Surrealism in Barcelona

Let the great Salvador Dalí introduce you to the Catalan capital, says Chris Carter.

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Cool off in the pool at the Claris

Gala is mostly remembered today as the muse of the great Salvador Dal. The Russian appears in many of the paintings by the Catalan surrealist artist. But she was also so much more than that. As husband and wife, Dal and Gala struck up one of the greatest artistic partnerships of the 20th century, right up until her death in 1982, aged 87. In recognition of that fact, Dal even signed some of his later works with both of their names. The "Gala Salvador Dal project", as the partnership is sometimes called, is the focus of a brilliant new exhibition at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona, until 14 October. If you should find yourself in the Catalan capital this autumn, then there is no better introduction to the city.

Art springs to life

In Barcelona, art is everywhere even in the architecture. Take the Casa Mil, located on Passeig de Gracia, one of Barcelona's grandest avenues, for example. Completed in 1912, Casa Mil, or La Pedrera (stone quarry) as it is also known, was designed by Catalonia's most famous architect, Antoni Gaud. In 1984 it was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. From where I stood on the pavement gazing up at its undulating curves and wavy lines, the building seemed animated in the shimmering summer heat. Gaud's best-known shrine to eccentric architecture is also to be found in the Eixample quarter: the Sagrada Famlia church.

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Casa Mil comes alive

Continuing past tapas bars serving cold beers and plates of ibrico ham and sea-fresh octopus, I arrived back at the Hotel Claris. Formerly the 19th-century palace of Palau Vedruna, it has clung on to its gorgeous neoclassical faade, despite a remodelling in 1992. The rooftop terrace is a sanctuary of tranquillity raised above the heat and bustle of the city in full summer. It is here that you can cool off in the pool, get a bite to eat at La Terraza del Claris, or simply sip a beer while looking down on the street life. (If you find yourself peckish for Asian food, the hotel's Mr. Kao restaurant serves up a fusion of Chinese and Mediterranean cuisine.) Yet the rooftop terrace is not the hotel's most surprising feature. Rather, it is its long-term residents.

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Terrace at the Hotel Claris

The Clos collection

Stout and elongated, some wide-eyed, others squinting, some in gold, others in clay, the Claris's collection of pre-Columbian figures and artefacts, dotted around the hotel, are the result of hotel chairman Jordi Clos's passion for art and history. One such portly attendant, a clay vessel in the shape of a figure from the Chancay culture of Peru, was to be found in my bedroom, staring down the hallway into the snug living room. As for the black-marble bathroom, that was inhabited by a Jacuzzi as well as a shower that turned into a private Turkish bath at the press of a button. And the pampering doesn't end there.

In the hotel's Mayan Secret Spa, the pre-Columbian theme continues with Europe's only temazcal (a mesoamerican sauna, where water is poured over hot stones to release the aromas of herbs). Or if chocolate is how you choose to relax, you can elect to be slathered in it (good for the skin, apparently). Salvador Dal would certainly have approved.

Junior Suite from €299 a night for two, see HotelClaris.com.

An exploration of Spanish cuisine

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Hamming it up in Guijuelo

This October my friend Jo Wivell from Corazon Travel will be leading an expedition of culinary discovery through central and southern Spain. Starting with the tapas bars of Madrid, the tour calls in for lunch at the private estate of Alejandro Fernndez, one of Spain's greatest winemakers. In the small town of Morales del Vino, artisan cheese maker Vicente Pastor presents his zamorano, then it's south via Salamanca to Guijuelo, which has a long tradition of curing Iberian ham. Arriving in Jerez de la Frontera via stops in Mrida, with its Roman ruins, and Seville, you're in sherry country for a visit to one of the region's oldest bodegas: Fernando de Castilla. Finally, back in Madrid, the week is rounded off with dinner at the two Michelin-starred El Club Allard assuming you still have room. €3,500 per person, see CorazonTravel.com.

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