Interview with Barcelona resident and yoga instructor Giles Picciotto
Please tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and where do you currently live?
I was born and lived my first 30 years in London, and currently live in Barcelona.
You recently purchased an apartment in Barcelona through Lucas Fox. Can you tell us a little about the style of the property and what attracted you to this apartment in particular?
The property is an open-plan loft style apartment in the city centre, with exposed brickwork and wooden beams. Much like all Lucas Fox properties, it is beautiful and high spec, well maintained and presented in a beautiful way. I got to know the previous owners well, talking about their apartment and why and how they had done certain things. I knew I could make slight changes without needing to make significant changes which was what I wanted. It also offered a big enough open-plan space for me to teach yoga students.
What first prompted you to relocate to Barcelona? What would you say are the city’s most desirable factors?
For me, there were a million reasons to relocate. Number one on my list was quality of living and standard of life. I don’t think any other European city comes close to offering what Barcelona has. The weather, the culture, the food, a small centre which is easy to navigate, the beach, fantastic transport with trains and planes to Europe; you have all the powerful middle eastern airlines directly flying into Barcelona daily from the east.
On top of that it’s 3 to 4 times cheaper than London or Paris with far less hassle and stress. I’m amazed more people aren’t leaving London or Paris for Barcelona, it remains a mystery to me. For example, February boasts an average temperature 12-15 degrees warmer than London, and we have major business and major conferences such as mobile congress here. Added to all this we have the greatest footballer ever, Lionel Messi, and the greatest football team of the last 30 years. I think there’s something for everyone here, and there aren’t many places in the world you can say that about.
How did you find the buying process in Spain, in comparison to your previous experiences?
I found the buying process incredibly easy. Lucas Fox were fantastic, totally professional and helped me with information about buying and which lawyers to meet. Both my lawyer and Lucas Fox were in constant contact with me, and answered all of my queries. It was a totally smooth transaction which was mainly done when I was based in London.
Do you speak Spanish or Catalan? Did your knowledge of the language have an impact on the buying process?
I didn’t speak either but it had absolutely no impact on being able to buy as everything was dealt with so well by Lucas Fox and my lawyer and then translated into English either at the time verbally or written later.
How important is it to learn the language do you think?
I think if you are going to live here or invest you need to have Spanish or Catalan. Inevitably, one will always encounter a problem or two, and it’s better and more efficient to be able to deal with it in the native language. Also, while many people speak English it still isn’t as common as one might expect so I’d stress one of the first things people do when they move here is to begin classes or even better start studying before they move out here. Barcelona is an international city but Spanish and Catalan still dominate local places.
You have previously lived in London and further afield – how does life in Barcelona compare?
I’ve lived in London, Florence and Phuket. When I was deciding where to buy, these three places had a huge influence on me choosing Barcelona. My experiences in London and Florence were essential in my love of art, history, culture, sport and creative thought, while Phuket and Asia offered me greater insight in terms of a more relaxed atmosphere, great weather, standard of living, good food all at a very small cost. Once I put all these things together, I knew that I wanted as many of these elements as possible. Barcelona was the only place that really combined the two. It’s a city that bridges both worlds and I would say betters them when you try to combine all these things.
You are passionate about travel – can you share with us 3 of your favourite places in the world?
I’d say not including Barcelona, and while I think London is amazing, my three favourite places would be Florence, Mandrem Beach in Goa and I’ve just come back from Siem Reap for a second time and I think that would have to be my third right now.
When did you begin to practise Yoga, and how did your journey as a Yoga instructor evolve?
I began practising yoga in 2010 after contracting an illness that left me in bed for 6-8 months. I began practising daily and gently as I recovered and then more and more before eventually going to India at the end of 2011 to study and become a teacher.
You specialise in Hatha yoga – for the uninitiated, could you explain a little more about this?
I’m trained in both Ashtanga and Hatha yoga. Ashtanga is a more dynamic and physical practice that demands a lot, and is a set sequence that doesn’t change. I tend to take a form of this as my self-practice. Hatha is a more gentle style, slower with a more relaxed use of the breath. Many of the positions can be the same but one is free to teach in any order and use multiple positions. It’s less rigid, gentler in some respects, and I tend to teach from this, though I can teach both styles.
Do you currently teach in Barcelona? Do you feel that there is a broad enthusiasm for yoga in the city compared to other places you have taught?
I teach at the moment to mainly expats privately, I’d like to teach more locals if it’s possible. I think there’s a real focus in both Spain and Italy on mental and physical wellbeing through yoga and meditation, far more so than England, where it appears to be more about the physical nature of yoga as exercise. People seem more open minded to the eastern influence of things and looking for a calm mental space through yoga.
You purchased a property in Barcelona’s Raval district – how would you describe your neighbourhood?
Raval is amazing. I could write thousands of words on it. Its location is amazing, being the closest barrio both to the beach and Plaça Catalunya (the central point of the city). Its diversity reminds me of London with a mix of people from all backgrounds and cultures.
It is traditionally Barcelona’s poorest area. Barcelona is unique in that its the only major world city I know of where the area closest to the beach and the centre is the most affordable! This has meant that creative types are always drawn here, as well as a range of exciting start up businesses.
Personally, I think Raval is fast becoming the most desirable barrio in Barcelona. It has the MACBA (the city’s largest modern art gallery), CCCB (the cultural centre) and we even have an incredible Gaudí landmark which falls very much below the radar compared to the other key sites.
There are also a range of great restaurants serving both traditional Catalan food as well as more modern organic fare. Technically, one could argue that Liceu (the iconic opera house) in the Ramblas is actually in Raval too. 10 years ago guidebooks would advise people to stay away from Raval, as at the time it wasn’t overly safe. Now Raval needs to be number 1 on anyone visiting the city’s list.
As an enthusiast about art, culture and history how would you describe Barcelona’s cultural offerings?
Barcelona is diverse for sure! Culture wise, there’s so much to do. Last week I was at the opera here, the week before I was exploring a Gaudí. We have entire museums dedicated just to Miró and Picasso. My advice would be to grab Time Out or a secret Barcelona guide and do some of the non-touristy things. Also I’d describe sport as part of culture, so I’d urge anyone to get to the Camp Nou. It’s a stunning building on its own, but the chance to watch Lionel Messi play football is akin to watching Pablo Picasso paint live in front of you.
Can you name some of your favourite Barcelona haunts?
I love Gaudí’s Palau Güell. The inside is truly stunning with a full size organ as well as an incredible roof terrace which provides the perfect vantage point from which to overlook the city. I live on the same street and love walking past it. I’m amazed how few people know about it. In many ways the inside is the most impressive of all his buildings and you won’t have the queues of tourists to compete with. Parc Montjuïc and the beach are amazing because you feel like you are having a day out of the city when you are actually only less than a 20 minute walk away. Especially in Autumn or Spring when they are tourist-free and peaceful.
I love to take coffee at Jaime Beristain’s cafe on Pau Claris. Beristain is Barcelona’s most famous interior designer. The staff are great, the expresso is strong and the cakes are delicious. The café is very cool, sophisticated but relaxed while being reasonably priced by international standards (it sums up Barcelona well in that way). He also has his shop next door where I pop in at least twice a week to admire and observe latest trends.
A very cool street is Carrer Parlament in Sant Antoni, with lots of cool cafés and vermouth bars. Everything is packed at the weekend and busy at night, but during the week its pretty easy to get a seat in any of the cafés and read or think.
Food wise, there are a million places I could recommend, but being health conscious I’d particularly recommend Flax and Kale, first bought to my attention by my estate agent from Lucas Fox (thanks Liza!). It is located towards the top end of the Raval, and has the tastiest and best healthy food I’ve ever had. If I go less then twice a month I experience withdrawal symptoms! It is perfect for breakfast, brunch lunch and dinner, it rivals anywhere else including the likes of iconic Café Gratitude in Los Angeles!
What three words would you use to describe the city?
Inspiring, Sunny, Creative.
And finally, what’s the one thing you’d love to tell the world?
Come to Barcelona!