Birds, balloonists and aviators could learn more about Barcelona in a single fly-over than many visitors do in a week. From above, the Catalonian capital reveals the story of its evolution: a manmade landscape of avenues and alleyways that tell tales of conquest, commerce and cotton.
Spilling out beyond the original Roman walls built more than 2,000 years ago, the Gothic Quarter is a tangled knot of streets that today conceal galleries, coffee shops and studios; home to some of the most sought after boutique hotels in the city. Across Via Laietana are the districts of El Born and La Ribera and their maze of narrow alleyways, which became home to the city’s merchant and artisan communities when the city expanded in the 14th century; atmospheric neighbourhoods that grew up around the leafy Passeig del Born boulevard and the gothic Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. Today, independent ateliers, workshops and bodegas fill the medieval streets, creating an intimate warren of creative venues that preserve the mercantile character of the district.
When Barcelona’s elite grew fat from Catalonia’s booming textile industry in the 19th century, architect and urban planner Ildefons Cerdà devised plans for Eixample (pronounced ‘ashambla’), a fashionable neighbourhood characterised by a grid of wide streets and octagonal buildings constructed around a central courtyard. As bourgeois Catalonian industrialists built increasingly ostentatious homes in the area, modernist architects like Antonio Gaudi were able to unleash their creativity with iconic buildings like the Sagrada Família, Casa Milà (better known as La Pedrera, ‘the quarry’) and Casa Batlló, the recently renovated masterpiece surrounded by luxury shops on Passeig de Gràcia.
The ready availability of historic houses and palatial dwellings in these charismatic neighbourhoods has fuelled a boutique boom over the last decade. Today, small hotels with mismatched rooms, period features, rooftop spaces and fascinating histories dominate the hospitality landscape. Unlike many A-list cities that are shrouded in a cloak of big name brands, Barcelona has retained a sense of individuality: here, the boutique hotel reigns supreme.
1. ALMANAC BARCELONA
Poised on the corner of arrow-straight Gran Vía de les Corts Catalanes, Almanac Barcelona is a gorgeous new address that radiates confidence and sophistication. Guests enter into a neo-industrial, Art Deco-style lobby, where warm golden tones complement dark columns and vibrantly coloured furnishings, and the air is perfumed by a signature fragrance created by local perfumer Jimmy Boyd. Elegant interiors are courtesy of designer Jaime Beriestain, whose Barcelona-based studio is now working on the next Almanac hotel in Vienna.
The gilded aesthetic extends to the 91 guestrooms (including 30 suites), where bright white fabrics are enveloped in warm wooden walls and brushed gold fixtures. Top pick is the Terrace Suite, a spacious abode with wrap-around terrace that affords 180-degree views along the Gran Vía, which can be accessed from the living room, bedroom or the white marble-clad bathroom – complete with double washbasins hewn from a single slab of Ibizan marble. Almanac Rooms are a generous 35 sqm, with floating skybox windows that protrude from the building, giving a bird’s eye view along the boulevard.
On the rooftop, Azimuth lounge has partnered with Jordi Roca’s Rocambolesc Gelateria to create a vintage ice cream cart that’s best visited during poolside lounging or before evening sundowners. Downstairs, executive chef Sergio Ruiz Nieves and his brigade bring experience from some of Catalonia’s top restaurants – including Enoteca, El Celler de Can Roca and three-starred Lasarte – to Línia, a Mediterranean brasserie where the sharing menu showcases fresh produce from Catalonia and beyond. The grilled Galician octopus is outstanding and the selection of Catalonian wines superb.
From: EUR 350 ($391) per night
2. THE ONE BARCELONA
A few blocks from the luxury boutiques of Passeig de Gracia and the medieval looking Casa de les Punxes (by modernist architect Josep Puig), The One Barcelona is another new addition to the city’s luxury boutique scene. This too is the handiwork of designer Jaime Beriestain, who has furnished the entire hotel in understated shades of cream and grey, with gold accents and bold blasts of royal blue. Surrounding an eight-floor glass atrium, the 89 rooms and suites are refined and elegant, with enormous bathrooms featuring freestanding tubs and double washbasins hewn from Jordanian marble.
General manager Vincent Studer, a veteran of Mandarin Oriental, notes that the rectangular octagonal mirror resembles the footprint of a Chanel No. 5 bottle, and explains that the marble has to be polished by local craftsmen every six months to maintain its lustre. The finest views are from the 92 sqm Terrace Suite Sagrada Família (from $1,294 per night), where a private terrace affords a glimpse of Gaudi’s most famous building while soaking in the hot tub or outdoor shower. Heated blankets are handy for cooler evenings and there are complimentary flip-flops for the summer. Art is everywhere at The One. Fifteen of the suites feature original artwork by Chilean artist Fernando Prats, who used the flapping of a bird’s wing to create patterns on smoked canvas.
Pieces by legendary Spanish artists Antoni Tàpies, Joan Miró and Manolo Valdés are on display in reception and the lobby lounge, as well as works by contemporary local talent like Yago Hortal in the extremely elegant Somni Restaurant & Cocteleria, directed by chef Miquel Muñoz. Upstairs, Mood Rooftop Bar has spectacular views and a full menu served alongside the guest-only pool deck, and the basement level Despacio Spa is a lavish grotto of dark marble and tranquil escapism.
From: EUR 250 ($280) per night.
3. COTTON HOUSE HOTEL – AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION
With its neoclassical façade, enormous wooden doorway and beautiful period details, Cotton House Hotel retains the stately demeanour it has exuded since 1879, when the wealthy Boada family moved into their new home on Eixample’s Gran Vía. Today hydraulic tiled floors lead from the magnificent mirrored lobby to an octagonal reception hall, with an original marble stairway one side and a unique 1958 spiral staircase designed by architect Nicolau María Rubió on the other, supported by its own iron frame as it climbs up six floors to the rooftop pool.
Impeccably dressed concierges in tailor-made cotton uniforms are stationed at the Gossypium desk, which leads to a cosy library lounge with fresco ceilings and the airy indoor-outdoor restaurant Batuar, where guest chefs pop up every quarter. Interior designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán kept much of the original design during the remodelling, including moulded ceilings and parquet floors, but added contemporary art and oversized light fixtures at every turn. Guests in the 83 rooms and suites can book an appointment at L’Atelier, the original fitting room of the Cotton Textile Foundation, to have a bespoke shirt made by tailors from Santa Eulalia, one of the oldest tailor shops in town.
Standout suites include Damask and Ottoman, which feature elaborate frescoes and colourful contemporary furnishings that lend a pop of modernity to the classical surroundings, and the duplex Vichy Suite has Gran Vía views and its own private terrace. The latter adjoins the hotel’s enormous outdoor space, where the monthly Algodonera Market Lab sees local artisans and designers gather for a daylong open-air market in this wonderful historic setting.
From: around EUR 336 ($376) per night
4. THE BARCELONA EDITION
As The EDITION brand continues its global expansion, it’s the small touches that give each hotel a sense of place and identity. On the edge of trendy El Born, The Barcelona EDITION hides behind a modern dark grey façade, forming a stark contrast to the multi-coloured roof of Santa Catalina Market next door. In the lobby, whimsical Dali-inspired lamps and signature Gaudi chairs celebrate the city’s most famous artists and the walls of neighbouring Bar Veraz are lined with black and white photographs depicting 1960s and 70s stars of screen and stage: Salvador Dalí, singer Rocío Dúrcal and bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín, to name a few.
The signature tall bar from The London EDITION has been faithfully recreated and rows of up-lit bottles make it clear that this is a hotel where good times will be had. Here, locals and guests can enjoy Catalonia’s favourite fortified wine, vermouth, or a glass of crisp cava, accompanied by market delicacies and local specialities like ‘pan con tomate’ or marinated white anchovies. Down in the belly of the building, Cabaret is a dark and sultry venue where fine dining and theatrics go hand in hand in a plush space surrounded by red velvet drapes, while the first floor Punch Room recreates the private members’ club vibe of London, with green velvet sofas, yellow baize pool table and aged leather armchairs. Work by Catalan photographer Andrea Torres adds a local flavour.
The Barcelona Penthouse is a firm favourite among the 100 rooms and suites, with wrap-around bougainvillea-covered terrace that affords spectacular views of the city, Picasso-inspired pottery and floor-to-ceiling windows that peel back to create an enormous indoor-outdoor living space (from $2,844 per night). Towering above the cityscape of El Born is The Roof, where Barcelona’s beautiful people clamour for cocktails and Latin America-inspired bites, and hotel guests while away their afternoons sipping cava and taking Insta-worthy snaps from the rooftop pool.
From: EUR 375 ($419) per night
5. MONUMENT BARCELONA
The neo-Gothic facade and stately marble staircase of Monument Barcelona are all that remain of the 1896 home of Enric Batlló, a Catalonian textile magnate whose brother Josep owned Gaudi’s famous Casa Batlló a few blocks away. Today, Monument bears the hallmarks of a team of contemporary architects and designers, who transformed the building into one of Barcelona’s most surprising and sophisticated hotels in 2016. The open-plan ground floor is home to a modern lounge area that’s dominated by giant columns and metal structural beams protruding from an undulating, organic-looking ceiling, and the elegant Hall0 Cocktail Bar, created by master mixologist Javier de las Muelas.
Wooden parquet floors and a sweeping, Scandi-inspired bar are cool and calming after the bustling streets of Barcelona – and this neutral palette continues in Oria, the hotel’s one Michelin-starred restaurant, which occupies the other end of the space. Through a discreet door is Lasarte, Martín Berasategui’s three-star restaurant, the first in Barcelona to receive Michelin’s highest accolade. A glass elevator leads to the 84 guestrooms; stylish spaces with bare brick walls, warm wooden tones and black metal accents, creating an industrial-chic ambiance finished with local motifs like Gaudi’s hexagonal tile mosaic, which lines the pavement of Passeig de Gràcia.
Suite Enric Batlló is the one to look out for: 85 sqm of New York loft-like space with high ceiling, separate living room and kitchen and a striking black metal bed frame. A small terrace puts you right in the heart of Barcelona, with prized views of Gaudi’s La Pedrera building and the luxury boutiques of Passeig de Gràcia. Up top is urban orangerie Glasss Cocktail Bar, which leads out to a 20.5-metre swimming pool and Verbena Rooftop, a plant-covered open-air lounge with plenty of intimate corners.
From: EUR 250 ($280) per night
6. MERCER BARCELONA
Built into the original Roman walls of the Gothic Quarter, Mercer Barcelona is a slice of history in one of the city’s most atmospheric neighbourhoods. The contrast of ancient stone and modern glass walls sets the tone in the downstairs lobby, the focal point of which is a sun-dappled atrium filled with orange trees. A dark and moody cocktail lounge leads into Mercer Restaurant, where contemporary table settings and a glass wine wall make a pointed contrast to original vaulted ceilings and brick walls.
Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rafael Moneo was responsible for turning the building into a hotel in 2012, creating 28 unique rooms and suites that incorporate original design and architectural elements into the thoroughly contemporary spaces. Some suites feature small terraces overhanging the inner atrium and modern art by Catalonian painter Agustí Puig and all feature Molton Brown amenities.
Up top, the spacious roof deck is a peaceful escape from the city, with sun loungers, bar service and a plunge pool surrounded by pot plants and rooftops.
From: EUR 350-950 ($391-1,062) per night
7. SOHO HOUSE BARCELONA
Anyone with a stylish and eccentric British relative will feel at home at Soho House Barcelona, where bare brick walls, vintage furniture and whimsical touches form the backdrop for a seriously stylish stay. Fifty-six rooms and suites ranging from Tiny (21 sqm) to Large (80 sqm) bear the signature eclectic hallmarks of Soho House founder and chief designer Nick Jones, with antique furniture, vintage curtains and colourful patterned fabrics that create a lived-in, homely environment. Medium Marina rooms look out over the yachts of Port Vel Marina, with Juliet balconies, panelled walls and dark wooden furniture, while Medium Corner rooms also overlook the charming Duc de Medinaceli park.
The young and the beautiful gather day and night on The Roof, which looks out towards the Med and the peak of Montjuic hill on the south side of the city. Strawberry and cream colours stripe the loungers and daybeds surrounding the rooftop pool, and the basement level Cowshed Spa, complete with indoor heated pool, seats guests in floral armchairs in front of retro style TVs for mani-pedis. The exceedingly chic Cecconi’s Italian restaurant sprawls across half of the ground floor, adjacent to La Mercé Room event space.
With original vaulted ceilings, marble columns and white brick walls, the House Kitchen and Square Bar are abuzz with chirruping chatter, business banter and Skype salutations all day long – and the latter has a separate Bloody Mary menu for morning-after recovery. It’s unlikely you’ll have ever seen such a large gym for a 56-room hotel: an enormous space that takes up an entire floor of the 19th century former convent, with dozens of machines, a 22-bike spin room and a mirrored studio for group classes, with retro-style boxing bags and gloves.
From: EUR 260-985 ($291-1,102) per night
8. THE WITTMORE HOTEL BARCELONA
Tucked away down a nondescript alleyway in the Gothic Quarter, The Wittmore is a hidden gem. Vintage telephones, eclectic light fixtures and Marshal speakers abound in the 22 rooms and suites, where patterned carpets, colourful cushions and dark panelled walls create a homely, hipster feel. All guestrooms face an inner atrium and patio that’s home to the tallest vertical garden in Barcelona, which filters out the noise of the city. Downstairs, the red tartan-covered walls make The Wittmore feel like a private members’ club, with its cosy library lounge and cocktail bar on one side and Witty restaurant on the other.
The top floor sun deck looks out across the rooftops of the Gothic Quarter, with vibrant yellow and white loungers that make this the perfect spot for a lazy afternoon.
BEST OF THE REST
Thirty minutes from downtown, Little Beach House Barcelona is a new addition to the Soho House family, a 17-room hideaway in a 1950s building overlooking the picturesque sands and beach huts of Garraf. A few steps from the Passeig de Gracia, Alexandra Barcelona Hotel is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, a 19th century building with original mosaic flooring and leafy terrace.
Part of Relais & Chateaux, Hotel Neri’s blend of contemporary and classical extends across 22 guestrooms and Alain Guiard’s ‘a restaurant’ in the shadow of Barcelona Cathedral. The neoclassical façade of Ohla Barcelona has been given a 21st-century update with the addition of art by Frederic Amat, and the top-floor roof terrace is surely one of the most picturesque in town.