City hotels, Spain
From London to Los Angeles and Bangkok to Barcelona, we've fine-dined, sight-seen and bar-hopped our way around the world's most stylish urban hubs.
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Born in Orviedo, Patricia Urquiola is one of the most versatile and prolific designers in Europe today, with a roster of clients that many of her contemporaries would kill for: Dior, Louis Vuitton, B&B Italia, Salvatore Ferragamo, BMW and dozens more. Over her career, her unconventional eye and warm aesthetic approach has turned from furniture to interiors to architecture, and have won her so many ‘Designer of the Year’ awards, it’s very possible she has had to design a cabinet to keep them in. Smith hotel aficionados will spot her hand in the innovative and colourful look of Das Stue in Berlin, and Urquiola’s credentials as an architectural designer are on resplendent display in the lacework- and origami-inspired interiors of the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona.
Barcelona is one of the modern world’s great design hubs and, for a crash course in Catalan creativity, its new Museu del Dessny is your first port of call. Having opened its doors for the first time in December 2014, it brings together the collections of four of the city’s former museums. It now provides a home for more than 70,000 significant objects from the history of Spanish space design, product design, information design and fashion, stretching from the fourth century to the present day. The museum’s ambitious headline exhibitions trace the evolution of the ‘decorative arts’ of the past to what we think of as design today, moving from mediaeval fabric and Renaissance glasswork to contemporary catwalk fashion and modern graphic design. Impossible to miss, the huge metallic hammerhead of a building lords it over the Plaça de les Glòries; the glossy, glassy and glamorous Smith hotel Meliá Barcelona Sky is just down the road.
Sooner or later, everyone serious about style who comes to Barcelona heads to Passeig de Gracia with space in their suitcase and a credit card that can take a beating. The smartest shoppers minimise their bag-lugging distance by checking into the Catalan capital’s most elegant address – the designer apartments of El Palauet. The art nouveau exterior gives way to a collection of modern, minimalist suites – each equipped with furniture straight out of a primer of 20th-century design classics and staffed by a personal PA, to book your restaurants, bag you tickets and, if need be, help carry your shopping...
It has been over 130 years in the making – and it still hasn’t been made yet. The vision of revered modernist architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926), Barcelona’s imposing basilica – an attention-grabbing mash-up of Art Nouveau and Neo-Gothic – is Spain’s greatest work of unfinished architecture, and very possibly the world’s. By the time Gaudí died, only a quarter of the building was finished, and successive generations have been painstakingly labouring through the decades to bring it to fruition. When it reaches completion (slated for 2026), La Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church building on Earth, but it’s not just its scale that makes it so captivating; the sheer, visionary audacity and mathematically complex engineering of Gaudí’s architecture make it a marvel to look at even in its incomplete state. It has its detractors, of course – George Orwell called it ‘hideous’ – but there’s no denying its impact on the eyeballs, whether you regard it as the 560-foot folly of a lunatic or an otherworldly masterpiece. Stay at Meliá Barcelona Sky and you’ll be in easy reach.