Hotel Unico in Madrid is a grand old palace on the city’s exclusive Golden Mile, where the food is fine, the floors are fancy and the design is decadent. This one-of-a-kind vision of marble mosaics, swirling red sculptures and elaborate chandeliers would make Louis XIV proud.
Get this when you book through us:
A welcome drink each, free parking and 20 per cent off in the spa
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £218.76 (€248), including tax at 10 per cent.
Breakfast is extra (€29.32 each).
Ask for a tailored massage at the hotel’s Wellness Suite.
The hotel will be closed 5 to 26 August.
At the hotel
Spa, gym, gardens, free WiFi throughout and a library of books and DVDs. In rooms: flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player, iPod, minibar and Gilchrist & Soames bath products.
Our favourite rooms
For peace and quiet, book a Unico King Courtyard or Unico King Garden – each of these rooms has high ceilings and grand windows, with a view based on whatever name you go for. The Grand Suite is the blow-out option, the biggest and best, with a lounge and Jacuzzi; its guests get fetched from the airport.
Take a break from the bustling city in the hotel's tranquil, luxury spa. Enjoy beauty treatments by Natura Bissé and made-to-order massages that promise to relax both body and mind.
Wide-brimmed straw hats, sharp suits and super-size sunglasses to blend in with the well-heeled crowd.
There are ground-floor rooms adapted for wheelchair users.
Cots are free; extra beds cost €110 a night. A local nanny can be booked for babysitting.
Beneath the Baroque mirror on the ceiling to people-watch with stealth.
Lavish labels to match the opulent atmosphere.
Ramon Freixa’s twice-starred restaurant is the star of the show: expect crazy concoctions such as duck burger with green mustard ice-cream, idiazabal cheese and crunchy bread, rice with cuttle fish and blood sausage, and red mullets with peas, asparagus and caviar. The surroundings are just as elaborate, with mirrored floors, patterned marble, hand-painted plates, bronze curtains and Moorish ironwork. It’s popular, so make reservations when booking your stay. The same chef is also behind the breakfasts.
The Fora Garden Bar serves cocktails and tapas in summer, and is less formal than the restaurant; a live band is in residence on Thursdays. The garden itself is open year round, but bar service is only available during the warmer months.
Breakfast is from 7.30am until 11am during the week, and from 8am to noon at weekends; lunch is served between 1.30pm and 3.30pm; dinner is from 9pm until 11pm.
Hotel Unico is in Salamanca, Madrid’s most exclusive barrio to the north of the city centre…
Madrid’s Barajas airport is just under 13 kilometres from the hotel. Ryanair has flights from London Stansted, London Gatwick and Manchester in the UK, and across Europe, including Marseille, Oslo and Rome (www.ryanair.com). EasyJet also connects the capital with various points across the Continent, covering London, Lyon and Lisbon (www.easyjet.com).
Renfe trains call in at Atocha, two kilometres from Hotel Unico (10 minutes by cab), and go to big cities all over the country (www.renfe.com). The nearest metro stop is Serrano, half a mile away.
The hotel is on Claudio Coello, north from Parque del Retiro. Parking in these upscale environs will set you back €39 a night.
Worth getting out of bed for
Wander Salamanca’s streets, calling in at its many independent boutiques and antique shops. Also nearby, you’ll find the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen museums, as well as the grand and green Parque del Retiro.
Find more fine dining at La Terraza del Casino, the three-Michelin-starred rooftop restaurant at Casino de Madrid on Calle Alcala (+34 91 532 1275; www.casinodemadrid.es). On the same street as the hotel, try Oter Epicure, a lively tapas joint serving the freshest seafood, including langoustine by the kilo, and excellent meat dishes (+34 91 431 6771; www.oterepicure.com). Head over to Tse Yang at Villa Magna for fine Cantonese food in beautiful surroundings; definitely one worth dressing up for (+34 91 587 1234). Take tapas with the Madrileños who know best at José Luis on Calle Serrano; you won’t find better tortilla and meatballs than at this old-school favourite, but make sure you book (+34 91 563 0958).
Airports aren’t places you would normally associate with elegance but Madrid’s was a revelation to me. Landing there on a beautifully warm September afternoon having left a rainy London just two hours before, we were rather taken with its majesty and quiet sophistication. It is Richard Rogers’ largest and most ambitious project to date and, at one billion Euros, his most expensive. But although it was grand and impressive, it was also quietly understated.
We felt exactly the same about Hotel Único. After a brief taxi journey from the airport we were standing in front of a pristine 19th-century façade, expertly blending into its surroundings and otherwise invisible, were it not for the very friendly uniformed doorman who materialised from nowhere to take our bags. It was a neat trick. Once inside, past the hidden entrance and silent sliding doors, we didn’t feel like we were in a hotel at all; more like one of Madrid’s most elegant private residences.
That first impression remained with us for the rest of our stay. Único is quiet, yes, but in a very good way. It is situated in the heart of the Salamanca quarter, flanked by swanky shops, but it feels secret and hidden. Our room was slightly serious and monochromatic but generously proportioned, uncluttered and it gave out onto a fantastic Juliet balcony with views up and down the quiet street. I loved the clever partitioning in the modern bathroom and the feeling of space created by the long entrance hall.
Architecturally Hotel Único is exquisite. The swirling mosaic motif on its floors, dramatic staircases and marble walls are bold touches but not at all overstated. Just like the staff, in fact, who were always polite and on-hand but never overbearing. I am grateful to the very smiley blue-eyed receptionist who spotted the mistakes in our museum schedule, knew the exact opening times of the big galleries and corrected our itinerary. Thank goodness he did – we would have missed Museo del Prado!
We spent our first day smooching around the atmospheric side streets of the city’s Latin quarter. We had great fun grazing in the covered Mercado San Miguel near Plaza Mayor – a board of pata negra here, a plate of pimientos de padron there – and then tried and failed to find an open tapas bar from the many that had been recommended. The most famous strip, Calle Cava Baja, was mostly boarded up at 8pm and only began to reveal itself after 9pm; Madrileñas clearly eat late. We headed back to the hotel to shower and change for supper at the city’s most famous restaurant, Ramón Freixa Madrid.
That a chef of Ramón Freixa’s stature is in residence at Único’s restaurant is clearly a huge bonus for the hotel. The restaurant is set to the rear of the building with its own private garden and entrance. It is elegant, of course, understated, naturally, and is as pretty as a picture. A huge Venetian mirror sits impossibly on the ceiling reflecting the dining room back down onto itself and a trompe l’oeil panorama fills an entire wall giving a feeling of heightened grandeur. I loved the chandeliers, which had been encased in a tight-fitting white web, reminding me of the work of Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota.
We sat down in an empty room just after 9.30pm (I told you Madrid eats late) and enjoyed eight courses of the most skilful and witty cooking I can remember in recent years. The dining room was only full by 11pm, just as we were winding down, but what a superb and memorable meal. Incidentally, our bottle of Chassagne-Montrachet Premiere Cru was both exceptional and remarkably good value too. It is refreshing to visit a twice Michelin-starred restaurant with such a great attitude to wine mark-ups. Bravo.
We woke early the following morning to the sound of, well, nothing. It really is remarkable how peaceful this hotel feels while being in the very centre of a major European capital city. Breakfast was neat, expert, and met the official ‘Classy International Buffet’ standard. Good coffee.
Madrid’s galleries alone are reason enough to visit the city and, I have to say, the Prado museum’s collection is breathtaking. I would strongly advise that you limit yourself to just a few rooms per visit; it is easy to get gallery fatigue if you try to take in too much. Highlights for me included the Velazquez dwarf paintings and his masterpiece of comic bathos ‘Mars’, El Greco’s best works from around 1580 and, dear reader, the most astonishing collection of Goya paintings you will ever see. His depiction of ‘Saturn devouring his son’ is one of the most horrifying images ever committed to canvas. You have been warned.
After a good few hours scouring the excellent flea market of El Rastro (where I bought an old flamenco guitar and the missus got a hand-tooled leather handbag – both for just a few euros) we had a very enjoyable evening in the Latin quarter. The tapas bars there really are the best in the city and the highlight for me was the excellent hangover dish of poached eggs and fried potatoes from Los Huevos de Lucio on Calle Cava Baja. Back at Hotel Único, our bed was turned down and our curtains were drawn as we settled in to another perfect night’s sleep.
On our last morning we were determined to fit in a visit to the Reina Sofia gallery before leaving for the airport. (It is definitely worth a trip, if only for the superb collection of Picassos and the monumental ‘Guernica’, the jewel in Spanish modern art’s crown.) We asked Blue Eyes if we might check out at 1pm instead of the advertised noon. ‘Of course!’ was the reply. ‘Stay later if you like; 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock…’ Full marks.
Único is a very smart hotel indeed. It is discreet, understated and classy. Its position in Salamanca makes it good for a business trip but I could recommend as a destination in its own right, especially if you like peace, comfort, tasteful interiors and a two-Michelin star dining experience on your doorstep. (Or even if, like me, you prefer egg and chips.)