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Not since the 14th century, when the Catalan capital was the most powerful city in the Mediterranean, has Barcelona's future looked so promising. Today Barcelona is a proud, bilingual metropolis with street signs, newspapers, and television programs in both Catalan and Spanish.

 

Barcelona has become the weekender capital of Europe. Visitors jet in on low-cost flights for the fun lifestyle, superb Mediterranean climate, and an unrivalled location that offers easy access to the delectable coves of the Costa Brava, scenic mountain trails of the Pyrénées, historic cities of Gerona and Tarragona, and wealth of Gothic and Romanesque monuments that fill the countryside.

 

They also come to see Barcelona's many offerings in the world of art, architecture, and haute cuisine: the Picassos, Dalís, Tàpies, and Mirós; the moderniste extravaganzas of Gaudí and modern eccentricities of Gehry and Nouvel; and Ferran Adrià's "New Catalan Cuisine," lauded even by the French and spearheading a culinary revival that's resulted in half a dozen Michelin rated restaurants to date.

 

Yet for all its outward changes the city remains at heart what it's always been: practical, businesslike, proletarian, nonconformist, rebellious, and artistic. It's a heady, complex blend that has survived many a dark time and whose freewheeling Mediterranean spirit is epitomized in the bustling Rambla avenue, which runs all the way down to the port from Plaza Cataluña along the source of a former riverbed. All this makes for a spirit as communal and sociable as the city's traditional Sardana dance, in which no one leads and no one follows and everyone moves together in unison.