Cool in Catalan
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 24th April 2006.
If you book a room at the seriously cool, recently opened Grand Hotel Central (Via Laietana 30; 0034 93 295 79 00; www.grandhotelcentral.com; doubles from £130 per night including breakfast) you needn’t bother to bring a guide book: owner Pau Gaudens has written an excellent one himself, just for his guests, filled with an insider’s tips on where to eat, shop and stroll. He should know. If you have a swim in the hotel’s stunning rooftop infinity pool you’ll spy a private villa and elegant Italianate garden perched incongruously on the very top of this former office block: Pau’s family home since the early 20th century, when his grandfather pioneered the expansion of Barcelona beyond its medieval boundaries, putting up the first office block in Via Laietana, and showing the way by choosing to live there too. Now incense burns in the supercool ground floor lobby, the restaurant is run by top Spanish chef Ramon Freixa, and the offices have been transformed into soundproofed havens of calm in the muted, minimalist style beloved of Barcelona’s hotel designers. There’s a gym and a library stocked with books on the city, and staff are helpful. Excellent breakfast. Once the hotel has settled into its stride (it was almost too new to judge properly) this should become a sought-after address.
Even newer (opened on February 6th) is the glittering Richard Rogers’ designed Hesperia Tower (1 Mare de Déu de Bellvitge; 0034 93 413 5000; www.hesperia-tower.com; doubles from £285 per night including breakfast). A purpose-built skyscraper, in the same mould as the famous Arts Hotel, it’s in the city’s financial district, and has a glass bauble of a world-class restaurant, Evo, perched on top.
The Wow Factor
For glamour, and an unforgettable view, head for the hills; or rather for Mount Tibidabo, which looms above the city. A charming funfair has been here since 1921, as has the Gran Hotel La Florida, illustrious before the Civil War, abandoned after it, and resurrected two years ago after a daring and virtuoso four-year rebuild (0034 93 259 30 00; www.hotellaflorida.com; doubles from £220 per night including breakfast). Now it’s an urban resort, with two new floors dug into the mountainside, a scintillating 121-ft stainless steel indoor/outdoor pool, tumbling terraces dotted with hammocks, bold fibre-optic, granite and steel sculptures and eight specially commissioned Designer Suites amongst its 74 rooms. And that view, with the city flung out below, and the sea beyond.
After a quiet start, Casa Fuster (Passeig de Gracia 132; 0034 93 255 3000; www.hotelescenter.es; doubles from £280 per night including breakfast) is beginning to make big waves (Kate Moss and Salman Rushdie are two recent guests). When you arrive, take the lift to the expansive roof terrace (with small pool) for a dazzling view along the whole length of Passeig de Gracia, then descend to the Viennese Café, once the smokey haunt of intellectuals, now dramatic and decadent with its run of red velvet double-sided sofas curling like serpents around the pillared, gold-ceilinged room. The fun doesn’t stop there: Casa Fuster, built in 1908 as a lavish private home and one of the city’s most emblematic Art Nouveau buildings, has been restored throughout with panache, style and amazing attention to detail by a young Catalan interior designer. Service is exemplary.
Two romantic hotels, perfect for dawdling indoors, are the Neri and the Banys Orientals (calle Argenteria 37; 0034 93 268 84 60; www.hotelbanysorientals.com; doubles £76 per night including breakfast). The latter, a pretty old house in the heart of the Born district, remains terrific value for money despite its popularity since it opened in 2002. Rooms are fairly small but cool and calm, with spare four-poster beds and elegant contemporary furniture, and fluttering white muslin curtains. Best of all, its reception opens on to Senor Parellada, one of the city’s most appealing new restaurants, decorated in sunny yellows and blues (don’t miss the razor clams in lemon and oil).
The Neri (calle Sant Sever 5; 0034 93 304 06 55 ; www.hotelneri.com; doubles from £190 per night including breakfast) is gorgeous: an austere 17th century Barri Gotic palace that mixes the old with the avant-garde to great effect. Sensuality is the theme (there’s even a definition of the word on the glass walls of the lift); crushed velvets, vibrant silks, silver and gold-leaf are teamed with rustic furniture, power showers and plasma-screen Tvs. You can indulge in a massage in your bedroom (part of the ‘beauty menu’), sunbathe in the solarium or watch life drift by from the charming roof terrace.
Many of Barcelona’s new hotels have adopted a similar decorative theme: moody, masculine and minimalist in neutral colours, and few decorative flourishes. Most are too clinical; only some succeed in being places one would want to relax after a tiring day. I liked the Hotel Jazz (Calle Pelai 3; 0034 93 552 96 96; www.nnhoteles.es; from £110 per night including breakfast), close to Plaça Catalunya, with its precise, uncomplicated bedrooms fitted with well-made desks and pinstripe chairs, handsome grey-black bathrooms, and extras such as three telephones (though who needs three phones?), music at the touch of a wall switch and free wifi internet access. Public spaces, especially the bar, have a feeling of warmth, with splashes of burnt orange and subtle lighting, and there’s a spacious roof terrace and pool, and parking in the basement.
If you are on a budget, then look no further than Hostal Gat Xino (Calle Hospital 155; 0034 93 324 88 33; www. gataccommodation.com; doubles from £54 per night including breakfast). It’s amazing
what can be achieved with a few pots of paint, in this case lime green paint, which have transformed otherwise dull, boxy bedrooms into fun places to be. Add matching curtains, black floors, snow white bed linen, stylish shower rooms, flat screen Tvs and internet access and guests, at these prices, have got a bargain. “Cool, clean rooms”, says the hotel’s brochure, and that’s right. Some have the merest suspicion of a terrace; they all require a climb up several flights of stairs.
Slickest of all is Hotel Omm (Calle Rossello 265; 0034 93 445 40 00; www.hotelomm.es; doubles from £170 including breakfast), as feng-shui hip as its resonant name implies, with a great bar for people-watching, a restaurant called Moo, a vast open-plan lobby, and acres of white and oak on the walls, tempered by sudden bursts of colour. More style than practicality here, some would say, especially in the gadget-heavy bedrooms with their complex lighting system, and the bathrooms which are irritatingly split in two – bath and basin in one, loo and bidet in the other.
It doesn’t look much from the outside, and it’s internal grandeur – which is considerable – is most definitely on the wane, but the Hotel Gran Via (Gran Via 642; 0034 93 318 19 00; www.nnhotels.es; double from £90 including breakfast) does provide an antidote, at modest prices, to all those spanking new Barcelona hotels. An impressive staircase sweeps up to the mezzanine, with its palatial dining room, while the salon has lovely antique furniture, a stucco ceiling – and a huge television plonked in the middle of the room. There’s also a gorgeous roof terrace. Rooms are small and tired, (but spotless), breakfast is mediocre, staff are creaky, but the Gran Via does have old-school character, and a great location in the heart of town.
Pool Rooms [box]
Though the city’s shoreline has undergone a major transformation in the last 15 years and is now a continuous strip of modern construction, it’s still a schlep to get to Barcelona’s beaches. Yet the weather is beach-worthy almost all year round, so a cooling pool at your hotel is highly recommended. The Grand Central, Gran Hotel La Florida, Casa Fuster, Jazz and Omm all have great pools, plus the following:
Hotel Arts (0034 93 221 10 00; www.ritzcarlton.com)
Majestic (0034 93 488 17 17; www.hotelmajestic.es)
Podium (0034 93 265 02 02; www.nh-hotels.com)
Ambassador (0034 93 342 61 80; www.rivolihotels.com)
Duquesa de Cardona (0034 93 268 90 90; www.hduquesadecardona.com)
Condes de Barcelona (0034 93 445 00 00; www.condesdebarcelona.com)
British Airways fly daily to Barcelona. Return fares from London cost from £69. To book call 0870 850 9850 or visit ba.com