I don’t know if it speaks to a wider problem – the decline of literally everything, say – or just a decline in my social standing, but it’s been a worryingly long time since I had a proper hotel welcome.
I mean any combination of, although not limited to, welcome drink, welcome snack, White Lotus-style garland, hot towel, fruit bowl or handwritten hello, I’m easy. (These are the things I bemoan from the pub, like some sort of cast-out courtier.)
But it seems at Casa Sagnier my stock is up. Our welcome to the townhouse-turned-five-star-hotel is proper, properly generous and gratifyingly multifaceted.
We arrive, rudely early, sweaty from Barcelona-Sants station. No hay problema, come to the terrace for a welcome drink and tapa of melt-in-the mouth jamón.
It’s the perfect pause to take in Casa Sagnier’s surroundings on the Rambla de Catalunya – the buzzy central vein that runs through Barcelona, becoming La Rambla and, eventually, the sea. It’s a superb spot, central but not too central, in L’Eixample district: south of hipsterish Gràcia and its bar-filled plazas, north of the Gothic Quarter.
Drifting into siesta hour(s) on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October, L’Eixample is elegant but easy-going. Well-groomed dogs and people pass by us at a paseo pace as we ease into Spanish time under the umbrellas of Cafè de l’Arquitecte, the hotel’s restaurant, and the occasional architectural tour stops outside.
They’re here, of course, for Casa Sagnier, former family home and studio of the prolific Modernist architect, which he built and named Casa Dolors Vidal de Sagnier in homage to his wife. I mention this pointedly to Mr Smith who says something about those bookshelves he built. Hmph.
Back to Casa Sagnier. Its six floors honour their architect, with playful nods to his work – subtle references to blueprints, rulers – without feeling museum-y. It’s dark and stylish, at once warmly welcoming and smart, with wood-panelled and open-fired areas, topped by a glorious, sunny roof terrace and honesty bar (with – hello – honesty crisps).
But that’s not the best terrace at this address. Oh no. The best terrace, IMHO, just so happens to be the private rooftop terrace – boasting all-day Spanish sun, day bed, rain shower and lush planting, six floors up from Rambla de Catalunya – through the double doors of our deluxe terrace room. Could there be a more privileged spot in all of Catalunya? I think not.
And inside that room – complete with ginormous (that’s a luxury term) bed and sleek stone bathroom – is the hotel welcome I’ve been waiting for: overflowing fruit bowl, bottle of organic fizz, chocolate truffles and a hand-written note. Barcelona, I’m back.
I send a terrace picture to the Geller family chat. Dad: ‘Claim it in our name *pirate flag emoji*’. Say no more padre.
Full disclosure: despite last passing through Barcelona seven years ago on a hellish journey home from Ibiza, Mr Smith and I have been talking up moving here with increasing seriousness. We’re here, in part, to try the city on.
So we hit the town. First, we head south to Nova Icària beach for a euphoric swim in the golden hour sun (‘In October! Imagine!’ we exclaim at each other more times than is strictly fine), then to a chiringuito for sangria and tortilla.
We watch OAPs do the traditional sardana dance outside the cathedral, circling their handbags – and envision our retirement.
We do some required reading: Toibin’s Homage to Barcelona, plus two pages of Simone de Beauvoir in Spanish I buy optimistically.
We do much required drinking: vermut, cold cañas and cava.
And much more required eating: glorious breakfasts at Sagnier (hotel fans, rejoice: the breakfast buffet is back. This one is worth getting dressed for); plates of pintxos in Poble-Sec; lobster croquettas, seafood rice and three desserts at Bar Cañete; and, at Sagnier’s charming Cafè de l’Arquitecte, oysters and anchovies, saffron sea bass, melting lamb shoulder (which ex-vegan Mr Smith demolishes), a fig salad so nice we order it twice and a divine deconstructed tiramisu situation.
And we walk – redemptively far. Up through Gaudi’s Park Güell, down to Ciutadella Park. Through the tall, dark streets of Raval, to Gràcia for sundowners in Plaça del Sol, past Poble’s vibey bars, and back through Barceloneta for another swim on another gloriously sunny October afternoon.
And when we’re done walking and swimming and eating and drinking, we retreat to Casa Sagnier, in the middle of it all.
Because it really is a retreat – less like a hotel (although the breakfast buffet, waffle robes and wider-than-six-foot-five-Mr-Smith-is-long bed will reassure you of its luxury creds) and more like an excellent member’s club.
Or, better, like we’re house guests of an eye-wateringly wealthy, benevolent, but largely absent, host with impeccable taste and most amiable staff, inviting us to make ourselves at home in his city centre palacio. How kind.
It’s here that we spend our best Barcelona moments, lording over our new home from the terrace, suspended between the starry sky and the Rambla de Catalunya, as the street chatter, guitar and clink of glasses mingle at a polite distance below.
Then it’s just one more blissful big-bed sleep, one more brilliant breakfast, and one more fleeting scheme of squatting – so lovely and homely and ours it feels – before we head back to the station via a Gaudi (and a Gaudi crowdy), content that at least if we leave, there’ll be another Sagnier-grade hotel welcome next time. Hasta pronto.
Raise a glass to Barcelona from five of its best cocktail bars
Features editor at The Guardian, writer for the likes of National Geographic and Condé Nast Traveller, and keen collector of hotel stationery, Cassia’s travels have brought her to pencils from Balinese beach retreats, personalised paper from the Marrakech Medina, pens from deep in the Costa Rican jungle, and a lovely little notepad from the Grand Canal in Venice. She is happiest between a breakfast buffet and a body of water.