All that glitters is gold – the rise of Barcelona’s glitterati – the Catalan capital’s growing appeal to international movers and shakers

When one of the Stones rolls into town, it can do the reputation of a place no harm. So when Ronnie Wood, the Rolling Stone’s guitarist, decided to buy an apartment in central Barcelona, it just added to the city’s kudos.

Wood bought a former office in the upmarket area of Eixample last year and is currently transforming the flat into a home for himself and his wife Sally Humphreys.

The musician, who also loves to paint, hopes when he is in Barcelona he can spend time at the canvas. “I had always wanted to buy a place here but had never got round to it,” he said recently. “It will also give me a chance to paint.”

Wood is just the latest and perhaps the most high profile addition to Barcelona’s growing glitterati. Of course, the city’s list of home-grown talent is illustrious. Barcelona is renowned for its art, architecture, its sporting talent and more latterly its gastronomy.

Start off with the so-called godfather of ‘molecular gastronomy’, Ferran Adrià, whose brainchild was El Bulli. The restaurant was for years one of the most exclusive in the world where thousands of gastronomes from around the world vied for an elusive reservation. The four-hour taste sensations earned the accolade of being voted the best restaurant in the world no less than five times. Adrià closed the restaurant after tiring of the 15-hour days and is in the process of turning it into a foodie think-tank.

From the silver screen there is Isabel Coixet, the director of films like Elegy starring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. Or from the world of opera there is Monsterrat Caballé, whose duo with Freddy Mercury fused pop and opera in a homage to Barcelona.

Barcelona is simply littered with architectural splendour from Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished symphony La Sagrada Familia to Jean Nouvel’s towering landmark La Torre Agbar and Domènech i Montaner’s Modernista Masterpiece El Palau de La Música Catalana.

Spain’s best-selling writer – beating Cervantes by a long way – is Carlos Ruíz Zafón, author of the literary thriller The Shadow of the Wind. Born in Barcelona, he now lives in Los Angeles. Arguably the 20th Century’s most influential artist Pablo Picasso spent several years in the city, regarding it as his spiritual home. He is quoted as saying “There is where it all began…There is where I understood how far I could go“.

Much of the city’s sporting talent has not ventured far. Barcelona’s so-called waka-pareja Gerard Piqué and Colombian singer Shakira have shacked up in the city’s VIP barrio Ciudad Diagonal near the upmarket district of Pedralbes and whose illustrious neighbours include Barça players Dani Alves and Andrés Iniesta as well as former tennis world number 1 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Isak Andic, the owner of Mango. Nearby you may also find yourself bumping into Leo Messi and Cesc Fabregas.

Global appeal

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Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood and his wife Sally Humphreys bought through Lucas Fox in autumn 2013

However, La Cuidad Condal as Barcelona is locally known, has recently attracted a new breed of foreign high-rollers, from the world of business, who have made it their home. There are more direct flights to Barcelona’s International airport than ever before including from Dubai, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Moscow and Cairo and to cope with the influx, the hospitality business is exploding. Luxury and boutique hotels are emerging in almost every corner of the city. The 5-star beachfront W hotel is at full capacity nearly all year round.

What appears to be the attraction is the city’s mix of cosmopolitan nightlife, art and architecture and sport, be it football, skiing, kite surfing or cycling.

One proof of this is the super yacht dock in Marina Port Vell. The captains who spend their lives taking the billionaire yacht owners around the world like to winter in Barcelona because the city is alive 365 days a year, unlike ports like Monaco or Antibes which shut up shop. Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich chooses the Marina to park his ever-growing flotilla of super yachts.
Barcelona, it seems, has it all.

Jaime Beriestain, the interior designer who is doing up Ronnie Wood’s flat, believes the arrival of what he calls “new money” in Barcelona in the past few years has changed the city’s profile.

As we sit outside his Concept Store in the sought-after area of Eixample, he explains: “I think the climate has changed since the 90s or 2000. Barcelona was a little ‘papier maché’ which is to say there was little money. On Paseo de Gracia there were a few nice shops but it was really still a pueblo (village). It was exactly when the new money arrived that things started to change.”

By ‘new money’ he means wealthy foreigners investing in properties in the city. “I am talking about people buying properties of 500m2 selling for €7 million” says Beriestain, a concept which would have been inconceivable a few years ago.

Originally from Chile, he has lived in Barcelona for 17 years. He works with mainly British, Swiss and French clients on interior design projects for homes and hotels. It was his Concept Store that caught the attention of Ronnie Wood, who asked him to work on his flat.

The height of luxury

The Penthouse Atalaya on Diagonal is typical of the kind of luxury property that is being snapped up by the new glitterati coming to Barcelona. The 600m2 flat sits atop of Barcelona’s highest residential building and boasts five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a private entrance and a lift. It is likely to appeal to Russian or Middle Eastern clients. The price tag: 7 million Euros.

One recent arrival in the city is Christopher Fowler, the British author best known for the Bryant and May detective series. He moved from France to Barcelona and bought a place in fashionable El Born. He now splits his time between London and Barcelona.

“I’d always liked the cosmopolitan feel of the city. Cheap fast flights and late dining hours meant I could come on Friday night after work and still be in time for dinner, leaving on Sunday night,” he explained.
“Property prices were good value, and there were several areas I loved which I wanted to check out. The Born was changing, partly because of the renovation of the Mercat and the flat was perfect for my needs.”

Fowler normally bases his novels in London but his next book is based in Spain, proof perhaps of the affect the place is having on him.

Others, like Magnus Mansson, a Swedish architect, had a reason to come to Barcelona but have grown to love the place. Mansson, 58, whose company employs 100 staff and is involved in a variety of architectural projects in Sweden, Poland and Russia, bought a flat in Barcelona so his daughter Elisabeth, 25, could study marketing in the city at an international university.

“The attraction was coming here to buy a place for my daughter. But we come about once a month now because we never get bored,” Mansson said. “Barcelona appeals to my impatience. We like to go to exhibitions, bars, restaurants, clubs. You never get bored here.”