El Palace Hotel, Barcelona review: the art of luxury
Experience the cultural heritage of the Catalan capital as you soak up the Spanish sun
Staycations are all very well, but by now even the most patriotic holidaymaker might be losing patience with our unpredictable weather. However glorious your Cornish hideaway or Scottish castle, it won’t scratch an itch for a sultry city break.
Unlike, for example, El Palace in Barcelona, which is perfectly set up to welcome British sunseekers. Since reopening in April, the hotel has put its picturesque rooftop terrace at the heart of operations. A large, inviting space with a swimming pool and cocktail bar, it now plays host to pop-up cinema evenings, weekend brunches and special dinners in its secret garden (below).
Nor is there any need to hurry before the weather turns: the Catalan capital is at its best in autumn and still bathed in warm sunshine even as Britain succumbs to the chill of winter.
Why stay at El Palace?
El Palace is Barcelona’s original luxury hotel, built more than a century ago to complement (and rival) the Ritz in Madrid. Since then it has played its part in Spanish history, serving as a Red Cross hospital during the country’s civil war before being commandeered by General Franco, who had earmarked it for his treasury.
At the insistence of local Catalan leaders, the building was returned to service as a hotel and began to build up an impressively artistic clientele. Guests included the sculptor Joan Miro and singer Josephine Baker, as well as Salvador Dali, who lived there for a time. So too, decades later, did Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, and it was in one of the hotel’s lounges that Freddie Mercury was introduced to Montserrat Caballe as Barcelona prepared to host the 1992 Olympics.
After full renovation four years ago, El Palace now presents an elegant blend of classical architecture, cultural heritage and modern Mediterranean cool. It has “art suites” named after Dali, Miro, Wood and Baker (hers is pictured below) - their decor inspired by the aesthetic of each artist (and in Wood’s case designed by him and featuring a selection of his own paintings, plus a Wurlitzer jukebox filled with his favourite records).
Live music still animates the hotel, too. A jazz band accompanies Sunday afternoon tapas and cocktails, while each weekend the El Palace “brunch and vinyls” session, featuring prominent local DJs, draws in residents of Barcelona as well as hotel guests.
What to do
Barcelona is the archetypal city-break destination, with world-class culture, food, shopping and gardens - and a great beach - just a two-hour flight from the UK. For those who are already well acquainted with the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell and La Rambla, the city also serves as a launchpad for the surrounding area. El Palace can arrange a wine-tasting tour of the nearby Penedes region, including access to private cellars, or charter a sailing boat to the nearby resort town of Sitges - with a stop for jet-skiing or snorkelling on route.
To see another side of Spain, Barcelona can be combined with a skiing holiday in the Pyrenean resorts of La Molina, La Masella or Port del Comte, two hours away by train or car. As the winter sport season gets under way in November, temperatures in the city still climb to a pleasant 18C.
What to eat
El Palace makes the most of its rooftop dining areas (below), delivering no fewer than five menus depending on the time of day or day of the week. The highlight of the week is the “secret garden” six-course dinner, served in a secluded corner of the terrace and featuring a fusion of Iberian and international flavours. The same principle informs regular service too, with lunch and dinner menus offering small plates of Spanish specialties - marinated anchovies, cured pork, croquettes and roasted peppers - alongside tacos, burgers and more substantial seafood, meat and vegetable dishes from the grill. The hotel plans to open a signature restaurant in partnership with an as-yet-unnamed chef later this year.
Beyond the hotel, Barcelona offers a huge range of enticing restaurants to suit any budget. Gresca, in nearby Eixample, is the place to go for well executed Catalan classics served in a cosy and unpretentious setting. A little further afield - and further up the culinary hierarchy - is ABaC, west of Parc Guell, where chef Jordi Cruz creates the sort of finely honed dishes that attract three Michelin stars.
How to get there
BA, Iberia, easyJet and Ryanair fly to Barcelona from a wide range of UK destinations. At the time of publication, vaccinated Brits can travel to and from Spain without having to quarantine at either end.
How to book
Classic rooms are available from about £210 per night in winter or from £260 per night in summer, from the El Palace website.