The Glamour of Paseo de Gracia
Every top major city across the world that has gained global recognition either for its arts & cultural scene or advances in business and technology has one thing in common— an avenue or a collection of streets that exude the image of wealth, power and glamour the city desires to put forth to the eyes of the world. In most cases these grand boulevards feature a collection of prized high-end fashion boutiques, exclusive eateries and 5-star hotels and pricey private residences. In Barcelona it’s Paseo de Gracia (Passeig de Grácia in Catalan), which can be compared to London’s Regent Street or the more subdue but equally elegant Bond Street.
In New York it’s 5th Avenue with Madison Avenue coming in a very close second. In Paris it’s the Champ Elysées followed by Avenue Montaigne, which is beating out St. Honoré with its collection of major French designer stores. Whether you’re from these major cities, have called them home or toured them, it’s for sure you’ve strolled along these famous streets. In Barcelona it’s practically impossible to skip over Paseo de Gracia even if you tried and its wise not to try and do so.
Running northeast from Gran de Gracia and dissecting 7 major avenues along the way, the southeast traffic flows directly into the grand Plaça Catalunya. Geographically, it´s in the heart of the city center between two major destination points, Avenida Diagonal, which is also known for its shopping and as a business hub then Plaça Catalunya the historical nucleus of Barcelona.
Furthermore, there are two landmark architectural sites that any guide book or tour guide will implore you to explore; the modernist Casa Mila and Casa Batlló by the renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí both have addresses on the Paseo de Gracia.
All along Paseo de Gracia are the most opulent buildings recalling it’s aristocratic past wand modernized present. However historically, Paseo de Gracia, which was called Camí de Jesus (Jesus Road) was a rural road surrounded by gardens that connected Barcelona to the town of Gracia (before Gracia was absorbed into the greater city of Barcelona) until 1824 when the first urbanization project was completed. By 1827 with a width of 42 meters Paseo de Gracia became the favored thoroughfare for the city’s aristocrats to showcase their riding skills in grandiose horse-drawn carriages throughout the 19th century.
In many ways, Paseo de Gracia is much like that of 5th Avenue because not only is it known for its great shopping but also as an important business area. Of course Wall Street is the epitome of business districts but plenty of negotiation goes on in 712 5th Avenue (Trump Tower), for example. Regent Street with the BBC could also qualify in this particular comparison of promenades that have combined shopping and big business. On Paseo de Gracia you’ll find important companies, primarily private banking institutions like Banif and Deutsche.
The hospitality industry is also big business on Paseo de Gracia but this falls into the grandeur of the marvelous street, which can only compare to that of the Champ Elyseés. The most luxurious hotels in the city are all located along Paseo de Gracia including The Majestic, a classic hotel that has a long history of servicing wealthy clientele from footballers to celebrities and heads of state. Their rooftop bar is also a favorite place for guests of the hotel and professionals for cocktails during the summer months.
Then you have Hotel Condes, which actually combines the structures of two historical palaces from the XIX century, one of them being the Casa Batlló. Hotel Condes is completely modernized however maintains the antique details and charms of the original structures. Most recently, Paseo de Gracia also welcomed the opening of The Mandarin Oriental housed in what was once the head office of the Banco Hispano Americano, one of main forces behind the Spanish post-Civil War economy.
And before that, the building was actually the headquarters of the Equestrian Circle, which directly correlates to the aforementioned pastime of the Catalan bourgeoisie flaunting their money and horse-riding skills.
The comparisons to the Champs Elyseés are limitless like the broad sidewalks where you can walk hand-in-hand 6 people across, the lush greenery of trees and the striking neoclassical architecture that were once the facades of mansions reserved for the city’s upper crust. One of my favorite details is the Art Nouveau street lamps with their elegant curvaceous ironwork and the curvaceous benches covered in white mosaic tiles that are stationed along the avenue. Okay, then of course is the shopping.
Saving the best for last but not least, the shops on the Paseo tend to be like the shops you’ll find on Avenue Montaigne. In other words, top tier luxury brands like Ermengeldo Zegna and Burberry to Chanel and Dolce & Gabanna. Likewise homegrown designer brands such as Adolfo Dominquez and Pronovias have set up shop there. Popular among the Spanish crowd is the flagship Carolina Herrera boutique selling its complete collection of clothing for men and women along with accessories.
Two very well known high-end boutiques, Jofre and Gonzallo Comella sit at either end of the Paseo consistently attracting a loyal following of fashionistas. However unlike Bond Street in London the shops also run the gamut as far as price-point and taste. Nike and Puma have generously sized stores with a heavy emphasis on football fans. You’ll also find mid-tier brands like Sita Murt, Diesel, and one of my favorites, the local brand Hoss Intropia. At the affordable end there are not one but two Zaras and two Mangos as well as H&M.
For the most part clothes and accessories dominates the shopping on Paseo de Gracia but one store that shouldn’t be missed is Vinçon, a home design store that sells just every cool piece of furniture or home accessory you would expect to find in the pages of Metropolitan Home magazine. It´s one of the few stores where you find both men and women entertained too.
In between shopping, you can stop for a bite to eat or a coffee at any number of the cafes and restaurants most of which have outdoor seating. The places you can go to range from the standard like Starbucks or to the more exclusive Vinoteca Torres Wine Bar. Restaurants tend to cater to tourists capturing their attention by offering a menu of tapas or authentic Spanish dishes like paella. Most offer decent food and service but expect to pay more because A) it is Paseo de Gracia and B) it is a major tourist area.
Paseo de Gracia is the most prestigious street in Barcelona as well as the most expensive real estate that is said to be more costly than Calle Serrano in Madrid. But to enjoy its splendor you don’t have to drop a ton of money although the shopping is tempting. Nevertheless, I as well as many of the city’s residents frequently stroll the elegant promenade on a Sunday afternoon (its quieter because all the shops are closed), stopping to peek in shop windows, eat a gelato from Farga or simply admire the beautiful buildings.