Somewhere For The Weekend: Barceloneta

Alex Leith discovers that Barcelona's cool cousin has plenty to celebrate

WHY GO NOW?

Barceloneta, the seaside district of Barcelona, is currently enjoying its 250th anniversary with some gusto. Once the confetti and crushed beer cans have been cleared away from one celebration, the next one begins. This weekend, the working-class barrio (neighbourhood) is hosting its third annual flamenco festival. High-calibre artists such as Rancapino, the Carles Benavent trio and Juaneke are playing on the main stage on the beach on Saturday night. Up to 6,000 fans are expected to enjoy the duende, the quasi-religious high that fuses the souls of performers and spectators at the climax of a good concert. The beach has flamenco credentials: until 1966 it housed the gypsy-Andalusian shanty barrio known as El Somorrostro. This was the birthplace of the greatest-ever flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya.

Barcelona is known for a more progressive brand of flamenco than that found in its Andalusian homeland. Tickets for the event are free; see the website at www.somorrostro.com.

DOWN PAYMENT

It's not hard to get to Barcelona. The leading airline is easyJet (0870 600 0000; www.easyjet.com), which flies from Bristol, East Midlands, Gatwick, Luton, Liverpool, Newcastle and Stansted. This weekend, a return from Liverpool will cost from £189.98. British Airways (0845 77 333 77, www.ba.com) flies from Gatwick and Heathrow - fares this weekend from £231.40 from Gatwick. Iberia (0845 601 2854, www.iberia.com) flies from Gatwick, Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester. Trains run from the airport to the city centre twice an hour, and buses four times an hour. Both take about 25 minutes. Bus tickets cost €3.30 (£2.20), the train costs €2.20 (£1.60). Barceloneta, a 15-minute walk from the city centre, has its own metro stop (on Line 4), and is well-connected by buses (including the 59 from the Ramblas).

INSTANT BRIEFING

Barceloneta's first stone was laid in 1753. Flemish engineer Prosper Verboom designed 15 long, narrow roads, crossed by five avenues, the whole forming a triangular pensinsula. Originally cut off from the rest of Barcelona by the city walls, the barrio is nowadays divided from the city by the Ronda del Litoral highway, and retains the feeling of an island, with a distinctly different atmosphere from the rest of the city.

The houses rise as high as eight storeys, forming dark street-valleys in between, festooned with colourful washing. The flats are notoriously small inside, so the inhabitants hang out in the street in the summer evenings, bringing their kitchen chairs onto the pavements.

Barceloneta has traditionally financed itself on the sale of fish, both by the fishermen who set out from the harbour every morning, and by the many restaurateurs dispensing sardines, mackerel, hake, squid and octopus. Until the Olympics in 1992 there were a number of makeshift restaurants - chiringuitos - on the beach. They have been replaced with a paved walkway, silver with the tables and chairs of beachside bars.

The renovation work opened Barceloneta out to the sea, and its formerly filthy beaches - while still on the slightly grubby side - are now a magnet for an eclectic mixture of tourists and locals.

REST ASSURED

There is only one hotel in Barceloneta itself, the Hotel Marina Folch (Carrer Mar, 16, 00 34 93 310 3709) which offers unspectacular but clean doubles at €55 (£37) and singles at €33 (£22). Much further upmarket, on the fringes of the barrio, is the Hotel Arts (Carrer de la Marina 19-21, 00 34 93 221 1000, www.harts.es, € 320/£228 per night for a double), a skyscraper which offers fantastic views of the shimmering city and the sea, which keeps it cool.

MUST SEE

Don't leave the barrio without checking out the terrace on the fourth floor of the Museu de la Historia de Catalunya (Placa Pau Vila 3, 00 34 93 225 4700), which gives a fantastic view over the Marina Port Vell. The view is free; the superior fixed-menu lunch in the restaurant is a bargain at €9 (£6). The permanent exhibition in the museum (€3/£2) is also worth a look. This weekend, starting tomorrow, the museum will show a temporary exhibition of paintings and photographs of the long-gone Somorrostro barrio, as part of the flamenco festival.

MUST EAT

Barceloneta is full of seafood restaurants. Can Solé (Carrer San Carles, 4; 00 34 93 221 5012), once a favourite of artists Santiago Rusiñol and Joan Miro, is the most prestigious. Celebrating its 100th birthday this year, this roomy establishment is the haunt of the city's great and good. As a starter, try the Cantabrian anchovies, marinated in olive oil and vinegar, or the fresh squid in a caramelised tomato sauce. Second-course specialities include a range of seafood paellas - try the black version darkened by squid ink; fideua (vermicelli cooked, like paella, in a broth); and oven-baked hake with potato, garlic and onions. A two-course meal for two, with wine, will set you back about €70/£47. For a cheaper seafood experience, try the Jai-ca (Carrer Ginebra, 13), a tapas bar with a cool and quiet terrace.

INTO THE NIGHT

Enjoy a beer or two (the local favourite, Estrella, is very drinkable) at the Vaso de Oro (Carrer Balboa, 6, open 10am to midnight daily). For modern sounds, and a hike in prices, check out the trendy Daguiri at the beach end of Carrer Guitert. Finish the night on the beach where the council-run bar El Chiringuito (open till midnight) sells reasonably-priced drinks, and allows you to relax on the beach loungers in a section of the sand squared off by torches of fire.

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