Catalonia Luxury Break with McLaren Super Car by Alan Douglas
While the political shenanigans continue in Spain over the future of Catalonia they have perhaps overshadowed the attraction of the region as a holiday destination. It boasts beautiful beaches, lively cities and stunning countryside all of which make it a great place to go for a weekend break or even longer if you can squeeze some time out of your busy schedule. It’s also a popular area with some of the car manufacturers who find the roads are first-class for putting their latest models through their paces on the fast-flowing motorways, superbly-surfaced quiet country roads or the more challenging inclines up in the mountains.
I’ve been there many times to test drive new cars before their release onto the market but my latest visit was undoubtedly one of the best. It was to get a first look and drive of the latest baby from the British supercar maker McLaren, the newest in their entry-level Sports Series, which although expensive with a starting price of £164,750 – the test car had a £195,510 price tag with all the extras – could be slightly more within the reach of committed sportscar enthusiasts.
Their 570S Spider is a two-piece retractable hardtop with the dynamic qualities and refinement of the Coupe and GT versions with the added exhilaration of open-air driving…..and it is stunning. I certainly got the most from the drop-top, when I was set free on a 400-kilometre route on roads north of Barcelona.
There were two things which stood out about my test car. Its eye-catching Curacao Blue paint-job and the sensational rasp from the double sports exhaust, which went some way towards justifying its additional £3,370 cost. Throughout the drive it burbled and roared at the rear end and with the roof down I got the full wonderful effect, especially when heading through the numerous tunnels where I admit I gave the throttle an extra blip for the full reverberation.
But as well as having a great time with the car, it also gave me the chance to look again at what’s on offer for the visitor to this very individual area of Spain. In the main city of Barcelona itself, there’s a vast choice of places to stay from bargain-basement flats and B&Bs to top-class hotels with prices to match. I was booked into the stunning W Hotel, a sail-shaped glass tower right on the sea and next to the famous Barceloneta beachfront.
Designed by renowned architect Ricardo Bofill, the 473 guestrooms all have panoramic views over the Mediterranean or the city. If you want a suite, you’ll have to dig deep but more modest rooms can range from £250 to £500 a night. There’s plenty of places to relax from the 26th-floor hotspot, the Eclipse rooftop bar, or the Wave and the W Lounge where they’ll happily serve up one of their special cocktails. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to eating too. You can opt for simple burgers at the Salt Restaurant, right on the beach, or head for Bravo24 where the team focus on local seasonal ingredients to produce modern interpretations of traditional culinary delights along with the obligatory tapas to share.
It’s a great base from which to explore the city as you’re only minutes from the tourist centres of Ciutat Vella, Passeig del Born and Las Ramblas or if you’re more adventurous you could take in the water sports of Puerto Olímpico. Barcelona is a big city, but it’s the perfect size to discover on foot. There are impressive buildings around every corner and lovely parks in which to soak up the atmosphere. If you want to get round a little quicker, there are lots of places to hire a bike.
The top attractions are the city’s modernista architecture, and the works of Antoni Gaudí in particular. The most famous is the Sagrada Família, the large unfinished Roman Catholic church which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction work has been going on since 1882 and even by the time of Gaudi’s death at the age of 73 in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete.
There are live music venues a-plenty or you can follow in the footsteps of Salvador Dali and Picasso, who spent his early years in the city and visit the Museu Picasso itself, a gallery that houses works from his formative years. Just one word of advice though. Hold on tightly to your purses, wallets, cameras, phones and handbags, especially in the streets and also in restaurants and bars which are a favourite haunt of pickpockets and thieves.
Things are much quieter out in the countryside away from the bustling city. Having battled through the choked streets I spent the best part of a day enjoying the open roads in a round trip, stopping only for a splendid lunch a couple of hours to the north. Hotel la Vella Farga is a meticulously reconstructed eleventh-century Catalan country house that has been given a new lease of life as a unique, exclusive guest house.
It is set in an estate of meadows, pine forests and century-old olive groves in the foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees and is a peaceful haven in contrast to the major city on the coast.
Its restaurant serves innovative cuisine based on natural ingredients and offers a midweek menu of local produce with a choice of four seasonal appetisers, a choice of five main dishes and four dessert options for 25 Euros per person and that includes water and wine or a soft drink and coffee. The problem was choosing from the offering which included red fruits and vegetables with prawns, fresh pasta sauteed with pesto, flamed aubergine coca bread, goat’s cheese and honey and main courses with cod snout with monge-tout and cream of chickpeas, market fish with yogurt sauce with citrus and couscous with vegetables.
It was delightful and I could happily have relaxed afterwards in the sunshine in the glorious surroundings, but the McLaren was waiting to complete the final 200 kilometres back to the city….and I had the keys in my pocket.
Informed Luxury Guest Contributor
Broadcaster & Car Journalist