The 1992 Olympics transformed Barcelona into a world-class city unrivaled for its bold mix of ancient and contemporary art, architecture, gastronomy, and nightlife, The city’s wide tree-lined streets and cafes are perfect for leisurely walks and people watching. Throw in nine UNESCO World Heritage sites and eight sandy beaches on its Mediterranean coast—it’s not surprising that Barcelona is a top European travel destination. If you want to splurge, here are three places to rest your head:
Nestled among trendy boutiques and restaurants on the fashionable Passeig de Gràcia, the Mandarin Oriental has 98 rooms and suites. An inconspicuous street entry leads guests across a footbridge into what feels like an oasis where everything is shaded in creams and whites. Open since 2009, the site once housed a bank that was gutted except for its art deco exterior; the original safe deposit boxes now decorate the walls of the hotel’s Banker’s Bar. The rooms are ultra-modern, high-tech, and comfortable. The rooftop plunge pool and bar on the ninth floor provide striking views of Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Batlló across the way.
El Palace evokes the grandeur of the 20s. Located on an elegant corner in a residential area, it is an easy walk to Plaça Catalunya and Las Ramblas. In 1919, the property opened as The Ritz, one of the first grand hotels of Europe. After a meticulous €30 million restoration, the 125 rooms and suites reopened in 2009 as El Palace. The inviting grand lobby has period furniture, chandeliers, and columns reflecting the elegance of a bygone era. The balcony rooms on the boulevard side of the building offer views of the spires of Sagrada Familia.
Hotel Arts Barcelona
This waterfront hotel’s 44 stories of exposed glass and steel make Hotel Arts Barcelona Spain’s tallest building. Managed by Ritz-Carlton and located in the heart of the Olympic Village, the upper-floor rooms offer unparalleled views of the city and the sea, proximity to the port, and access to an expansive beach. From a lazy hammock in the manicured garden beside the pool, you can catch a close-up view of architect Frank Gehry’s iconic fish sculpture.
All three properties have Michelin-star chefs in their restaurants, walk-in rainwater showers, and fragrant shampoos you want to take home.
IF YOU GO
Passeig de Gràcia, 38-40 Barcelona 08007
Carrer de la Marina, 19-21 Barcelona 08005
Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 668 Barcelona 08011
Rates vary based on room type, view, and season.
[Published in the Chicago Tribune - February 26, 2012]