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A naked happy birthday in Barcelona

A naked happy birthday in Barcelona

Barcelona has some of the Mediterranean’s most underrated beaches, one of which is the clothing-optional beach of Mar Bella.

There must be something about the open and accepting environment of a nude beach that prompts members of the LGBT community to gravitate to Mar Bella’s soft sand and warm waters.

Of course, seeing nude bodies basking in the sun as nature intended probably doesn’t hurt either.

Travelling from London to the sleepy Spanish city of Barcelona for my birthday, my plans included exploring lots of Gaudi architecture and consuming lots of sangria, but I never planned on donning my birthday suit in front of complete strangers.

All the worries and insecurities about where to look, who’s looking at my bits or what to do when an entire beach sees me naked went out the window once I resolved that nudity, on a beach or anywhere, isn’t necessarily about sex and should definitely not be about judgement.

Despite its lasting impact, the nude beach only took up a few hours on my last day in Barcelona.

The days and nights before Mar Bella were filled with sipping on hand-made sangria, staring gob-smacked at modernist architecture and searching for the best eateries in Spain’s second-biggest city, home to homo-erotic underwear brand ES Collection.

The city’s grid-system is easy to navigate on foot or bicycle. Barcelona’s streets meet at the city center Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter, where some building facades and churches date back to medieval times. Barcelona boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites that range from churches, parks and hospitals of unparalleled beauty.

While the day is best to roam around the city in search of Antoni Gaudi’s prolific work, Barcelona truly comes to life at night. The city’s main thoroughfare La Rambla spills over with tourists and locals enjoying late-night meals and even later cocktails.

The trick is to wander the path less trodden to discover the local hang outs, usually more quiet and more authentic in food and presentation.

The gay area in Barcelona is concentrated in the eastern side of the Eixample (pronounced ai-shum-plah), or Gaixample as it’s come to be affectionately known to locals.

To my knowledge, public nudity is only allowed on the golden sands of Barcelona’s clothing-optional beaches, but the city’s openness and acceptance of the LGBT community is felt everywhere, day or night.

Below are my recommendations for the best eats, drinks and views in Barcelona.

Sangria made from scratch

Early in my trip, a waiter told me that only tourists order sangria. Not one to disappoint, I was sure to try sangria in as many places as possible. The best I tasted was at Mirinda Restaurant, an open-air restaurant located in a ‘secret’ square off the main drag La Rambla.

My waitress told me that Mirinda’s sangria is particularly special because each one is handmade, not pre-mixed. When I commented on the interesting granules that mix in with the alcohol and fruit, she said that instead of simple syrups, Mirinda uses chunky white sugar that doesn’t quite dissolve in the drink, resulting in an amazing combination of flavors. The tapas were also some of the best-tasting and most-reasonably priced I found around.


Breathtaking rooftop views

Michael Fuchs,  editor of gay travel website 60by80, met me for a drink at Grand Central Hotel’s Sky Bar. A Barcelona resident, Fuchs told me that only recently did the city’s rooftop bars open their doors to non-customers. In doing so, Barcelona opened the floodgates to residents and travellers looking to enjoy their drinks with a view, and what a view this was. The Grand Central Hotel overlooks the southern part of the city, all the way to the massive W Hotel at the Barceloneta beach.

The next night I headed to Barcelona’s ‘hetero-friendly’ Axel Hotel, one of four hospitality venues around the world that is LGBT-specific. While Axel Hotels can also be found in Buenos Aires and Berlin, Barcelona’s Axel sets itself apart from other local gay venues with a rooftop deck, bar and pool that creates a relaxed and festive atmosphere.

As the party in Barcelona doesn’t get started until late, the bar was fairly quiet around 11 pm, but quickly filled with boys, girls and drag queens looking to make a splash or a pit-stop before moving on to the next watering hole.

Food-filled heaven

Ditch your reservations for one afternoon and spend your time roaming La Boqueria market – an open-air market that brings together the best of traditional Spanish foods with new and exciting trends in international cuisine.

Fresh seafood stalls are packed next to fruit stands that bundle up next to meat and cheese vendors, and the vendors all seem to know each other. Freshly squeezed juices are on sale for €1 ($1.35), and nibbles from empanadas to meat cones are available in a variety of fillings.

One day, I literally had seven mini-meals in a few hours roaming through La Boqueria.

Sweets to die for

In the up-and-coming area of San Antoni Abad, you will find a small bakery named J Fabrega. When I first walked in I was beckoned by the assortment of chocolates on display in the window, but was quickly drawn to the rest of the pastries. My favorite in particular was the ‘borracho,’ which means drunkard in Spanish. The square piece of cake was soaked in cognac and had a caramelized sugar crust that had me making embarrassing noises as I devoured the cake walking down the street.

Mind-boggling architecture

I’ve done my share of sightseeing, but I am serious when I say I have never seen anything like the Sagrada Familia church. Considered to be the masterpiece of Barcelona native Antoní Gaudi, Sagrada Familia has been under construction for 144 years, throughout which time it’s encountered budgetary restraints and city council road blocks. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the vision of the artist is expected to be complete in 2026.

Barcelona is literally covered in Gaudi’s work, a unique architectural style fusing the Modernist art movement, which sought to change society through bohemian art, with nature and religion.

Also not to be missed is Guelle Park, expansive grounds in the northern tip of the city that perfectly exemplifies how Gaudi’s eccentric constructions fit perfectly in and with nature. A piece of advice: don’t ride a bicycle to Guelle Park, unless you’re craving an uphill workout.