A group program to Barcelona will undoubtedly be filled excitement and passion. It simply can’t be helped with such a layered tapestry of history, architecture, art, cuisine and effusive Catalán people.
Here lived artistic visionaries like Picasso, Miro, Dali and the local son Antoni Gaudi, whose mind-bending and daring architecture is an icon of the city.
“Groups come to this area because we are so blessed with rich architecture and art, from the Gaudi masterpieces to the Gothic Quarter, ranging from the Middle Ages to Contemporary,” says Patrick Torrent, sub director of Catalonia Tourism. “Our gastronomy is exceptional too, with 46 fresh food markets that creative chefs choose to create fresh innovative dishes. And there’s a wide array of 4- and 5-star hotel choices with a total of more than 21,000 rooms.”
A MARRIAGE OF ‘SENY’ + ‘RAUXA’
Elena Atlemir, promotions director U.S./Canada for the Barcelona Convention Bureau, says planners know that great events are a mix of good times and hard work. She explains that the Catalan people are great at making fabulous experiences materialize because, “We combine the dependable side of our people (seny) with the intuitive, creative side (rauxa), and bring this dual personality to pull off the perfect event for groups of all sizes.”
The most popular group experience in town is a visit to the Gothic Quarter—the oldest section of the city—stretching from the famous, mile-long Ramblas pedestrian mall to the waterfront. Built in Medieval times, the maze of streets are filled with cafes dripping in piquant charm, such as Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats) bistro, opened in 1897 and popularized by Picasso and friends.
Other highlights include the Cathedral of Barcelona, which took 600 years to build, and the magnificent Palau de Musica Cataluña. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palau is considered one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world with its huge stained glass ceiling. Capacity is 2,200 pax.
Attendees are always fascinated by Gaudi and his curvy architecture considered a precursor to Frank Gehry’s work. While Gaudi’s unique and amazing Modernisme designs may not be liked by all, it is truly wondrous what this genius created. Visit the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, which Gaudi devoted the last 40 years of his life to finishing. And ask your DMC about both the Gaudi Trail and La Pedrera—one of Gaudi’s many mansions built with undulating concrete and twisted iron balconies.
There’s also a coterie of museum venues for groups, such as the National Palace Museum, Miro Museum, Picasso Museum and Maritime Museum. Or book a Gaudi venue, like Casa Batllo’s “Dragon’s Belly” space on the top floor.
FOOD TO FAWN OVER
Dining out in this port city is a highly varied and special experience, so a plate of fresh and flavorful seafood from the Med is a must. Try the seafood croquettes, grilled razor clams, mussels and noodle paella with clams and baby cuttle fish at La Gavina. The waterfront terrace caters up to 400 diners.
Somewhat more intimate, the 44-year old Via Veneto is a 1-Michelin star restaurant once favored by Salvador Dali. It offers private rooms with exquisite table settings and specialized menus prepared by the father/son owners, Jose and Pedro Monje.
For the ultimate bonding experience, small groups up to 24 will love to cook Catalan cuisine together with Cook & Taste. Located in the historic district, the company escorts groups to one of the famous food markets, like La Boqueria—one of the city’s most famous landmarks. Everyone then returns to a private professional kitchen to prepare a traditional meal together while enjoying the regional Rioja and cava (sparkling wine).
DAY TRIPPING IN CATALONIA
Groups will not want to miss a few nearby cities to discover some of Catalonia’s lesser known cultural gems. First, in the city of Figueres, the Dali Theatre Museum showcases the genius of Dali. One example is the “Dali-Jewels” collection of 37 precious gems set alongside some of the artist’s personal paintings.
In the Old Town section of Girona, about one hour north of Barcelona, the Jewish Museum of Girona features some very powerful exhibits illustrating life in Catalonia before the Spanish Inquisition. The museum is located at the site of the last synagogue built in the city back in 1492.
Planners can book a wine tasting course directly from the vintner/owner at Eudald Massana Noya, an organic winery. The region is known for its cava, but it also produces whites and reds. For active clients, suggest “Vicicling” to tour vineyards on bike.
CHECK IN WITH ‘ME’
The super trendy 22@ Innovation District is the regentrified ex-industrial section of Barcelona that has become the city’s new high-tech hub, drawing in some of the most fashionable brands, restaurants and nightlife with it.
The 258-room ME Barcelona is part of Melia Hotels’ socially upward brand of hotels, located here in the District. The new property attracts an international crowd looking for contemporary design, with rooms facing either the city or sea. All feature floor-to-ceiling windows and the latest technology, including 32” interactive plasma TVs, free WiFi, IPod audio, subdued lighting and remote control dark-out curtains. The beds are crazy comfy with soft white, high thread sheets. Total meeting space is 12,750 sf.
The ME has some great restaurants like the fun ’n funky Mediterranean restaurant Dos, located next to the lobby. The lamb shank is amazing following the foie gras ravioli with delish olive oil for dipping crusty fresh breads. Next to the restaurant at the lobby bar, our group enjoyed an after dinner drink while grooving to the house DJ. Guests here will get a true flavor of the local Barcelona crowd, particularly on weekends after the sun sets.
CONVENTIONS ON THE MED
For conventions, Barcelona can comfortably manage events of all sizes. Major facilities include Palau de Congressos de Catalyna, Barcelona International Convention Center and two Fira de Barcelona Exhibition & Convention Centers.
Iberia Airlines offers nonstop flights to Barcelona from New York and Miami, or you can connect via Madrid with service from L.A., Chicago and Boston. Multiple U.S. carriers also fly direct daily, and American Airlines has codeshare agreements with Iberia.
“Your cultural experience on board is enhanced by the Spanish products and Mediterranean menu offered,” says Santiago de Juan, spokesman. “Iberia is a great way to start your group experience to our culturally rich country.”