Leave it to Barcelona review
Decadent wellbeing breaks in Spain
The Quick Read: This is Barcelona as the (well-heeled) locals do it: with a bespoke itinerary, you access the heart of the city without tumbling headfirst into tourist traps. The agenda is flexible and largely up to you: it can take in yoga, Pilates, a flamenco dance class, massage, shopping, cooking, art and architecture, walking tours, cycling, hiking in the Pyrenees… you name it, Leave it to Barcelona will happily oblige. Native New Yorker Colleen Abuhaidar books accommodation, restaurants and any activities and classes you choose. The upshot is sophisticated and indulgent: a totally customised break, best suited to the time-poor and the cash-rich.
More on the options: The choice is yours and the list is long. Every element of each stay is hand-picked, so you need to have in mind the thrust of your trip when you first make contact; a trip with Leave it to Barcelona starts with a phone call from Colleen to ascertain your exact needs, level of experience and hopes for your stay.
You may choose to include a Modernist walking tour, a picnic in the Catalan countryside, a guided shopping tour, a cultural grand tour, a culinary adventure. Deliciously, wellbeing can be a focus – the yoga and Pilates, usually by American teachers, is top-quality. There’s also the chance for a heart-inspiring flamenco session, and don’t miss the world-class massage at Aire de Barcelona.
Colleen may recommend supper at the Michelin-starred Can Jubany just outside the city (the chef trained with Ferran Adrià at El Bulli), a hike to the Monserrat Benedictine monastery, a gastro tour of the Boqueria (market), or even a Hidden City tour of the Gothic Quarter, led by the formerly homeless of the area. There are also the more obvious options, of course: La Sagrada Família, the Picasso Museum, the Joan Miró Foundation and so on, read a word from the queen on her experience.
More on the hosts: Colleen Abuhaidar is a native New Yorker who came to Barcelona in 2010 with her Lebanese husband Walid. The pair had left the States with the intention to settle in ‘the best city in the world’. They spent time in South America, Africa and elsewhere in Europe before deciding that Barcelona had it all – and this is precisely what lends Colleen’s business its USP: she’s an outsider who fell in love. Over the years, spurred on by her interest in fitness and fashion, she has divined the secrets of the city, from its hidden architectural gems to the tiny table that serves the best tapas in town. She’ll take you to visit vintage clothing stores and artisan shoe makers; she’ll know when best to walk in Parc Güell (early morning as the sun comes up and before the hordes descend) – and she’ll be available to tweak your itinerary or accompany you as host, guide, chaperone or translator if you wish. Her speciality is yoga (she trained as a yin yoga teacher) and fashion – which she loves with a passion.
Colleen herself is a great advert for the city: an engaging Barca enthusiast in pink suede brogues and leopard-print trilby, her little Papillon dog Pepinot trotting alongside. It helps enormously that she’s endlessly patient and accommodating, flexible enough to gauge how you’re interacting with the pace of things and the shape of your day. The business is, however, still in its infancy, so there’s an element of ‘suck-it-and-see’; if you’re not keen on any given booking, Colleen is happy to change it. You barely have to blink and it’s done.
Therapist watch: The therapists you encounter will depend upon activities booked: Colleen will invite dance teachers, yoga instructors, Pilates practitioners to be part of your weekend, according to your requirements. New Yorker Kari Zabel is a phenomenal yoga teacher who doesn’t shy away from a challenge, while Sarah Purcell’s Pilates is intuitive, insightful and effective, based on classical exercises and Balanced Body work.
More on where you stay: Guests may stay in a number of hand-picked hotels in the city. El Palauet is one of Colleen’s favourites. Built in 1906, it is excessive, elaborate and distinctively Catalan. The carved woodwork, original painted ceilings and countless Modernist details are complemented by cutting-edge technology, Corian bathrooms, top-flight kitchens, a full fridge and in-room wine selection. Ask for the Principal Tibidabo Suite with its stained-glass ‘glorieta’ sun room.
Food and drink: Breakfast at El Palauet is worthy of Queens – a fest of fresh fruit, local pastries, yoghurt and honey. During the rest of the trip, you’ll eat out at little-known gems, local bodegas and high-end hot-spots. The choice, as with everything, is yours, but, wherever you go, Colleen knows how to get you the best table in the house.
Fellow guests: Leave it to Barcelona specialises in small group bookings, so you’ll be practising yoga and hanging out only with your friends rather than meeting new ones. The target market is busy women in search of a chic weekend getaway treat – with some money to spend.
What’s lowly: There’s a danger that you’ll try to pack too much into the time available. Colleen herself says that it’s difficult to do more than two things a day in Barcelona – so play safe and, with her guidance, choose well. It can be tough, because Barcelona is so crammed with enticing things to do.
Getting there: Fly to Barcelona, from where transfers are included in your package.
Costs: Pricing naturally depends on your choice of itinerary; hotel rates will vary according to season. As an example, our trip for four cost €800 (approx £620) per person and included airport transfers, yoga and Pilates classes, a massage at Aire de Barcelona and 2 nights at El Palauet (based on 4 people sharing the 2-bedroom apartment). Additional costs: flamenco show (approx. €50 per person); flamenco lesson (€60 per person); Segway tour (€60 per person for a 2-hour tour). Food and alcohol are not included.
© Queen of Retreats
Reviewed by Mimi Spencer