Big enough never to be boring, but small enough to retain an appealing intimacy, Barcelona is perfectly caught between the sea and the mountains, preserving it from any grandiose expansionist plans.
First the sail-shaped W Hotel opened and now, with some very attractive prices to buyers, there are newly completed homes — 250 one- to three-bedroom freehold apartments in four eight-storey, somewhat functional buildings are transforming the old fishing quarter of Barceloneta.
Priced from £213,950 for 540 to 915 square feet with service charges from £68 a month, more than half are sold with many owners buying to rent says Francois Pastor Carriere, of Coldwell Banker Spain.
"The city has always been attractive to British buyers but we hadn't seen so many lately as it became too expensive. Once you couldn't get a good two-bedroom apartment in prime Barcelona below £640,000. Now you certainly can."
The Belgravia of Barcelona is Eixample, the Modernist area laid out on a rigid grid system from the 1890s.
While the narrow streets of the Old Town can be touristy and noisy, Eixample is coolly elegant, with wide boulevards, Gaudi architecture and classical buildings that provide high-ceilinged, sophisticated apartments and often entrance halls of eye-popping art deco beauty.
On Eixample's southern edge, close to the Ciutadella Park, a second-floor two-bedroom apartment of 1,240 sq ft with narrow balcony overlooking Plaza Tetuan and in need of modest updating is £509,180, through Lucas Fox. It comes with a delightful secret garden and chill-out zone complete with awning, open fire and outdoor shower down a private flight of steps.
The Old Town
"Most foreigners looking at the Old Town want to be in El Born," says David Franks of Lucas Fox. "The narrow streets mean natural light may be an issue on lower floors but these buildings stay cool in summer and residents love the small tapas bars, restaurants, the boho scruffiness and boutiques."
A restored three-bedroom 1,615 sq ft flat in the Gothic Quarter close to the cathedral and metro is £577,830, or one with four bedrooms on the fourth floor of an old building close to Plaza Catalunya, newly renovated but retaining original tiled floors, a perfect union of history and modern convenience, is £680,560 — both through Lucas Fox.
Luxury with a Catalan twist
Close to Las Ramblas, yet a calm world away from that famous thoroughfare's hectic madness, the Mandarin Oriental on prestigious Passeig de Gracia matches the brand's Asian heritage with a thrilling modern edge. Its interior design is bursting with good ideas, and well worth a stay just to steal its style.
Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola has taken masculine materials and softened them with an assured touch. A white filigree partition punched through with geometric shapes allows light to flood into the main dining area, while a lowered, mirrored ceiling above the reception provides instant intimacy.
In the 98 suites and bedrooms, Urquiola has used pale green, gold and white together with modern furniture and smooth Corian bathrooms. The lighting is so well thought out, it could only have been planned by a woman.
The hotel's two-star Michelin restaurant, complete with 800-bottle wine list, one of Barcelona's largest and most swaddling spas and a roof terrace with open-air pool looking across to Gaudi's Casa Batlló, are all part of the impressive package.
The Bankers Bar, with its safety deposit boxes bolted to the ceiling, is a nod to the building's former life as a bank and like much of the hotel, it is, as the dapper general manager Gerard Sintes points out, "traditional Catalan with an interesting twist".