Briony Key goes where no ITCM reporter has gone beforeThe chance to go to Barcelona brought back memories of back packing around Europe, so I jumped at the opportunity to see how this buzzing city has changed in the past 20 years –especially as this time I was staying at the 4-star, recently refurbished Barceló Sants hotel. Aware of the stiff competition for MICE trade, Barceló has gone beyond ‘out of the box’ thinking to attract sales – it’s taken avant-garde to a new level and opted for an ‘out of this world’ approach.
The 364-room (14 suites) hotel started its E20m refurbishment in 2012 and opened last May - designed as a space station. It promises a ‘galactic trip’ to guests, complete with ship-style window hatches!
Our group had come prepared for take off and to take in the many incentive options in this popular city.
But we’ll keep grounded for a moment to share the hotel’s MICE options.
Barceló Sants has 14 function rooms, many connected, with a total of 3,0000 sqm of space dedicated to events and conferences. They accommodate from 10 to 1,500 people and there is also a showroom for exhibitions and product launches.
Chefs have also taken its cuisine to new heights, with gastronomic menus specifically tailored for work sessions and conferences aimed at inspiring and energising the mind. They call it the Brain Food concept. We tried it and loved it. Who wouldn’t be inspired by beef tartare, turbot in pepper and lime juice and wild berries infused in green tea?
It tasted fresh, didn’t make you feel full and sluggish and certainly led to a few good conversations. Dare I say it - we felt shipshape! There are two options for dining here – and both are pretty cosmic in terms of food and service.
Oxygen provides delegates with a light meal, or healthy buffet aimed at keeping them energised, while Hydrogen provides the à la carte option, with inspired recipes that fuse Spanish cuisine with world food, flavours and fine wine.
So, what is there to do outside the conference room? It’s more a question of where do you start. Gaudi’s unfinished yet internationally famous cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, is well worth a visit, as is a tour of Las Ramblas, taking in the many side-streets that meander off to reveal tiny traditional stores that are now run by the third generation of the founding families.
A guided tour is a great way to see all of this and to learn the city’s history. Those who fancy treating their team to a taste of the city should certainly include the Boqueria Food Market in their itinerary. It’s a great chance to see the city’s colourful culture, sample some fine, fresh food and to meet the locals.
Groups can also set their taste buds racing at the Jamón Experience, where you find out the various flavours of this Iberian delicacy by sampling six hand-carved hams, along with a glass of cava. It might well sound like we ate our way through this trip, which can’t be denied, but we loved the walking tour. Groups should also be given time to try e-biking around the old town, which included the ancient Jewish quarter, the Parc de la Ciutadella and the sea front. It was a great group activity. We saw so much more than we could have on foot and got to enjoy some exercise ahead of our return flights.
Leaving the ‘mother ship’ is easy, as the hotel is literally above the Sants Railway Station. There is direct lift access to the train network and it is only 15 minutes by train to El Prat Airport. It’s also convenient for those attending meetings outside the hotel, as it is just 500m from the Barcelona International Convention Centre and five minutes (by public transport) to the city centre.
There are two other 4-star Barceló hotels in the city – the Raval and the Atenea Mar. The funky Raval is close to the Gothic Quarter. It’s urban and edgy - ideal for event bookers wanting a cosmopolitan setting for their meetings, with panoramic views of the city’s many attractions.
It has 182 rooms, four suites, and four meetings rooms catering for up to 100 people, a wellness centre and a gym.
We ate lunch there and I can certainly vouch for its claim to ‘excellent Mediterranean cuisine’, after which we rolled rather than walked down Las Ramblas.
Barceló Atenea Mars
The 187-room (four suites) Atenea Mar is on the beachfront and has meeting facilities for 400 people. It’s also just 15 minutes form the CCIB convention centre.
But you can’t beat the Sants for ‘getting out there’. Beam me up, Barceló!
Vueling Airlines operates year round flights to Barcelona from London Gatwick with fares, including taxes, starting from €49.99 (£36) one way. For further information or to book please visit www.vueling.com