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by Lisa Grimaldi | September 01, 2010

After a bleak stretch of cutbacks, cancellations and uncertainty, companies are once again turning to travel to motivate and reward their teams. This past spring, many major U.S. incentive firms were seeing as many as three-fourths of clients reinstate programs for 2011 and beyond (as noted in M&C, "Incentives Today," bit.ly/by5os1). This time, however, work and pleasure are sharing equal billing. Incentive planners now look at destinations and facilities as much for the meeting space and business facilities as they do for gorgeous settings, intriguing cultures and luxurious accommodations.

To that end, here are four destinations that offer plenty of elements to satisfy both sides of the equation: Barcelona, arguably Spain's trendiest and most fun-loving city; Cartagena, Colombia's gorgeous former colonial capital; Sonoma County, seat of Northern California's glorious wine country; and Trinidad, the sophisticated Carib­bean nation that stands out more for its celebration of culture, food and tradition than for its sunny beaches. For an incentive slideshow, click here.
 
Gaudi chimneys from BarcelonaBarcelona Spain's second-largest city and capital of its Catalonia region is both a picturesque Mediterranean port destination and a major economic hub of Europe. A stroll through the city reveals stunning sites and architecture, from the historic character of the Gothic Quarter to the playful, unique architectural designs of Antoni Gaudí, and a variety of cosmopolitan restaurants and shops throughout. Participants can enjoy tours with gastronomic, architectural, historical or cultural themes, or stroll through the city's parks or beaches.

Accommodations. The city offers an abundance of incentive-level properties. Among them are the 98-room Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona, which recently opened a 2,540-square-foot penthouse suite with panoramic views of the city; the 303-room Hotel Majestic Barcelona, with 8,000 square feet of meeting space and a rooftop pool; and, for very small groups or possibly the top-tier winners, the ABaC Hotel & Restaurant, a 15-room luxury boutique property that offers a restaurant with two Michelin stars and an iPad in every suite. (Note: For additional hotels, see mcmag.com/meeting-facilities/hotels.)

Activities. Barcelona is a fantastic walking city, and tours of the Gothic Quarter, Gaudí architecture, gourmet attractions and the marina district can be organized through the Barcelona Tourism office. GoCar (three-wheeled convertible vehicles that seat two) or mountain-bike tours also can be arranged.

The Catalan countryside features the wine-growing regions of Priorat, Monstant, Penedés, Empordá and Alella. Vineyard and wine-tasting tours can be arranged by Cellar Tours or the destination management company E&TB Group.

Group venues. The vintage 1906 Casa Batlló, one of Gaudí's architectural masterpieces and one of the most recognizable symbols of Barcelona's modernisme movement, can be rented for private events. The largest room, when combined with the adjoining courtyard, can accommodate receptions of up to 350 or seated dinners for 200. Smaller rooms also are available.

Barcelona's main theater and opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, is in the tourist district of Las Ramblas. The original building, opened in 1847, was destroyed by fire in 1994, but the theater was rebuilt to be as exact a replica as possible. VIP tours are available, and the 2,286-seat venue also can be rented for private events. For smaller gatherings, various other rooms are available, including a grand hall that can seat 190 for banquets and a 42-seat projection room.

A gastronome's playground, Barcelona offers countless restaurant options, serving both regional and international cusines. For an experience steeped in local history, consider Can Cortada, on the city's outskirts. Set in a renovated 11th-century castle, the 900-seat venue has been operating as a restaurant since 1994. A wide range of groups can be accommodated by the eight private lounges and garden. (The downstairs "cave" lends a dramatically medieval air to an event.) It's a unique spot in which to sample regional specialities, including stone-cooked meats, prepared on a hot stone in front of guests.

Tapas are a specialty of the Basque region of Spain, but there is no shortage of eateries in Barcelona serving the hot and cold canapés. Txapela is one such locale, styled like a traditional Basque tavern, with two stories and room to accommodate up to 200 people. The restaurant is in the heart of the city on the Passeig de Grácia, in a modernist building deemed a historic-artistic site by UNESCO.

Contact. Barcelona Turisme, (011) 34-933-689-700; barcelonaturisme.com

By Michael J. Shapiro