Barcelona’s old-school charmer is a place of gilt and guilty pleasures
I’m all for the new breed of relaxed hotels. The casual service and honesty bars; the communal tables and stripped floorboards; that lovely feeling of being in a cool friend’s home.
Sometimes, though, you want a hotel that is unashamedly a hotel. One with old-school hotel virtues: a haut-bourgeois location, elite-level food, abundant gilt, an impeccably dressed concierge. Needless to say, El Palace is such a hotel. The ceilings soar. The carpets are wildly maximalist. The afternoon champagne is served with cake. There is, of course, a pool on the roof.
This, after all, is Barcelona’s first five-star hotel; the grand old dame of the local scene, that has sat imperiously in an unrivalled spot on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes since 1919, all neoclassical hauteur and Belle Époque flourishes.
The location is ideal – Eixample’s Gaudi buildings and majestic avenues are on your doorstep, while the glorious old town is a short hop south and you can stroll easily up to hip Gràcia with its natural wine bars and atmospheric squares.
It’s the kind of place where charming, uniformed men well into middle age bustle about, opening doors and whisking guests up to the rooms, which are handsome in the traditional style with a few art-packed suites, including a suitably over-the-top homage to Ronnie Wood.
Throughout, the interior is delightfully particular, with eccentrically hung paintings, trolleys of cake and just the right amount of faded glamour. And there are all kinds of lovely individual touches, like its collaboration with local independent perfumer Carner, which keeps the place smelling divine.
The real draws here, though, are the hotel’s two stand-out spaces: the roof terrace and new restaurant, AMAR. The former is a multi-level urban oasis that includes a sun-soaked little pool just long enough for lengths, hideaway corners shaded by trees, an under-the-stars cinema, and a lovely restaurant where guests eat excellent tapas under pretty pergolas. But it’s the latter that really lifts El Palace into the top rank. Opened in the spring of 2022 in collaboration with chef Rafa Zafra, AMAR is seriously opulent in every way, from the glorious navy-blue-and-gold room to the plates of sensational seafood that seem to roll endlessly out of the kitchen. Oysters arrive on steel shells. The crayfish carpaccio is a tribute to El Bulli. The fruit comes soaked in sangria. Apparently, Obama, Spielberg and Springsteen recently ate there together, and you can totally imagine it because the place really is the boss.
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