‘Don’t do it,’ says Mr Smith, as I sink into the bed, which like the rest of our suite at Barcelona’s hotel Murmuri, is blanketed in shades of cream, linen, taupe, and dove grey – as well as summer sunlight, which has moved my companion to a one-man crusade against jet-lag and morning naps. Just as I surrender to the room’s soft silence he plugs his iPod into the dock on the bedside table, pulls me from the bed, and leads me into the bathroom, where warm water cascades from the top of a glass shower stall. Left to my own devices, I would have opted for the tub, but Barcelona awaits, so a shower it is.
We wind down a pale grey marble staircase to the lobby, where a glass elevator silently shoots up and down at the end of a mulberry-carpeted path. In this bustling Spanish city it’s as though someone here has hit the mute button. British style doyenne Kelly Hoppen, the queen of neutrals, has been given free rein with the interior design, and the result is a plush beige haven, populated by the odd purple velvet curtain and shagpile rug. You are in the middle of it all, yet away from it all at the same time.
We pause to ask Roberto, at reception, about a recommendation for lunch. A Barcelona native, he steers us away from touristy tapas bars, pulls out a map, and circles a corner just two blocks from the hotel. ‘Cerveceria Catalunya,’ he says. ‘If there are tourists there, I sent them.’ We walk the cobblestoned streets to the corner Roberto recommended, and find every wooden stool at the restaurant’s two bars filled, while hungry patrons wait happily with thick-stemmed glasses of draught beer. Mr Smith and I ogle the bar’s display cases of purple octopus dusted with paprika, deep green peppers glistening with golden olive oil, and neat piles of shining silver sardines. When two stools open up we pounce and scour customers around us for cues on what to order. The couple beside us has a dish of fried calamari sitting between their moped helmets; two men behind us eat small baguettes with jamón hanging off the edges; across the room we see a man feeding his girlfriend tiny fried fish. We want to try it all, and the bartender places little plates of tasty tapas before us.
Satiated, we head to Park Güell, one of architect Antoni Gaudí’s myriad contributions to Barcelona’s swirling stone balconies, mushrooming spires, and fantastical façades. There, we take in deep breaths of dried sage and lavender before climbing the stone steps to the top of the park. From high above, the white frosted spires and roofs of Gaudí’s little castles look like they might be made of gingerbread. We descend the dusty paths to a giant stone pavilion, where a single guitar player provides the echoing soundtrack for tourists who lean against cement pillars, gaping at massive mosaic medallions of jade-green and marine-blue on the ceiling. The folly is packed with people, but a cool breeze blows through, and the ceiling seems like the seafloor of a parallel, more peaceful, universe.
We head back to our boutique bolt hole, and Mr Smith, steadfast in his stance against sleep, insists we continue to take in the sunny day. Murmuri has us feeling we are one of those privileged Catalonians with their own private pad in one of the best locations in town. We put on our bathing suits and head around the corner to the Hotel Majestic, the Murmuri’s older, distinguished sister hotel. On the hotel’s roof, little boys splash in the pool while their fathers play cards on cushy couches. I take a delicious dip, and as I hear church bells ringing, I feel a pang of guilt for not seeing Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s most famous cathedral. Then, I dry off on a lounge chair overlooking the city, and there it is, rising like a behemoth dribble castle above the right angles of Barcelona below. I turn to show Mr Smith, but he is snoozing behind his sunglasses.
The next morning, after a long and lovely sleep, we have breakfast in the Murmuri’s light-filled restaurant. Mr Smith peruses bowls of watermelon wedges and kiwi slices, and platters of cured meats, blocks of brie, and powdered sugar-dusted pastries. As I take a pew on a purple settee that undulates under a long wall of black-and-white photos, Mr Smith pulls a bottle of cava from the buffet’s ice bucket and mixes two mimosas.
After breakfast, we navigate the tangle of tourists at La Rambla, the city’s main thoroughfare. We duck into the Boqueria market, and weave between fishmongers filling bags of mussels, clams, and shrimp and butchers wrapping oxtails and sirloin steaks. We buy a bag of Marcona almonds and continue through the alleyways to the Museu Picasso, which houses its collection in majestic medieval townhouses. Our favorite gallery is the one where Picasso’s paintings burst into color in the 1950s – a series of white pigeons, emerald trees, and cerulean skies seen from seaside verandas. Inspired, we head outside to sip sangria in the sun.
Just as I’m wondering whether my wooden wedge heels were a wise choice for wandering Las Ramblas, we come upon La Manual Alpargatera, a whitewashed storefront with a rainbow of espadrilles in the window. Mr Smith waits in front of a wall of straw-soled shoes in every size and color as I consider the merits of basic black versus cherry red, before deciding, both. The sales lady smiles when I pull on my purchase and carry my heels out of the shop.
That evening, I emerge from the bathroom in a fluffy white robe to find Mr Smith has left me alone in the room. I curl up on an oval-shaped lounge to write a few postcards before getting dressed. I’m feeling sexily Spanish in a black dress and a smear of red lipstick to match my new espadrilles when I find Mr Smith in the bar, selecting a cigar from a shiny humidor. He hands me a long-stemmed glass of cava sparkling with a tiny stream of bubbles and leads me to a table under an umbrella in front of the hotel. The pedestrian walkway is perfect for people-watching, so we stay for supper. As we munch on maki and cod cakes from the Murmuri’s menu, a man wanders by selling fuchsia flowers. Mr Smith obliges and as we head back to our room, I tuck the stem behind my ear, satisfied, and ready for a siesta.