‘When the first thing you see is a palm tree, you know you’re in for some fun.’ Mrs Smith’s wise words as we step out of Barcelona Airport. Sun beating down, we hop into a cab to take us the Alma in the upscale Eixample district. Driving down the Diagonal, the main boulevard running through the city, we spend the next 20 minutes admiring the architecture and how masterfully this city throws in modern with 19th century.
A former Forties’ apartment block, Alma’s façade is discreet, reminiscent of a townhouse off Madison Avenue in NYC. Past elegant black wrought-iron gates, the grey wash is accented by perfectly sculpted topiaries. Snappily dressed staff await and we’re greeted warmly. Mrs Smith muses that they’re all perfect these Stepford-esque men or women, whose etiquette, knowledge, English – is all perfect. Without skipping a beat, these flawless folks even know my name. Talk about a nice ego boost – and that’s before they’ve indulged us further by bringing over some bubbles.
I’ll be honest, check-in takes a few minutes: but that’s understandable when your fingerprint scan serves as your key. Hey, I’m fine to linger sipping bubbles and reclining like James Bond… especially when there’s even a Moneypenny standing by to predict my next need. If only I had an Aston Martin. I am sure that could be arranged.
After ascending a small flight of stairs we enter a internal courtyard that has a ceiling height of 10 stories. It’s grey, it’s stone, it’s glass – it’s minimalist. In my mind somewhere in the background Darth Vadar’s themesong is playing; I fully expect to see Princess Leia turn the corner. Mrs Smith is standing in awe. ‘Do you think we can use the word ‘orgasm’ in this review? Because if we can, then I’m having one – an architectural orgasm. I’m never leaving. Have my mail forwarded and bring me more bubbles.’ Beyond this impressive atrium, rooms resonate with clean-cut contemporary style, some boasting views of Catalan architect Gaudi's monumental La Pedrera building.
Fingerprints zapped, the door to our room opens. ‘It’s the little things,’ she says, the interior designer in her scrutinising all the little details, such as room number displays inspired by graphic typewriter keys. I, on the other hand, notice that everything is spacious. The shower comprises its own room. You simply walk in. No need for glass, no need for a curtain – the rainspout showerhead doesn’t stand a chance of getting the floor wet, it’s that big. ‘Ooh,’ she squeals. ‘They even have bath products from our fellow New Yorkers Malin + Goetz.’
After surveying our home for the next three days, we grab a late lunch (normal time for Spain) at Bar Mut just around the corner, where they have an extensive selection of cava, wines and a few delicious plates of whatever is fresh that day. Next we hit the main Fifth Avenue equivalent, the Passeig de Gràcia, and we window-shop our way down to the Gothic Quarter, where the labyrinth of alleyways is like a life-size Pac Man game. Before you know it, we are at the port and heading to 7 Portes, a Barcelona institution for more years than I’ve been alive. A classic version of what the Wolseley or Balthazar is now, this restaurante is the real deal.
As it starts to rain the next day, we shelter in the hotel. We hit the spa and head for the wet steamroom, which revives and thaws our wintery bones. There is a new 18-metre two-lane waist-deep lap pool too. Warm and people-free, I relish the rare chance to swim uninterrupted laps. A basic gym has most things one actually needs, so after a splash, for New York second I think about a workout. But come on, who are we kidding? That would interrupt the fantastic late breakfast we’ve ordered via room service. We head back to the room and luxuriate in showers under a rain-style downpour so generous it could irrigate the whole of the south coast of England.
Dinner is served in a streamlined restaurant and bar area beside the lobby, with a small, carefully curated menu that is served by a genuinely sincere and enthusiastic bartender. You see, it really is like having your own personal Jeeves at your fingertips. Each course, as much of a cliché as it sounds, is delicious. Portions are sensibly sized and we manage four courses with ease. Mod-Med food, and a taste of local cuisine care of spaghettini with Catalan butifarra (black sausage) and egg is accompanied by a bottle of their very reasonably priced wines (€20–€30); afterwards we enjoy whiskies and a cigar in the serene courtyard. In warmer months this must have quite the scene.
Now, you can image as time to leave approaches, Mrs Smith has decided that she does not want to leave – after all, Alma hotel has all the convenience, comfort and accommodation of home. And more. When I raise this with the receptionist, she just smiles, then says: ‘Maybe you could move in with the gentleman we have had living here for six months...’