Elegant Alma Barcelona boutique hotel in the upscale Eixample district is a stylish little number, wrapping its minimally chic interior within a fab Forties building. Design fans will go ga-ga for the pared down but poised assets of this Barcelona beauty, from its sculptural staircase to Gaudi-glam views.
2pm, but flexible subject to availability. Until 3pm, a charge of 50 per cent of the room rate applies; after 3pm, you'll be charged for an extra night. Check-in, noon.
Double rooms from £296.11 (€335), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.48 per person per night on check-out.
Breakfast is extra, at €41 a person.
At the hotel
Lounge, gardens, free WiFi. In rooms: flatscreen TV, red Punkt phones, free minibar, Malin + Goetz toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
All Alma's abodes are subtly masculine, with clean-lined contemporary furniture, a neutral palette of greys, browns and sky blues, simple shutters and smart mood lighting, prettied up with white marble bathrooms. Many of the Grand Deluxe rooms flaunt views of Gaudi's iconic wavy-stone La Pedrera building, so make sure you request one. We like the futuristic fingerprint-activated door 'keys' – so James Bond.
There's a long heated pool in the spa, a stylish and serene space to swim a few lengths in.
If famed minimalist sculptor Donald Judd turned his hand to spa design, the result would probably look like Alma's sleek offering. The day-bed-flanked pool is a cool aquamarine rectangle in a serene cream space, and the treatment rooms are cutting edge and calming. There's a sauna, a small fitness room (with a static bike, treadmill and TRX suspension-training equipment), and a range of massages, reiki, reflexology and immersive sensory experiences are all offered.
Leave space in your case for your shopping booty, as you're just a sashay from fashionable boutique-lined Passeig de Gràcia.
Welcome, but Alma is more of a sophisticated adult retreat. Baby cots can be provided for free and babysitting with a local nanny can be arranged. There's a children's menu too.
Snaffle one outside on the terrace or in the garden to make the most of the Spanish sun. Tables are scattered around, so choose your own seductive spot amid the foliage.
Stylish yet subtle threads will sit well with Alma's low-key allure. If you're hitting the bar, a cocktail dress won't go amiss, but bring a cardy for alfresco evenings.
Relaxed Alma restaurant dishes up delectable mod-Med food, which you can munch indoors or out in the swish garden. We can recommend the salmon tartare, Dover sole à la meunière and the chocolant fondant, all of which arrived looking dreamily decorative – or if you fancy something local, order the burnt butter spaghettini with Catalan butifarra (black sausage) and egg. Don't leave without trying the heavenly home-made limoncello. Beautiful blooms throughout are picked by the hotel's green-fingered gardener.
Adjoining the open-plan restaurant, Alma's bar offers cracking cocktails, including a moreish kiwi Bellini, with a bespoke soundtrack of chill-out and acoustic tunes. There are plenty of pews for two, or grab a stool at the bar itself to watch your drink being shaken and stirred.
This is Barcelona, remember, city of night owls, so dinner is served until 11pm, and the house bar keeps pouring until 1am.
24-hour room service is yours to command, with à la carte offerings available from the restaurant menu.
Alma Barcelona is centrally located on Carrer de Mallorca, just off Passeig de Gràcia, in the swanky Eixample district.
Fly into Barcelona El Prat Airport, 12 kilometres south-west of the city centre, which handles international and domestic flights. From there, it's a 15-kilometre taxi ride to the hotel. Some Ryanair flights touch down at Girona-Costa Brava or Reus airports further afield, from where you'll need to take a train, bus or taxi into Barcelona.
RENFE runs trains into nearby Passeig de Gràcia station from all major Spanish cities. The nearest Metro stop to the hotel is Diagonal, on lines L3 and L5. Once there, take the exit marked Passeig de Gràcia.
If you've hired your own wheels, the hotel offers parking for €32 a car a night.
Worth getting out of bed for
Just a short stroll away you'll find Gaudi's undulating stone-clad dwelling La Pedrera, aka Casa Milà, at the corner of Passeig de Gràcia at Carrer de Provença 261–265. You can tour a period apartment inside, but leave time to check out the kooky rooftop, which flaunts multi-coloured chimneys as well as a bar in summer. Other Gaudi must-sees in the area include modernist-marvel Casa Batllò, further south at Passeig de Gràcia 43 (go inside or just admire the rainbow-tiled façade), spire-toting Sagrada Familiafurther east at Carrer de Mallorca 401, and fantastical Parc Güell, a metro or taxi ride north of neighbouring Gràcia.
For a modern art hit, make for Fundació Antoni Tàpies (Carrer de Aragó 255), which showcases work by the famous Catalan abstract artist. Music lovers should immerse themselves in a performance at Palau de la Música Catalana (further south at Carrer de Palau de la Música 4–6), a magnificent modernist concert hall by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
Shopping more your speed? Then pop into Passeig de Gràcia's many chichi boutiques, including Spanish labels Zara for catwalk looks (number 16), Camper for shoes (64), Mango for high-street fashion (65), and Loewe, for leather handbags and accessories (91). Adolfo Dominguez (Carrer de Balmes 170), near Diagonal metro station, will appeal to men in search of sophisticated threads. Vinçon (Passeig de Gràcia 96) is a tantalising temple of edgy Spanish and global design, selling everything from gift-friendly stationery to kitchen kit and homewares.
Alma Barcelona is surrounded by tempting tapas treats. Refuel mid-Gaudi tour at De Tapa Madre (Carrer de Mallorca 301; +34 (93) 459 31 34), handily located between La Sagrada Familia church and La Pedrera. Also nearby is Tapas, 24 (Carrer de la Diputaciò 269; +34 (93) 488 09 77), a popular pitstop that's worth queuing for. Expect new-wave tapas and playful snacks by chef Carles Abellen, who heads up a clutch of culinary hotspots in town.
Wander north to the chic adjacent neighbourhood of Gràcia, known for its graceful squares ideal for sipping coffee out in the sun – or quaffing a cool Estrella Damm at night. Try Plaça de Ruis i Taulet, Plaça del Sol, Plaça de la Revolució de Setembre de 1868 or Plaça de la Virreina. This once fiercely independent district, which resisted being amalgamated into the city of Barcelona, will feel far less touristy than downtown Barri Gòtic.
Time-travel back to the cocktail's Fifties heyday at Dry Martini(Carrer d'Aribau 162–166; +34 (93) 217 50 74), conceived by cocktail-slinger Javier de la Muelas. The bartenders are the business at this sexy spot, which is pulling a stylish crowd. Sashay to clandestine sister restaurant Speakeasy, at the same address, for intimate bites afterwards.
‘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...’