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Thomas Pink on the Road: El Born, Barcelona

In our ongoing travel series, Thomas Pink offers an insider’s guide to some of the world’s most captivating destinations: what to see, do, experience and – of course – wear. This month, we head to the intoxicating neighbourhood of El Born, Barcelona.

Of all Barcelona’s many beautiful neighbourhoods, none is lovelier than El Born, the intoxicating barrio of medieval streets that is home to many of the city’s best bars, boutiques and restaurants. Largely car-free and deeply atmospheric, it is a place to get lost, drink vermouth and tapas- hop from bar to bar.

Eat all day: three-course lunches and tapas crawls

The menu del dia is a staple of life in Barcelona: a three-course lunch with a glass of wine for an often ridiculously reasonable price. For modern food done well, try the €16.50 offering at Puntal with its clever cook and great wine list, or for something more old-school and super- local, go to the always packed Joanet, which has the kind of comforting familiarity to it that can only be earned after decades of service. If you want to order à la carte, then head to Cal Pep just round the corner from Estació de França. The best place to be is up at the bar where you get a prime view of the chefs as they throw together the dishes and play practical jokes on customers. You don’t really order as such, just give them a sense of what you like and they’ll dish up the goods: garlicky clams, deep-fried artichokes, ham-studded tortillas that ooze all over the shop. In the evening, the thing to do in El Born is go on a tapas crawl, eating a little bit here and a little bit there (you could, if you were so inclined, just do this all day). Unmissable highlights of the area’s many great tapas bars include: the tuna in salsa de Catalana at El Xampanyet near the Picasso Museum (wash it down with a glass of El Xampanyet, its in-house cava), and the tortilla at the stylish Bar Pimentel on Carrer dels Carders. Once you’re at Pimentel, skip round the corner to Bar del Pla on Calle de Montcada, for gorgeous tapas and a stonking list of natural wines.

Puntal, Plaça de Sant Cugat, 1, 08003;

Joanet, Plaça de Sant Agustí Vell, 6, 08003;

Cal Pep, Plaça de les Olles, 8, 08003;

El Xampanyet, Carrer de Montcada 22;

Bar Pimentel, Carrer dels Carders 11, Barcelona, 08003;

Bar del Pla, Calle de Montcada, 2, 08003;

Where to drink the city’s best wine

Run by a brilliant Franco-Catalan husband-wife team, L’Anima del Vi is a deeply local place that’s small, intimate and impossible to improve upon. Perch on the end of any available table and order a couple of chef Benoît Valée’s delicious small plates – the caper-heavy Russian salad is particularly good – while his wife, Núria Rodríguez Maymó, explains the best bottles on the high shelves and talks you through an ever-changing list of wines by the glass. Bar Brutal is a small restaurant but it’s one with a bustling almost-a-party vibe, and there’s a bar where you can settle down and work your way through its seriously impressive list of natural wines. Try the signature house red and then move to its incredible selection of hard-to-find grappas.

L’Anima del Vi, Carrer dels Vigatans, 8, 08003;

Bar Brutal, Carrer de la Princesa, 14, 08003;

Sleep in style

The adults-only Hotel Rec is a steal with its handsome modern rooms and rooftop lounge. Up on the top floor there’s a work area, tiny plunge pool and great views across the neighbourhood. It does cocktail-making masterclasses and beer tastings, and weekly tours of El Born by in-the- know guides. Just round the corner is the Yurbban Passage Hotel & Spa. Up on the roof, it also has a charming suntrap terrace and neat little pool, and down on the ground floor the black-framed windows give the old industrial building a cool, contemporary feel. Check out the shuffleboard in the lobby and a small spa in the basement.

Hotel Rec, Carrer Rec Comtal, 19, 08003;

Yurbban Passage Hotel & Spa, Trafalgar 26, 08010;

Explore: run the city and go the opera

Designed by one of the major figures of Catalan modernism, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the Palau de la Música Catalana is a riot of a building with its incredible tiled façade. To experience it in all its glory, book a ticket to a big ballsy Italian opera of the sort that has been central to day-to-day Catalan culture since the 19th century. To see the neighbourhood in a completely new way, try running through it as part of a pack. Midnight Runners is a global running community with groups in 18 cities all over the world. Their Barcelona cohort, which normally numbers about 150 people of all different levels of fitness, runs twice a week, on Mondays (8km) and Wednesdays (6km), both at 8pm. Each run follows a different route but they always pass by emblematic neighbourhoods and monuments like Parc de la Ciutadella and Catedral del Born. Go to their website and download the app to join.

Palau de la Música Catalana, Carrer del Palau de la Música, 4-6 08003;
Midnight Runners;

Retail therapy: window shopping and vermouth tasting

For close-quartered window shopping, head to the narrow streets just northwest of Santa Maria del Mar, home to independent art galleries, monochrome fashion boutiques and the Lomography Embassy Barcelona. For the neighbourhood’s best wine, sneak round the back of the Centre de Cultura i Memòria, to Magatzem Escolà, which has a huge range of excellent drops. It does tasting sessions in English and Spanish, including a vermouth workshop in the basement on Saturdays.

Magatzem Escolà, Carrer Comercial, 13, 08003;

Words by journalist and author David Annand. For more insider travel tips and guides, visit