Q. My husband will be visiting Barcelona on business in November and I'm planning to join him with our three-year-old daughter for a long weekend. We'd like to find a family-friendly hotel within two hours of the city for the three of us. Anywhere offering baby-sitting would be a bonus.
P Watkins, via e-mail
A. Barcelona, if you haven't already visited, is a fantastic family destination: teeming with Gaudi's fairytale architecture and a plethora of weird and wonderful shops, bars and restaurants, it is one of Spain's most vibrant cities. It also boasts plenty of history, tradition and culture from its historic Gothic centre to the rejuvenated seafront, and is an ideal short-haul destination where you can escape the onset of winter with temperatures averaging 18C in early November.
However, the city is also the capital of Catalonia, a region often overlooked by urban-centric weekenders. Catalonia boasts impressive mountain ranges as well as extensive plains in the centre. It is also one of Spain's principle cava-producing regions, particularly in Alt Penedes. Staying outside Barcelona would give you the chance to soak up the less-visited rural scenery whilst still being within reasonable distance of the city.
There is no shortage of hotels in and around Barcelona, from the ultra hip to the grand and traditional. For an escape, I suggest heading to the hills. El Castell De Ciutat (00 34 973 350 000; www.hotelelcastell.com) is set in the Segre Valley in the Catalan Pyrenees. The resort comprises a castle, concert room, museum and restaurant. In northern Catalonia, it's a two-hour drive (200km) north-west of Barcelona, and the hotel can organise transfers. A double room with an extra bed for your child and views of the surrounding valley would cost €235 (£168) per night in November, or €275 (£196) for a room with a terrace. This also includes breakfast, as well as use of all the hotel's facilities including two swimming pools and a spa. The hotel also offers a baby-sitting service with English-speaking sitters, costing €10 (£7.10) per hour. Day trips from the hotel could include a visit to La Seu d'Urgell with its Romanesque Cathedral of Santa Maria d'Urgell, or to the Cadi-Moixero Natural Park.
Another city escape is the Hotel Cal Batlle (00 34 938 484 731; www.hotelcalbatlle.com) a converted 14th-century stately home near Sant Celoni, around half an hour's drive north-east of Barcelona. The building is surrounded by peaceful gardens and has an outdoor pool. Its chic, contemporary bedrooms cost €193 (£138) per night in November for the three of you, including breakfast, and baby-sitting can be arranged with advance warning. From here, you could easily access the city by road or train, or similarly the beaches and towns of the wild Costa Brava. Tossa de Mar, for example, lines a picturesque fishing cove that's backed by a ruined fort and is around 30 minutes' drive from the hotel.
North of Sant Celoni is another historic lodging, the Parador de Vic Sau (00 34 938 122 323; www.parador.es) near Vic and Vilanova de Sau. The Catalan farmhouse dates back to the 17th century and overlooks Sau lake with a backdrop of the Guillerias mountains. A double room with an extra bed would cost €191 (£137) per night, including breakfast, and Barcelona is around an hour's drive from the hotel. Unfortunately the hotel cannot arrange baby-sitting.
In Barcelona you might want to concentrate on just one area. The oldest part of the city is in the Gothic quarter. It is the main draw for tourists so you could consider basing yourselves there. The arterial stretch of La Rambla slices its way through the old town and is famous for its street entertainment; you'll also find the art nouveau cathedral to food, the Boqueria food market, nearby. A good choice of family accommodation in the area is the Citadines (0800 376 3898; www.citadines.com), serviced apartments right on La Rambla. A studio costs €150 (£107) per night with an extra bed for your daughter, or €230 (£164) for a one-bedroom apartment. Importantly they all feature sound-proofed windows to keep out the noise from La Rambla below. The apartments don't offer a baby-sitting service, however, the tourist information office at Placa de Catalunya has a list of certified baby-sitting agencies should you want to experience Barcelona's vibrant nightlife.
Aside from cultural pursuits, Barcelona has plenty to interest young children, including a zoo (00 34 932 256 780; www.zoobarcelona.com) based in the Parc de la Ciutadella. The city also has one of the largest aquariums in Europe (00 34 93 221 74 74; www.aquariumbcn.com) in the Port Vell area. A more indulgent excursion is the Museum of Chocolate (00 34 932 687 878; www.pastisseria.com), a relatively new addition to the city that takes you through the history and manufacturing process, and allows you to sample the goods. Finally, on the outskirts of the city is Collserola (00 34 932 803 552; www.parccollserola.net), an expansive natural park cradled by the hills of Serra de Collserola. The park is ideal for walking and picnics and there's an old-fashioned funfair at the top of Tibidabo offering spectacular views of the city.
Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, 'The Independent', 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail email@example.comReuse content