CATALONIA is an Intersection of Cultures and Influences

Written by | Travel

Our Aegean Odyssey on Celebrity Reflection, as chronicled in the last issue of Metrosource, wrapped up in one of my favorite cities in the world, Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is one of Europe’s most visited cities and in terms of tolerance, openness, and live-and-let-live attitude, has surpassed Paris and Amsterdam as a center for gay living and gay culture. Gay marriage is legal and LGBTQ rights are fully protected in all of Spain. It’s a normal daily occurrence to see same sex couples walking through the city center holding hands… and no one turns to look. Now, include some of the world’s best beaches, great food and wine, and amazing sights, and you have a must-visit city.

Barcelona is a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities, and experiences from all over Europe. From the labyrinth of narrow stone streets in the historic gothic quarter, the beautiful boulevards of Las Ramblas and Passieg de Gracia, the planned areas of Eixample with its grid-like layout and courtyard gardens, the beaches of Barceloneta, and the museums and Olympic Stadium of Montjuic – this is a city that provides a feast for every sense, something to discover around every corner. 

The main gay area is around Eixample or “Gay-xample”, as it is known locally. This is our first stop – at our hotel, ME Barcelona (by Melia). This 5-star hotel is in a prime location alongside the Passieg de Gracia, and offers an authentic, personalized, and immersive experience that makes you feel like part of the city lifestyle. Each of the modern rooms and suites at ME Barcelona have their own very special personality. Our studio suite had huge windows with a view toward Plaça Cataluña, in room jacuzzi tub, and ample comfortable space to relax. This urban oasis provided plenty of reasons to stay-in – an elegant rooftop pool, spa, fully equipped gym, garden, multiple dining and drinking options. But venture out we must in this city waiting for exploration.  

A few steps outside the front doors and you encounter the wonderful Catalan architectural gems by Antoni Gaudi, including Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. The best-known and most visited place to watch people go by, to stroll or simply relax, is ‘Las Ramblas’, a pedestrian street which leads from Plaça Cataluña down to the port. Here you will find dozens of outdoor cafes, flower stands, book and postcard kiosks and small market stalls. This is also where you will see the fascinating spectacle of jugglers, singers, dancers, puppeteers, sidewalk artists, living statues and assorted oddballs on parade. Nearby is Plaça Reial, with plenty of bars and restaurants where the likes of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí hung out.

Strolling up the narrow winding streets of the ‘Barrio Gotico,’ the medieval Gothic quarter, is full of interesting tapas bars and cafes. Check out ’Els Quatre Gats’, another of Picasso’s former hangouts and worth a look. Or head for the old Barceloneta section on the waterfront, now packed with paella restaurants (some floating ones too.) Or to the beach area, which runs from Barceloneta to the Olympic village.

Catalans are known for their independent spirit and their sense of humor. Salvador Dalí was a Catalan, and his bizarre sense of humor is just one example of the region’s endearing weirdness. For a day trip, travel to Figueres and step inside the surreal world of Salvador Dalí and find a museum like none other. Dalí wanted visitors to see his massive collection as a ‘whole’ work, and for this reason he wanted no catalogues and refused to have his works placed in chronological or subject order. Inside is a world of fantasy mixed with architecture mixed with paintings and sculptures. It’s a completely surrealistic experience.

Though truly steeped in history and conflict and fiercely protective of its Catalan language and identity, much of Barcelona is in fact a modern, post-1992 Olympic Games ideal. Even though it was over three decades ago, it is hard not to notice the effect the Olympic Games had on the city. This city is truly awash with color, energy, and openness.

After a dip in the pool and a drink at the ME Barcelona Rooftop Bar, we prepared for dinner out. Our destination is situated in the heart of Barcelona – Darvaza. While the name may seem a bit over the top (Darvaza is a crater in Turkmenistan that burns at 400°C known as “The Door to Hell”), it is aptly fitting for the ember grilling method used by the chefs here. Darvaza truly captures the city’s vibrant gastronomic scene.

Darvaza’s menu showcases a fusion of Spanish cuisine with modern twists, tantalizing every tastebud, and its unique architecture elegantly combines modern and traditional design, exuding an irresistible cozy Spanish charm. Cue the live DJ for dinner music and the ambiance is complete. The staff is knowledgeable about the food and extensive wine list, courteous, and attentive. We chose a well-priced cava, ARS Collecta Gran Rosé from Catalonia to start, and paired it with starters of Delta del Ebro Sun grilled oysters, Countryside Style Buffalo Burrata with organic wood-fired roast pumpkin, caramel-coated pine nuts and basil, and the Red Prawn rice. Our main courses included the Grilled Duck breast smoked in holm oak wood, with hoisin sauce and green spring onion, and the Beef Sirloin, accompanied by a Viña Zaco Tempranillo from La Rioja. And, although you will be stuffed by the end, find room for dessert! The Bonfire is a fun service of homemade tropical fruit marshmallows over an open flame, and a fun photo op.

Darvaza Barcelona will leave a lasting impression… It’s not just about the food, it’s an experience.

While in Barcelona, I suggest walking or taking the double-decker Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. See all the sights at your leisure and decide where you want to stop and see more. Simply hop back on a bus when you’re ready to leave. It really is the easiest and safest way to get around in Barcelona. Plaça Cataluña is the main hub and an easy spot to get started, so that’s where we will begin the second day.

A few stops into the route is Sagrada Familia. No visit to Barcelona is complete without visiting this famous basilica designed by Antoni Gaudí. Begun in 1882 and still unfinished, the Sagrada Familia is notable for its organic form. It is an unexpected sight in its urban setting, with its bold flying buttresses and twisted towers looming over the city. Work on the project has continued since Gaudí’s death in 1926. When completed it will be the tallest church building in the world.

Another Gaudí treasure, and the next stop on the bus is Park Guëll. There is a lot to see here, at one of the world’s most unique parks, offering amazing views of the city. It’s a playground for the mind with visual jokes, like columns that simulate palm tree trunks, rubble-surfaced arches that grow out of the ground, and quilts of curving ceramic tiles. Gaudí’s imagination is on full display here. Gaudí lived on the property for the last 20 years of his life, and this residence is now a museum. Park Guëll is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with other Gaudi works.

So many more stops, but it’s getting late, and we opt for a drink at El Bosc de les Fades (The Forest of the Fairies). This fun whimsical bar is another unique Barcelona experience, located off a hidden little side street near the Wax Museum at the bottom of La Rambla. Open the doors and you literally walk into a magical forest lit by lanterns and candles, with seats built around the trees, and secrets around every corner. Grab a drink and go exploring! Hidden pathways cross over streams and past waterfalls. Every 20-30 minutes the bar goes dark as a thunderstorm passes through – complete with lightning flashes and claps of thunder. Food is available, but I prefer to sip a Sangria and wait for the storm to pass.

Located only 22 miles (35kms) south, and a short 25-minute train ride from Barcelona is the lovely seaside resort town of Sitges.  With its beautiful beaches (clothed and clothing optional), non-stop nightlife, narrow pedestrian streets, and everything gay – bars, restaurants, hotels, cruising, saunas, shopping, you name it… Sitges is one of THE top spots for the gay traveler. And it is all within walking distance no matter where you are in town. The gay community is one with the straight community here, and all commingle and get along famously. So, there is no “Gay Ghetto” as in other towns or cities. Summer months of June through September are the season in Sitges, with July and August bearing the most travelers. In any of these months you will meet fun folk from all over the world and enjoy lots of sunshine with warm temperatures.

Our arrival in Sitges on day three, started at the Hotel Calipolis. Location, location, location. This 4-star hotel is located directly facing the Mediterranean Sea and the main gay beach (Playa De La Bossa Rodona), has a lovely pool, and is one of my favorite spots for a dip and a late lunch poolside after some sunning on the beach. We booked our evening dinner plans ahead of time, so after a quick siesta we were ready for a Sitges experience – the Queenz Dinner Show.

We were greeted with a glass of cava and escorted to our table. The restaurant is elegant and feels warm. The staff is delightfully friendly and attentive, with owners Dick and AJ usually in the house. Dinner is a 3-course menu of delicious options with a French/Mediterranean flair. Dinner is served at a leisurely pace with time to enjoy the fresh fare and a bottle of Spanish wine. At the conclusion of dinner service, the show begins. And having recently undergone a complete renovation, the Queenz Restaurant is equipped with the latest lighting and sound systems for the show spectacular. And when I say spectacular, I mean it. No standard drag show here. The Queenz Dinner Show is a wonderful blend of drag, cabaret, theater, eye candy, and humor – with amazingly creative choreographed numbers and colorful costumes. You’ll laugh, you’ll smile, you’ll applaud, and you’ll want to come back again the next day! Reserve online at

It’s midnight, but the night is young. A short walk toward the sea down to Carrer Bonaire and you will find Queenz Bar, a very popular stop on the Sitges bar crawl. Lively music, entertainment, and stiff drinks are on the menu here. Before you even get “inside” the bar, stop outside at Ruby’s Terrace Bar. If you are lucky, Ruby will be serving up the looks and the drinks. If you are even luckier, you will encounter Ben, one of the most affable blokes around. He always has a fun story and a great drink waiting for you! Queenz Bar is also where you will spot the first lady of Sitges, Lady Diamond. Her drag sing-along nights are legendary and bring in a packed house of international travelers – and everyone ends up singing together. Be sure to seek her out while in Sitges.

Spain produces some very notable wines and if you’re in the mood for some tasting, the wine region of Penedès, one of the best in Spain and the oldest in Catalonia, is just a short taxi ride away and a great day trip.  A visit to the Torres Family winery is a sensory feast and a must for any wine lover.  Vamos! Torres is one of the Spanish trailblazers of the modern Spanish industry and the largest wine producer in Spain. The Torres Family began producing wine in Penedès in 1870, with their winegrowing roots dating back to the 16th century. We tasted two of my favorite wines from the region – Mas La Plana, a consistently high ‘90s rated Cabernet Sauvignon, and the also highly rated Fransola Sauvignon Blanc. You can taste these and other wines during your visit to the Familia Torres Visitor Center. Book ahead for exclusive wine experiences and food pairings. There is also a delightful family history museum on the property, displaying some old wine making equipment, winery awards, family historical items, and much more. Learn more about this and the other wine regions of Spain at

Time for one last swim in “our” pool before heading back to Barcelona airport and the flight home, completing our Aegean Odyssey. Traveling opens up new experiences, cultures, and landscapes, turning each journey into a unique adventure. Where’s your next adventure taking you?

Last modified: January 5, 2024