There is a small, noisy and not-to-be-missed bar in Barceloneta, Barcelona’s beachside “barrio”, where little has changed in decades. Can Paixano doesn’t have its name on the door but you will spot it by the crowds spilling out on the pavement. There are no seats either and it’s a case of whoever shouts loudest gets served first. But if you stand at the bar beneath the hanging hams you can still buy a bottle of cava and a hot Roquefort roll for around €5.
Despite being on the tourist map these days, Can Paixano remains a vibrant relic of unreconstructed Barceloneta, the city’s old, working class district fringed on one side by the sea and Port Vell marina on the other.
Before the city was transformed for the 1992 Olympics, which included the construction of Port Vell, this neighbourhood of narrow backstreets lay detached from the end of the touristy Ramblas by barren wasteland.
Only in the past decade have Barceloneta’s beachfront properties started to catch the eye of foreign investors. While much remains undeveloped in Barceloneta, big change is afoot. The area is home to Barcelona’s newest landmark, the sail-shaped W Barcelona hotel, whose gleaming glass façade, designed by Ricardo Bofill, can be seen from miles along the Costa Brava.
The heart of Barceloneta is set to be further transformed over the next 12 months as Port Vell is converted from a largely working marina into one of the Mediterranean’s leading super-yacht marinas. The houseboats and fishing boats have already been located to make way for 150 yachts of up to 180 metres.
Salamanca Group, the Mayfair-based merchant bank and operational risk management firm that bought Port Vell in 2010, predicts the marina will have a positive economic impact on the area, generating 500 jobs, and putting €50m-€300m into the local economy each year.
“Port Vell is a great asset as a naturally deep, large port in the city centre but it had become neglected by its previous owners and its facilities were run down,” says Martin Bellamy, Salamanca’s chairman and chief executive. He says despite space restrictions – and without changing the landscape – it nevertheless aims to transform the current marina into a world-class facility within the next year.
Some local residents are cynical about the benefits a super-yacht marina will bring to the community. They fear their fishing neighbourhood is being turned into a tourist “theme park” for visitors.
Well-heeled Catalans would probably choke at the thought of Barceloneta as the newly chic area of the city. But it’s the simple pleasures, such as the sight of the sea and the healthy holiday atmosphere, that make the area so appealing.
In price terms, it ranks as the 11th most expensive area of the city out of 35, according to the IESE Business School’s new Fotocasa Index, which makes it cheaper than other beach areas, such as Vila Olímpica and Diagonal Mar. Barceloneta’s average property price is €3,383 per sq metre, representing an 11.3 per cent fall since September 2011 – compared with a 12.2 per cent fall across Barcelona as a whole.
With prices still falling and a potential boost from the new marina, Barceloneta is starting to look like a far more appealing prospect to overseas buyers. But uncertainty looms in the form of Spain’s future in the eurozone and Catalonia’s future as part of Spain, as its drive for independence becomes ever more determined.
If you want to rent out a Barcelona flat for holiday lets, you need a licence – and no more are being issued in the Old Town, which includes Barceloneta, so buyers seeking rental income should ensure their property is already licensed.
A short stroll from the port and beach but without the views, there’s a well-renovated 40 sq metre one-bedroom flat with a 50 sq metre private roof terrace and views across the city is on sale for €275,000 through Casamona.com.
On the prime Paseo Juan de Borbón, the handsome buildings with restaurants and bars at street level house more spacious apartments with panoramic views of Port Vell across to Montjuïc. In a modern building on this street sits perhaps the most glamorous flat in Barceloneta, a three-bedroom duplex penthouse with a private rooftop infinity pool overlooking the port, on sale for “offers in excess of €2m” through Lucas Fox.
In the Pla de Palau development, with views over Port Vell, John Taylor Spain is selling 104 sq metre, two-bedroom apartments from €350,000. “This is the only attractive high-end new-build development that matches international buyer requirements in the district,” says François Carriere Pastor, the agency’s managing director.
So does he think Barceloneta could become the next Cannes? “No, because the city port is positioned differently. Barcelona is a huge city that offers affluent seafarers the biggest super-yacht support infrastructure in the Mediterranean,” says Pastor. “But with the new opportunities for residential and commercial development that are emerging, I’d say watch this space after 2016.”
● Summers are hot and winters mild, with generally dry and pleasant weather year-round.
● Pickpockets and bag snatchers are a big problem in Barcelona
● There is a 70 per cent reduction on taxed income for non-resident landlords in Spain. Landlords aged 18-30 from an EU country are exempt from paying tax on rental income altogether
● Prices in Catalonia are down 36.6 per cent from their December 2007 peak, according to IESE Business School. In Barcelona, prices fell 12.2 per cent between September 2011 and September 2012
What you can buy for …
€500,000 A 60 sq metre, two-bedroom flat on Barceloneta’s best street, Paseo Juan de Borbón, with views over Port Vell
€1m A 175 sq metre, three-bedroom modernised apartment in an arched building a short walk from Port Vell and beaches
€5m With this budget, forget Barceloneta. Head to the prime residential area of Pedralbes and buy a five-bedroom house on a 1,950 sq metre plot