It’s tempting to say that there’s nowhere like Barcelona – there’s certainly not another city in Spain to touch it for sheer style, looks or energy. The glossy mags and travel press dwell enthusiastically on its outrageous architecture, designer shopping, hip bars and vibrant cultural scene, but Barcelona is more than just this year’s fad. It’s a confident, progressive city, one that is tirelessly selfrenewing while preserving all that’s best about its past. As neighbourhoods are rebuilt with panache, and locals and visitors alike pursue the latest, most fashionable sensation, there’s also an enduring embrace of the things that make life worth living – the daily market visit, strolling down the famous Ramblas, a lazy harbourside lunch, frenetic festival nights, a Sunday by the beach or a ticket for FC Barcelona’s next big game. It’s no accident that Barcelona is the least Spanish city in the country. With the return to democracy following the death of Franco, the various regions were allowed to consolidate their cultural identities through varying degrees of political autonomy. Catalunya (Catalonia in English), of which Barcelona is the capital, has a historical identity going back as far as the ninth century, when the first independent County of Barcelona was established, and through the long period of domination by Castile, and even during the Franco dictatorship when a policy of cultural suppression was pursued, it proved impossible to stifle Catalan identity. Barcelona itself has long had the reputation of being at the forefront of Spanish political activism, and of radical design and architecture, but these cultural distinctions are rapidly becoming secondary to the city’s position as one of the most dynamic commercial centres in the country.