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Destinations in Spain
This sunny Spanish region is best seen from a saddle; riding over scorching scrub-covered lowlands while gazing at the Sierra Nevada range is as romantic as it gets. Like a toreador caught off guard, you’ll be knocked off your feet.
Find a luxury villa, boutique hotel or beach break in the Balearic Islands with our expertly curated collection of the best Mediterranean stays.
Basking on the sun-kissed shores of the Mediterranean, the Catalan capital is a city with its finger most firmly on the pulse: Barcelona has always embraced style, bold design and all things new.
Hugging a rugged, windswept coastline that snakes east of Bilbao into France and the Pyrenees, the Basque country of northern Spain promises both urban excitement and open-air adventure.
This northerly region in Catalonia has scenery to satisfy your every whim – city break (Girona), beach retreat (Costa Brava) or country weekend (La Bisbal).
By day, Madrid is a city of extravagant palaces, majestic plazas and stately parks; by night, los gatos (the cats), as the city’s inhabitants are nicknamed, prowl the historic avenues until the early hours indulging their passion for decadent nightlife.
A bustling city with 24 beaches, this Spanish hotspot has more to it than the usual Costa del Sol tourist route.
This mountain-flanked city in the Navarre region of northern Spain is known for its wine, cheese and annual bull run…
Revamped and rejuvenated, Valencia’s an ancient Mediterranean port with grand modern designs, and it’s not just the oranges that benefit from the region’s year-round sunshine…
As you might expect from a chef who trained under Ferran Adrià, Paco Pérez creates dishes that could pass as artworks, colourful culinary portraits painted in foams, jus and powders. But these are not just hollow theatrics – Pérez has a gift for combining flavours that has bagged him a quintet of Michelin stars over the years. Miramar, the seafood-slanted restaurant he set up with his wife in his hometown of Llançà, near Girona, has become a site of gastronomic pilgrimage (sea cucumbers are a speciality). Peréz has not confined himself to Spain, however. When he opened Cinco at the Das Stue in Berlin in 2013, expectations ran high. Within a year, its technically accomplished, Iberian-inflected, 25-course tasting menu had added another Michelin star to his CV.
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.
Marbella has been the famously chic playground of old-school, look-at-me Mediterranean glamour for decades, and Marbella Club is one of the biggest reasons behind its rep. Opened by playboy Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe in 1951, the shore-side resort (which includes a spa, beach club, golf course, botanical gardens and champagne room, naturally) still attracts the glitz-garbed international jet set and those who like to watch them at play. Although these days, a lot of the younger guests slope off to barefoot-luxe coast club Nikki Beach down the road when they’re tired of lounging on the pool terrace…
If you have new-season swimwear to show off that is best accessorised by a 19th-century Mallorcan fort (every good bikini needs battlements for a backdrop), Cap Rocat is the place to do it. High in drama, blessed with sweeping sea views and radiating exclusivity from drawbridge to turret, it’s a secluded, adults-only hideaway, where supermodels and super yachters go for superlative service and one of the sexiest poolsides on the Med.
Contemporary Spanish cooking may well be progressive and forward thinking, but, as in most countries, it’s still dominated by men. Elena Arzak, often lauded as ‘the world’ best female chef’, is a welcome exception. Elena and her father Juan Mari Arzak (one of the big beasts of New Basque cuisine) are responsible for Arzak, the triple-Michelin-star restaurant that has been in their family for 118 years and a standard feature of gourmet ‘must-try’ shortlists. It is set in central San Sebastián (across the river from Smith hotel Astoria 7), home to more Michelin stars per square metre than any other city in the world – possibly related to the fact it sits at the geographical and culinary meeting point of France and Spain. In the last decade, Elena (whose professional education, inevitably, involved a period at El Bulli) has emerged as a remarkable chef in her own right, continuing and building on her father’s legacy with unparalleled artistry and improbably brilliant flavour combinations.
It’s not an architectural marvel, nor a museum of historical treasures, but the folk festival of La Tomatina, in the small Valencian town of Buñol, is one of the cultural highlights of modern Spain. Well, we say ‘folk festival’; it’s more a mass food fight – and a marvellous example of how humanity can latch on to something ridiculous and turn it into tradition. They story starts with a scuffle at a summer parade in 1945 when rambunctious youngsters went ballistic (literally) with a vegetable stall in the market, until the police intervened. They returned the next year to commemorate the anniversary, and again the next. More people joined in each passing year. Eventually, the city authorities gave up trying to stop them and instead started giving them tomatoes. Today, on the last Wednesday in August, around 40,000 eager fruit-flingers flock to the town square at 9am to pelt each other with 125,000kg of tomatoes, over the course of an hour, until the streets run red with juice. It is all both violently joyful and profoundly silly, and although the actual event only lasts an hour, the spirit of revelry fills most of the week. Accommodation’s in short supply in Buñol, but if you’re joining in the madness, Hospes Palau de la Mar in Valencia is an hour away. (Photo credit: MikeJamieson(1950) / Foter / CC BY-SA)
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.
The man behind the kitchens of 17th-century rural estate Predi San Jaumell in Mallorca may have been born in the Balearics, but his culinary travels have taken him all over the world (via a three-season stint at El Bulli). Here in the Mallorcan countryside, he has precision-crafted a small but explosively flavoursome menu that takes island ingredients (home-grown olive oil, fish fresh from the coast, bread from the hotel’s own wheat fields) and turns them into contemporary culinary masterpieces. At an astonishingly good-value €38, his tasting menu is unmissable.
Andalusia is strewn with Moorish mosques, monuments and palaces – none more resplendent or limelight-hogging than Granada’s Alhambra. But while the crowds swarm to admire the glories of the 14th-century fortress, the less queue-inclined are 250km away in Seville, gazing in serene wonderment at the architectural showstopper that is its Alcázar. Built in the 1360s on what had originally been a 9th-century fort, the cluster of palaces, courtyards and gardens is one of the most eye-ensnaringly spectacular examples of Mudéjar decorative art in Europe (with a few Gothic and Renaissance touches at play, too) and a worthy Unesco-lister. The Alcázar isn’t a dusty relic of a bygone era, however; it still houses the Spanish royal family when they stay in Seville, and frequently makes appearances on screen – Game of Thrones fans may have spotted the beautiful Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens), with its recently unearthed sunken garden, serving as the Prince of Dorne’s palace. One of Smith’s long-standing favourite stays, Corral del Rey, is within walking distance
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...