Two iconic Spanish cities with new five-star hotels and fresh travel impressions. This is the latest from Spain.
We sent travel designer Matous Grund and marketing director Stephen Bailey to experience what’s hot, what’s changed and three outstanding new hotels.
Barcelona – A Timeless City
Exploring Barcelona I was reminded of my love affair for this famous city, says Stephen Bailey. It’s simply incomparable, except it’s very different to what people imagine. The beach is still fantastic, especially the lively bars along the sand.
The gastronomy is among the world’s best – I tried Hisop, a quirky eight-table Catalan seafood restaurant, soon to go from one to two Michelin stars.
The shopping has improved, with a string of flagship stores close to Gaudi’s Pedrera plus a colourful neighbourhood of vintage shops. And of course the architecture is fantastic, not just Gaudi but many juxtaposing styles.
It’s a city where you will have a lot of fun. But Barcelona is not polished. It’s gritty, a little rough around the edges, covered in graffiti and full of energy.
My advice is don’t expect the postcard-perfect destination. Be prepared to venture into sidestreets, because that’s where Barcelona is most alive.
Experiencing The One Barcelona
The One is a contemporary hotel in the best Barcelona location. It’s between La Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera, one block from the city’s main street Passeig De Gracia. Central, convenient, but not on a busy intersection, plus the soundproofing is faultless. For first-time visitors to Barcelona I think it’s the ultimate location.
I stayed in a Cosy Barcelona room, which was quite cosy although the marble bathroom was capacious. I recommend going for a suite on the higher floors, where the overall quality is a lot higher.
The two signature suites on the eighth floor are outstanding. One has a private terrace with a jacuzzi, overlooking the spires of La Sagrada Familia.
The other is +120 square metres and a stunning space in the heart of Barcelona. The One looks a little generic from the outside, but the hallways are filled with Miro paintings and overall the design is nice, although not quite absolute top-level luxury.
The service was really outstanding – fast and unpretentious, especially the in-room breakfast.
Overall, The One is very good value for the price and has a vibe of urban sophistication. It’s ideal when you need a comfortable base to explore Barcelona. And seriously, what a location!
Madrid – A Destination on the Up
I was surprised at how much Madrid had changed since my last visit in 2018, says travel designer Matous Grund. Everything is so clean and elegant, so smart and polished. It really feels like a city on the way up.
Madrid is a great place to party, there’s all the famous art to discover, plus lots of interesting options for dining and just generally exploring.
I had an amazing long weekend and I realised one important thing about Madrid. It’s not just a weekend destination. It can be the perfect layover destination for any holiday in the Americas.
With Iberia Airlines, Madrid has the best flight connections to anywhere in Latin America. Like Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Peru or Costa Rica. You can have a weekend of European city chic in Madrid, before flying on to a more exotic holiday destination.
Want to Truly Explore Spain?
Experiencing the new Four Seasons Hotel Madrid
Spain’s first Four Seasons opened in 2019 after seven years converting a bank to a hotel. They spent EUR 500 million on the reconstruction and you can feel the quality everywhere.
It really feels like they spent half a billion here.
It’s located close to Sol in the very centre of Madrid, which is convenient although some people may find the area too busy, especially at weekends. The lower category rooms have views onto the street which isn’t so nice. I stayed in a Premium Terrace Room. This and all the suites are on higher floors and are worth the extra money.
Four Seasons Madrid had the best high-end service I’ve experienced in Europe since the pandemic.
The wellness was another massive highlight. It’s all on the rooftop. Just imagine a spa, sauna, pool and terrace, on the roof of your hotel, with views across the entire city. Breakfast is served on the rooftop too, which is another highlight of this amazing hotel.
I love the Four Seasons brand so maybe I am a little biased, but my experience in Madrid was phenomenal. I preferred it to be the new Ritz, just….
Experiencing the Redeveloped Mandarin Oriental Ritz
Madrid’s Ritz has been a famous hotel since 1912 and was reopened by Mandarin Oriental in 2019, after a three-year redevelopment. It’s a grand hotel next to the Prado Museum.
Don’t stay in a Superior room. This entry-level room is smaller than the comparable category at Four Seasons, and is the only room category without a view onto Madrid’s most famous park, El Retiro. Inside the park there’s the exclusive El Jardin de Ritz, a party and dining venue.
I loved eating breakfast in the palm courtyard, where there’s an exclusive Champagne bar for only eight people, with really premium brands.
The Ritz is a hotel for celebrities and famous people. It’s grand, almost faultless, especially the service. There’s a spa and pool underground, plus a restaurant expecting to receive its second star in November.
Overall Mandarin Oriental Ritz is a magnificent hotel and if it wasn’t for the Four Seasons up the road, I’d say it’s the best I’ve experienced in Europe this year.
Your Holiday in Spain?
Spain is a timeless destination and it’s always changing. It has great flight connections to Central Europe, a variety of interesting destinations, and a lot of new hotels to discover.
This isn’t the stereotyped mass tourism destination. Spain is cool. And it’s only getting better. Are you ready to explore Spain?