Whether you love the curvaceous, Art Nouveau architectural style of Antoni Gaudi or just scratch your head over what it all means, no Barcelona vacation is complete without a visit to the 18-spired Sagrada Familia. Technically it’s the Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family). The shortened name is how just about everyone refers to Barcelona’s one-of-a-kind landmark.

But here’s the thing. From the time construction began in 1882, the first five or six generations of visitors were never really able to really see the interior. As the central vault rose to its dizzying height of almost 200 feet, scaffolding buttressed the whole construction project. It was interesting in its way to see this monumental project in progress. But the skyscraper-scale scaffolding just didn’t inspire the kind of awe you generally look for in a basilica or temple. (Sagrada Familia, by the way, is technically a “minor basilica,” not a cathedral. Cathedrals have bishops, and that was never the intention for this place of worship.)

But now, for the first time ever, the interior scaffolding is gone. No more chiseling and hammering and clanking. No rigid grid between you and the twisting, branching, eccentrically tree-like pillars. The whole thing came down just in time for a visit by Pope Benedict last November. If you visited prior to that, you will be dumbstruck by the sheer glory and grandeur that you couldn’t see the first time. We know any number of travelers who are building a vacation in Barcelona into an upcoming trip just to see the difference. If you have never made the visit, there has never been a better moment to experience the honest-to-goodness glory and grandeur of Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia

A word of advice: If you plan to visit, check out www.SagradaFamilia.cat first. There are admission charges, and time restrictions, and you’ll have to stand in line for official tour tickets because they cannot be purchased in advance. One good alternative is to join the Barcelona and Costa Brava walking tour that Classic Journeys offers. It includes a privately guided tour of Sagrada Familia – no lines, no out-of-pocket ticket costs, a fantastic guide who’ll take the time to give you a complete look inside and answer questions without rush.

On this small-group walking vacation, you’ll also get a complete picture of the Catalan culture beyond the city. The itinerary settles you for 2 nights into at a parador in the town of Vic. (The local guides say the region is like Tuscany, only better. They may be prejudiced, but they may also just be right.) The week includes walks to Santa Pau and Girona, remote medieval villages that are the country’s beautiful anti-Barcelona. Finally, you settle into the luxurious seaside resort at Begur for 3 nights. Walks on coastal paths along the Costa Brava and through olive groves are about as good life can gets. It’s a fantastic way to stretch a Barcelona vacation into a richly memorable cultural experience.