The Catalan capital's answer to Bond Street, the wide, leafy avenue of the Passeig de Gràcia oozes designer shops but also some of the most fabulous buildings in a city known for its extraordinary architecture. Among them are two works by that most playful and child-pleasing of architects, Antoni Gaudí: the magical Casa Batlló and the Casa Milà 'La Pedrera'.
While not as well known as Gaudí's Sagrada Família, the wavy-fronted UNESCO-listed Casa Milà still draws the crowds. But it's worth the wait in the queue just to see my sons' faces when we emerge from the lift onto the fantastical, topsy-turvy rooftop with its crazy chimneys and glorious city views, which they are free to scamper around (much to my vertigo-suffering husband's horror).
"Strolling back to our designer nest, we pass the Casa Batlló and the Casa Milà.
Illuminated by night, they seem even more fairytale-like than by day,
reinforcing the feeling that we're in some kind of lovely dream."
Some lucky people have apartments in the Casa Milà – the mind boggles to think how much they must go for if ever they come up for sale. Visitors can still see inside one of the apartments fitted with period interiors, among them an old nursery with quaint clothes and toys including a rocking horse and puppet theatre. There's also an exhibition of items that inspired Gaudí’s designs – the boys are intrigued to find that parts of his buildings were based on the forms of snakes, sea snails and sponges.
There are two brilliant shops in the Casa Milà too, offering the chance to grab reproductions of some of those old-fashioned toys, plus great art books for adults and kids. Just make sure you come to Barcelona with some space in your luggage – the shopping is fabulous all over the city.
And there are gorgeous child-friendly places to stay too, one of them also on the Passeig de Gràcia. In another listed Modernistà building – this one built for a wealthy shipbuilding family in 1906 – El Palauet or 'Little Palace' is an intimate collection of luxury suites. Walking in, our jaws drop – and we've stayed in some pretty swanky places over the years. Against a white-on-white backdrop stands furniture by the likes of Starck, Jacobsen, Eames and Van der Rohe. Luxury throws on the sofas and beds, and ornate original ceilings and gleaming carved wooden fittings, provide a tactile counterpart to slick, state-of-the-art appliances.
My kids are particularly smitten by the chromatherapy bathtub in which you can change the colours to suit – or alter – your mood. The saucy Casamania Her Chairs with seats moulded in the shape of pert buttocks make them laugh too. Meanwhile, my husband and I oooh and aaah over the rooftop spa with its waterbeds and treatment rooms, as well as our suite's fully equipped kitchen, where an array of local goodies tempt us.
We don't actually use the kitchen for cooking – it seems like sacrilege. But we do make good use of the top-of-the range coffee machine to revive us after our flight, while the boys fall about laughing at hearing the 'Bob the Builder' theme tune in Spanish on one of the wall-embedded flatscreen TVs.
El Palauet's USP is that each of the six suites comes with its own personal assistant, who is at your beck and call for whatever you may need to borrow or buy, from iPads and Playstations to nappies and snacks. In the morning, we order breakfast in our apartment and watch as our assistant gets busy in our kitchen, rustling up a feast of fruit, pastries and fresh juices that he lays out the table for us before retreating.
In the evening, the local area is just too rich in fantastic restaurants and atmosphere for us to countenance staying in. So we head out. Strolling back to our designer nest afterwards, we pass the Casa Batlló and the Casa Milà 'La Pedrera'. Illuminated by night, they seem even more fairytale-like than by day, reinforcing the feeling that we're in some kind of lovely dream.
Read more about Barcelona family holidays and breaks.