertainment by Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth, with bespoke Fabergé jewellery to be auctioned for charity.
From Hong Kong to New York, Paris to Bangkok, the world’s most glamorous cities boast outposts from the esteemed The Peninsula hotel brand. Now, there is a shiny, new opening to add to the portfolio, right in the heart of London.
This breathtaking destination sits on 2,700 acres of unspoiled Tuscan countryside. One almost feels as if they're in a self-contained enchanting town, without the need to go anywhere else during their stay.