It may feel controversial, but Bob Wallace firmly believes Barcelona is the right place for the America’s Cup 2024, especially if you’re a traveller with Europe on the brain.
When Barcelona got the nod ahead of New Zealand for the 2024 defence of the America’s Cup, the decision left a trail of outright anger, degrees of disappointment or puzzlement, and some calmer realism.
Skip to 2023 and, with just under a year to go to the real action, it is clear that Barcelona will not only provide the spectacle of a contest of the racing elites on the water but an ideal excuse for New Zealanders to include this city in their 2024 Europe travel itinerary.
Emirates Team NZ leader Grant Dalton has described Barcelona as “vibrant” - it is certainly that and more.
The second biggest city in Spain and capital of the largely autonomous region of Catalonia, Barcelona doesn’t lack star attractions, and is going for more with its hosting of the 37th America’s Cup challenge.
This is the city that features one of the world’s most extraordinary churches in a country that already has 22,988 Catholic parishes, 88 cathedrals and 3030 churches. It is also the home of one of the world’s best-known and distinctive public thoroughfares. And it now has a waterfront that shows anything Auckland can do in the way of harbour rejuvenation, others can perhaps do better.
Port Vell, or Old Harbour, is where you will find the America’s Cup bases of defender Emirates Team New Zealand as well as those of challenger of record INEOS Britannia, old foes Alinghi Red Bull, New York Yacht Club’s American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli; plus French newcomer Orient Express.
And there should be no difficulty finding Port Vell. Just walk down to the southern end of that famous boulevard, collectively Las Ramblas – which can be considered a series of five shorter streets, each one a rambla – and you will wind up at the waterfront, accessing the port area via La Rambla de Mer. Along the tree-lined walkway, which leads you to landmarks that include the Christopher Columbus monument and the old Customs building, you will easily find all the entertainment you would ever want – Las Ramblas provide a bustling combination of eateries, bars, shops, markets and other activities.
Port Vell itself is an element of the Port of Barcelona and was gentrified as part of an urban renewal programme before the 1992 Olympics.
At that time it was developed from an area of old warehouses, railway yards and factories. Now its attraction is being magnified further.
A decking boardwalk provides access to the buildings that will house most of the America’s Cup challenge bases and attractions. But first, right in front of crowds exiting Las Ramblas in a high-profile location, is a retail outlet selling ETNZ merchandise – and nearby are the team’s base buildings.
On the other side of the harbour are the bases of Britannia (“wintering over” on the island of Mallorca), Alinghi, American Magic and Luna Rossa, with Orient Express the only competitor on the same side as ETNZ.
In full swing, also on the other side is the exhibition centre for the America’s Cup, with the inevitable eateries, an official merchandising store with supporters’ gear for all teams and the America’s Cup Experience, at one time an Imax cinema complex and now an excellent introduction to the contest, complete with a huge video wall, and giant replica foils. A non-fee area provides background facts on each team and there is a ticketed zone for deeper immersion in the event.
Of course, there are fan zones on both sides of Port Vell with giant screens, and the racing itself will be in close proximity to the beaches.
All this activity no doubt sounds familiar to Aucklanders and others who experienced New Zealand-based challenges. But wait, there’s more!
Auckland may have its Sky Tower. But Barcelona has its extraordinary Gaudi church. More commonly known as the Sagrada Familia Basilica, construction of this unique example of architecture and engineering designed by Antoni Gaudi started in 1882 and still hasn’t finished – in the meantime, it has been declared a Unesco world heritage siteand been made a minor basilica (by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010).
When I asked our church tour guide what the current completion date was, she responded with a firm 2026 – then added that was before Covid, of course. Now it is anyone’s guess, but she said hopefully, maybe 2030…
Then there is that other man of artistic notoriety – Pablo Picasso; born in Malaga in 1881, died in France in 1973 – whose works, many of them from his earlier days, are on display not far from Las Ramblas at the Museu Picasso in the El Born district. While there are around 20 museums around the world featuring paintings by the prolific Spaniard, the Barcelona exhibits are regarded as among the most important, showing as they do the talent in his more conventional paintings from his early, training years before his transition to modernist Cubist works.
So where is the best place to stay to take in all of these historic and natural features as well as consuming all there is to offer for sailing patriots from New Zealand? Apart from the area around Port Vell, our pick would be the district of Eixample, at the northern end of Las Ramblas from where it is an easy ramble to Sagrada Familia, Museu Picasso and – down the middle of the city’s famous boulevard – to the America’s Cup action.
If you don’t fancy making your way down through the crowds try the underground metro rail service which runs from the Placa de Catalunya in the north, via three stations to Port Vell. Like a good sailor, it will keep you on course.
What: The 37th edition of the America’s Cup, in Barcelona, Spain.
Where and when: There will be a preliminary regatta in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (November 29 to December 2, 2023). The 37th America’s Cup official opening ceremony will be held in Barcelona on August 22, 2024. The final preliminary event and the challenger selection series will follow, leading up to the America’s Cup match racing, starting on October 12, 2024.
Who is racing: Teams from New Zealand (defender), Great Britain (challenger of record), Switzerland, Italy, United States and France.
Air NZ, Qantas, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad all fly from Auckland to Barcelona, often on a codeshare basis with 1-2 stopovers.
By Bob Wallace
New Zealand Herald
28 Oct, 2023 10:00 AM