Behind its neoclassical façade, Ohla Barcelona Hotel combines minimalist interiors with a red-hot rooftop pool and on-trend tapas joint. This former department store on the site of an old palace was renovated with assistance from artist and sculptor Frederic Amat, whose surreal ceramic ‘eyes’ adorn the building.
Seventy-four, including 24 junior suites and one duplex suite.
Noon. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £202.96 (€235), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of €4.68 per person per night on check-out.
Some rates include buffet breakfast (€22 a person).
An à la carte room-personalisation service is available on request; choose your pillows, amenities and even the aroma of your sheets.
At the hotel
Gym and wellness centre, sauna, hair salon, library, DVD library, terrace and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock and minibar.
Our favourite rooms
Standard rooms overlook the inner garden or Comtal pedestrian street; bag room 602 for its large walk-in shower. Design rooms are airy and open-plan, so be prepared to abandon inhibitions. Room 603 has large floor-to-ceiling windows and a view over the Palau de la Musica from the shower. Book a light and spacious Junior Suite Deluxe for a living room and huge arched windows; we love room 508 for its dark, sexy bathroom with rain shower and separate bath overlooking Via Laietana.
The glass-sided unheated rooftop pool is surrounded by white leather loungers and cabanas, offering unparalleled views of the city.
A notebook for jotting down the bartender's cocktail recipes, and a favourite frock/shirt for sampling them on the rooftop terrace. If the nights are chilly the hotel provides pashminas. Leave techy bits behind: the hotel has a variety of DVDs, Playstation games, and a laptop or iPad.
In-room massages are available on request. Two standard rooms are adapted for wheelchair users.
Kids are welcome. Extra beds (€56 a night in a Junior Suite or Junior Suite Deluxe) and cots (free on request, subject to availability) can be added to rooms. Babysitting is available with a local nanny, subject to availability.
Committed to sustainable tourism, Ohla Barcelona has earned Biosphere Certification and has pledged to hit targets agreed in the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The hotel has reduced electricity and water consumption, all food is locally sourced and seasonal (and the hotel favours working with suppliers who have eco-cred) and a robust recycling programme is in place; even the coffee capsules are composted. Ohla Barcelona also works with social do-good foundations Mercè Fontanilles Foundation, Caritas, Fundació Roure, Fundació Trinijove and Fundació Guné.
For a view of La Plassohla’s bustling open kitchen, ask for a bar-side stool at the counter.
Understated Spanish chic.
Ohla Barcelona has two restaurants, each with a singular style and menu. On the ground floor, the relaxed La Plassohla serves creative tapas dishes and has an industrial, slightly masculine feel, with high ceilings, concrete pillars and huge slate tiles lining the bar and open kitchen. Guests and locals alike have enthusiastically taken to the innovative tapas plates – whittling down your selections from the lengthy menu is hard, but we recommend the razor clams on toast with olives and lemon, the Iberian ham croquettes, and the confit chicken thigh with curry-flavoured 'crisps'. Tuck into one of Chef Romain Fornell's tasting menus at the Michelin-starred, Caelis Romain Fornell; try the tart of trout’s eggs, followed by a sardine sandwich and rock fish bouillabaisse with saffron rouille. For a front-row view of the Michelin-starred masterchef at work, request a seat around the kitchen.
La Plassohla serve tapas and an early-evening tipple.
La Plassohla is open from noon to 12am. Caelis is open for lunch Wed to Sat from 1.30pm to 3.30pm, and dinner, Tues to Sat, 8pm-10.30pm.
Room service is available 24 hours a day and includes appetisers, sandwiches, fish and meat plates, desserts and cheeses.
Ohla Hotel has a great location in Barcelona's old town, a 5-minute stroll from Las Ramblas; the Gothic Quarter, Eixample and Barceloneta are all within easy reach.
The nearest airport is Barcelona Airport, known locally as El Prat, about 17km from the hotel.
Estació de França is a 15-minute walk from the hotel. Barcelona’s main railway station, Estació de Sants, is about 6km away. It’s a 17-minute subway ride on the L1 line. The nearest metro station (Urquinaono, L1, L4) is only 20m from the hotel, and Catalunya (L1, L3) is 200m away.
The hotel is within walking distance of the Ramblas, so you won’t need a car to explore. There’s an extensive metro and bus service if you’re venturing further afield, or hail a taxi. If you do have a car, parking is available at the hotel for €30 a day, subject to availability. It takes about two hours to drive from France to Barcelona on the AP-7, and six from Madrid on the A2, via Zaragoza.
Worth getting out of bed for
After you’ve soaked up the Catalan rooftop rays and let yourself loose at Ohla's award-winning cocktail bar, you’ll want to see what the rest of Barcelona has to offer. Take a wander through the narrow streets of the Barrio Gotico, pausing to peer into the tiny boutiques along Calle Avinyo and the tapas bars of Calle Ferran. If your cards need a workout, then head to nearby El Corte Inglés for a dose of Spain’s favourite department store. For designer labels, head over to Paseo de Grácia. You’ll find more independent and unusual shops in the El Born area. The city is an exhilarating mix of Gothic and Spanish modernist architecture; Gaudi’s Casa Battló and La Pedreraare two of the most visually exciting examples. Have drinks on the strikingly surreal roof of the latter, with views over the city. The hotel is also just a five-minute walk from Palau de la Música Catalana, where the elaborate stained-glass windows and extraordinarily grand interiors will make you gasp, before a classical music concert stirs your soul. The Gothic architecture of Barcelona Cathedralmay well have a similar effect. Passing theough Plaça de Catalunya on your wanderings is a must, too.
Borrow one of the hotel’s foldaway bikes and cycle down to Agua on the beachfront; it’s fab for seafood. Grab a shady spot on the outside terrace if the sun’s beating down. 7 Portes on Passeig d’Isabel II is the oldest restaurant in Barcelona and serves authentic Catalan fare in a formal setting with a pianist from 10.30pm. For fine pairings, Pepa Pla is a wine bar with a very tempting tapas menu. Models, footballers and discerning tourists head to Monk Bar on Pau Claris for its elegant Japanese, Mediterranean and French cuisine.
A few doors down from the hotel, the small, cute Creps Barcelona café serves – unsurprisingly – crêpes and gallettes in sweet and savoury combos, with a range of teas and infusions. Look out for heavenly Caelum in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, a 15 minute stroll from the hotel. Stylish café and shop combined, it’s the perfect place to stock up on yummy Spanish goodies (marzipan, nougat, brownies…)
Bar Mut is well worth a try – people eat late here and it’s on the expensive side but the fish-focused tapas are delicious. Try the scallops or the carpaccio huevos fritos. If speakeasies are your jam, nose around Paradiso's 'pastrami bar' until you find its hidden door – cool cocktails are your reward. And Bitter Cocktail Bar is actually the site of many a sweet night. Not all their libations live up to its name.
I can’t take my eyes off Xavi Hernández. I’m at Barcelona’s Camp Nou, a mecca for football fans. It’s a blustery spring night in the Catalan capital, and I’m finally watching an FC Barcelona home match. Everyone else, of course, is watching Lionel Messi – considered by many The Best Player In The World. Xavi is quietly efficient, graceful, making the hard things look easy… streamlined. (Bear with me, I am getting to the part where I talk about our hip hotel.) In many ways, the footballer’s movements are akin to our hotel: Ohla Hotel puts the ugly things out of sight, does the whole five-star thing without a song or dance, and retains effortless calm throughout.
Riffing on the footie analogy, Ohla has relegated the reception to the first floor. There are no luggage-laden, airport-weary tourists cluttering up this lobby. Sidle into the softly lit entrance through the discreet glass doors of this boutique Barcelona hotel, and you instantly sense the low-key buzz from the ground-floor restaurant and bar, where even the locals want a piece of the action. Built on the site of the first Count of Barcelona’s palace, this refurbished former department store and police office has dispensed with its civic duties to concern itself solely with the pursuit of pleasure.
Inside the bedrooms, cupboards and WC unsightliness has been done away with, eliminating the more scruffy elements of the room (they’ve, confusingly at first, been hidden behind the bathroom’s sleek black walls). The lighting is behind architectural cut-outs in the ceiling, and there are absolutely no furnishings that needn’t be there. It’s minimalist, but with a distinctly braver space-age feel rather than your typical Scandi style.
Fans of the flamboyant, fear not, it’s not all slick understated refinement. Our room’s centerpiece is the shower: more than a nod to the showy artistry of Messi. Standing on the edge of where our open-plan bathroom meets the bedroom – an enclosed ensuite with three clear-glass sides – it shouts proudly that not everything should be hidden. This isn’t form over function either, the soaking from the ginormous rainfall head is a near-religious experience, and while it might not be wholly appropriate for friends travelling together, who cares? This is a romantic trip. And you can easily fit two in here.
Surprisingly it’s outside where the splendour is at its strongest. The hotel’s entire façade is dominated by Mur d’ulls, 2011 a work by artist Frederic Amat, in which hundreds of ceramic eyeballs dramatically peer out at us. They’re curiously dotted around the neoclassical front exterior, and litter the modern façade at the rear. You can get up close and personal with these peculiar little pupils from the chill-out terrace, which is a perfect mixture of the hotel’s extravagance and refinement. It’s very New York, but with views of the mesmeric architectural chaos of Gothic Barcelona instead of skyscrapers. You can spend an age here – and we do – ogling the near-perfect vistas. By summer, this must be one of Barcelona’s most splendid spots.
Then there’s the location. We’d arrived the day earlier, Mrs Smith and I giving each other a knowingly smug grin as the taxi pulled up outside the hotel. We know Barcelona well and were more than a little pleased with its locale; Ohla Ciutat Vella is steps away from the best of the Gothic Quarter and just a short walk from El Born, a fashionable area with some fine eateries and nightspots (the internationally renowned tapas of El Xampanyet and Cal Pep, and the undeniably pretty new hotspot, Café Kafka are just some favourites).
Gastrobar is a light, airy space where the divine breakfast is also held. It’s a voyeurs’ dream with huge windows looking out onto the bustling streets outside. If you’re smart you’ll perch at the sleek bar and watch the chefs busily preparing tapas and platillos like Iberian pork cheek with sweet potato and charcoal-grilled mussels with fresh tomato sauce. The biggest hitters for us? The Marennes-Oléron oysters with green apple and kaffir lime: utterly sublime, we immediately ordered more; this is the sort of forward-thinking execution of Catalan cuisine that will see you back again, and again.
Finally we stray from the arms of luxury, and spend a day snooping around the streets around the hotel – boutiques interspersed with tapas and caña. (Bar Pinotxo, just inside Boqueria Market, is a must, with prodigious el Bulli icon Ferran Adrià agreeing on this.) Then, soon enough, we are on to see another of the chef’s great loves: FC Barcelona. It’s a masterclass, and they run out easy 4–0 winners. There’s a period in the second half, where the opposition don’t touch the ball for nearly 20 minutes; it was that moment where I started thinking of the Ohla analogy… It too is a well-oiled machine, and for large periods, the competition doesn’t come close.