Like a giant Koh-i-Noor, Barcelona sparkles under a crisp winter sky. From the lush slopes of Mount Tibidabo, the sun bounces off 600 years of architecture, framing the whimsical shapes of the Eixample’s Modernist buildings, sliding down the medieval streets of the Barri Gòtic, and playing against the Diagonal Mar’s skyscrapers, before drowning in a dazzling blue sea. Although expats account for the bulk of foreign demand, Barcelona also has a lively market for second homes. Add to this the effect of the Euro, a thriving economy and active local demand and it is easy to see why prices have skyrocketed over the past few years.
‘Barcelona has seen a growth of between 15% and 25% a year,’ says Stijn Teeuwen of local estate agent Lucas Fox (00 34 933 562 989). The outlook for the future looks somewhat calmer, but Mr Teeuwen still expects an annual growth of 10% to 15% over the next three years.
Property has appreciated at a particularly crazy rate in the tiny Old Town, which is most prized by international buyers. At its heart lies the Barri Gòtic, a maze of narrow streets lined with tall buildings dating from the Middle Ages through to the 19th century. Before the 1992 Olympics, this was a fairly unhealthy place to live, but gentrification has progressed at a fast pace. ‘This area was a disaster for about 120 years, but now look at it,’ says Gaynor Puig, a British antique dealer who lives on the lower reaches of the Gòtic. ‘Luxury apartments are being built and the old Post Office is becoming a five-star hotel.’
Moving to either side of the Gòtic, buyers trade centuries of history for some of the world’s most extraordinary architecture. South-west of the Old Town lies the Sant Marti district; a former industrial area, it has been transformed Docklands-style in the past 10 years. Sant Marti now ends in the ultra-modern Diagonal Mar, a luxury high-rise development with private pools and jaw-dropping views.
North of the Old Town, the Eixample was built between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. It became popular with affluent Catalans and Modernist architects, and it is here that Antoni Gaudì created some of his most celebrated designs?from the seascape-inspired Casa Battleto the curvy façade of Casa Mila.
Foreigners favour the bottom streets of the borough, close to Placa de Catalunya. Slightly further north, the Golden Quadrangle is much sought after among the locals. The only drawback is that prices across the Eixample are steep. ‘For ?1.5 million, you get a good apartment of 1,600sq ft around Paseo de Gracia,’ says Alexander Vaughan from Lucas Fox.
Some of Barcelona’s grandest houses are set miles away from the Eixample at the foot of Mount Tibidabo. This area is so much further up than the rest of the city that it still keeps a rural feel. Houses here rarely make it onto the open market and tend to be on the enormous side. The Tibidabo is the preserve of affluent locals rather than foreigners. But if you ever saw the many facets of Barcelona gleaming at your feet, this is where you’d want to live.
Entering Gaynor Puig’s flat, in the Barri Gòtic, is like stepping into an architectural textbook, starting with the floral motifs of the Modernist sitting room. The master bedroom is sober by comparison, with its duck-egg blue walls and Napoleon III mouldings. But the centrepiece is the huge Louis XIV drawing room?a triumph of gilded stucco and marbled walls, crowned by a fresco by Catalan artist Reynes. Mr Puig is also adding a new en suite bedroom which will open onto a roof terrace overlooking the church of La Merce. Lucas Fox (00 34 933 562 989), ?1.3 million.
Set on the Carretera de Vallvidrera al Tibidabo, north Barcelona, the Castillo closely resembles Antoni Gaudi’s Parc Guell. Built by one of his students, the 16,000sq ft mansion has many reception rooms. Outside, the main terrace is openly modelled on Parc Guell, with mosaic-covered benches and a jellyfish sculpture. The Castillo needs complete restoration but many of its original features remain intact. Lucas Fox (00 34 933 562 989), ?4.2 million.
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