A mix of locals and tourists converge in a certain harmony in a quiet street near La Puntual – the street name probably originates from 'camp d'alls' or 'garlic field' – that doesn't seem as if it belongs in 21st-century Barcelona, especially the house with the flowers. Everyone who passes by stops a moment to admire and immortalise the façade. Insects pollenate the greenery around the front door of this house with, which is the home of an elderly couple.
It has the proletarian air of those picnic areas in Berlanga films, where families of little means spend their Sundays. It's known far and wide for its vermouth hours based on fried tapas and patatas bravas, and it's easily identifiable by the stones lining the façade (Mühlberg, 1). Anyone sitting on the terrace who's familiar with Juan Marsé's 1965 novel 'Últimas tardes con Teresa' feels the uncontrollable urge to push a Seat downhill. That's why people have been making the pilgrimage on motorbikes for decades.
Not for the civic centre, but for the cardboard-stone corner next to it
Local legend claims there's a chapel of Santa Eulàlia de Vilapicina that dates back to 1031, but the truth is that the church you see now was built in the late 18th century. Stuck to it like a farmhouse, you'll find a glittering building behind which, nearly a century ago, clay pots were sold. Now it's a yarn shop with pretensions of an undergarment store, and the cypress at the entrance is a marvel. And, yes, spanning time yet linked by a bridge, lies the Can Basté civic centre (Pg. de Fabra i Puig, 274).
You've got to get lost a bit before finding this paradise
This Horta street still has the attraction that made it famous at the turn of the 20th century, the wells and washing areas where the people of Barcelona went up to do their laundry. To this area of one-storey homes and abundant flowery nature, sightseers come to discover unspoiled parts of the city that fluorish beyond the Turó de la Rovira, explore the shops and bars that open onto the street, and seek out these little corners of beauty.
Though C/Rogent has a disproportionate amount of obese dogs waddling about and offices where you can get legal advice, it's still a pedestrian refuge from an area of unbearable traffic, apart from the minor worshiping space to small businesses, from the Lara watchmakers to the Gym Rogent, which advertises itself with a boxer in shorts and gloves. A bit further up, on the corner of Enamorats, there's a glorious goose atop a fountain, which lowers its head and raises its behind in a northerly direction, as if it's in need of expelling wind. Majestic.
What we inherited from the squatters on Urgell and Floridablanca
It's not noble. There's no marble staircase or a double door where carriages once moved in and out. But Can Tarragó is the oldest house in the Eixample, erected in the early days of the Cerdà plan of city expansion in the mid-1800s. Now, thanks to its past as a squat, it's known by its nom de guerre, La Carbonera, and on the façade is an enormous hot-air balloon 'tromple-l'oeil'. Until the day they bring the building down, it'll be a local treasure.
Not to be confused with a Manchester factory, or a squatter's house, the steeple of the church of the Sacred Heart may strike some as a plausible magnet for vampires, but nothing could be further from the truth. The temple is humble, unpretentious and with apparent style. The walls are devoid of imagery to indoctrinate the faithful. The gable roof is made with wooden beams. In the middle of nowhere, an unusual space for worship rises up (Pere IV, 398).
Glide down marble staircases, take in the picture windows and the tiles that colour the rooms, and breathe fresh air before an unreal picture postcard composed of the Coliseum theatre and the Eixample buildings reflected in the sculpture by Cristina Iglesias. You don't have to be an aristocrat to enjoy the baroque-modernista fantasy created by Enric Sagnier, today the headquarters of the Fundació Francisco Godia (Diputació, 250).
It opened its doors at No. 33 of Joaquín Costa in 1860, long before neighbouring bars Oddland and El Negroni. And before, a few houses down, the infamous Enriqueta Martí imprisoned the children she kidnapped for various nefarious purposes. But despite its gorgeous, historic features, Casa Almirall remains down to earth. It's still a popular bar, beer is cheap, and no one minds if you swear.
In Gràcia, the collaborative spirit triumphs
Papers of various weights, historic offset machines like the Heidelberg, printers' chests of drawers from days gone by, and a smell of ink that permeates everything. When you visit, you look down from above, as Gutenberg's successors work away below. This is L’Automàtica (Legalitat, 18), a self-managed cultural association formed by artists, designers and illustrators that was born out of love for endagered spaces and trades. Reinvention, collaboration and ink go hand in hand.
There's not a local in Poble-sec who doesn't know Manel Tort's baskets of mussels
In a godless and pagan world where no one bothers confessing or asking for divine absolution, a priest's Sunday services have been replaced by a weekly visit to the fishmonger's. At least, that's the way it is among the residents of C/Olivera. A great example of the genus stands at No. 33 under the management of Manel Tort, a kind of fishing Mullah who inspires confidence in all his customers.
La Satalia is an unprecedented discovery, a gift for the brave pilgrims who climb the steep Passeig de l'Exposició. From the outside of the football pitch – with a beer in hand if the bar's open – you can watch the magnificent sunset. Make your return to civilisation via C/Julià, accompanied by the sound of drums and bugles if the Palma Moderna band is rehearsing, or in absolute silence as you gaze at the little houses along the way. You can't help but fall in love with the façade covered in ivy.
We're not in London, there's not a cemetery like Highgate with crypts and angels of death fit for staging a Poe-style premature burial. But we have got Tamarita park (Pg. Sant Gervasi, 37). For all the efforts of the council's Parks and Gardens department, nature is a wild animal, devouring ruins, stones and greenhouses at will. It's accessible by public transport and, despite everything, it's also suitable for children.
Don't be fooled by the imperial style of the entrance – it's narrow, dark and likely wouldn't pass any health inspections. The smell of piss might be off-putting, but don't let that stop you. Everything going on here is pure charm: the gentlemen sitting with their Formica chairs and a transistor radio, the sign for the Gondal & Gujar Brothers bakery that looks like something out of 1867 Atlanta, and the seafood menu El Cafetí restaurant has hanging under the arch of the San Rafael exit, decorated with chalk octopi and a crab with the measles.
It's a shame that the uptown neighbourhood of Sarrià is at odds with the common people. It might not be in the best taste to say, but if you go for a walk in Sarrià one afternoon, you can die happy. That is, of course, if you can manage to avoid the plague of uniformed schoolchildren. Just behind the market at the end of a little street that seems to go nowhere is this small square (C/ de la Parròquia and C/Pere Mique de Sarrià) , a kind of Lorcan patio with honeysuckle and potted geraniums. All that's missing is the sound of traditional Andalusian 'cante jondo' singing to complete the ambience.
They say it was built by the son of Guifré el Pilós (Wilfred the Hairy) in the early 10th century, outside the walls, in the middle of the countryside. Hence the name ('camp' means 'countryside'). It's practically a miracle that it survived the progressive expansion of the city. Despite being suffocated by the changes in recent years that have turned it into a watchtower situated between the sprawling Av. Paral·lel and the south of the Raval, there it stands, solid as a rock, a Romanesque fossil of admirable pedigree (Sant Pau, 101).
This is a place where you can admire Gothic design while a concert of the Spanish guitar is being set up. Have we long ignored what lies in the shadows of Plaça Catalunya? Yes, we admit it. Tucked away in a bleak, murky square is the church of Santa Anna and its beautiful cloister. We can picture Knights Templar passing through, and in the background hear the shouts and whistles of modern-day demonstrators nearby.
At 10am on a weekday there's not a free seat at the terrace bar overlooking Vil·la Joana (Ctra. de l'Esglèsia, 104, Vallvidrera). Retirees who like to hike know the best places for a picturesque breakfast, and this cottage, where the poet Jacint Verdaguer died, silhouetted against a blue sky, is an idyllic setting. You can seek shelter under the pines or take a walk full of surprises – at that time of day, the wild boars and their babies are also feeling a bit peckish.
The collection of social housing built in 1979 by architects Bohigas, Martorell and Mackay on the land of the former La Maquinista factory casts a spell over pedestrians, who retain and fantasise about what they've seen long afterwards. The ground floors of the buildings today have a kitsch (even sordid) touch, and the neoplastic chromatic combination of the entryways are still effective – to the extent that, decades later, they can still make us think of the low houses of California.
In the distance you can see the chimney of Can Gili Vell, a former flour factory, like a brick tower of Pisa from the 19th century. As you get nearer, walking along the paving stones that testify to the industrial past of Poblenou, you can hear the hilarity coming from a laughter therapy centre. Further on, you'll see the windows of Vapor Llull: a slogan proclaims that what distinguishes them are their ideas. Stroll on to the end of the lovely passage, which has nothing but quiet, sun and shade, and authenticity.