More Scandinavian than Spanish, Ohla Eixample is a cool, contemporary hotel close to Barcelona shopping heaven: Passeig de Gràcia. Sundowners are served on the roof, there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a grey and neutral palette that’s straight out of the pages of a magazine.
Noon; earliest check-in, 3pm, but flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £197.40 (€229), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €4.68 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include breakfast.
Xerta is a Michelin-starred restaurant. There are various rooms for massages and other beauty treatments to take place in, including by the pool, but no dedicated spa. Try the mint and aloe vera body wrap and massage; tired skin will love the Royal Jelly facial.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout and a fitness centre. In rooms: a flatscreen TV, minibar, tea and coffee, free bottled water and Prija bath products.
Our favourite rooms
We love the Atic rooms, which have sliding glass doors leading onto a terrace that’s perfect for an in-suite breakfast. Several of the Design Deluxe Rooms are also terrace-enhanced. Anyone planning to not see much of Barcelona should book a Junior Suite, which has a 55-inch flatscreen TV begging for some box-set bingeing.
There’s an heated infinity pool on the roof, with its own cocktail bar and wide-ranging views taking in the summit of the Sagrada Familia and Montjuïc, with its castle and palace.
Bring binoculars for eyeing up La Sagrada Familia from the rooftop bar, and stylish swimwear for parading at the pool.
The hotel is wheelchair-friendly, with all communal areas easily accesible for disabled guests, including the rooftop pool, as well as certain bedrooms.
Children of all ages are welcome and the staff are great with kids. All rooms can fit one baby cot (for kids aged two and under) and the Junior Suite can fit an extra bed (€56 a night). Babysitting is available for €80 a night.
All ages are welcome, but it’s better suited to older children who can sleep in their own inter-connecting room.
Design Rooms can be made to be inter-connecting and some have twin beds.
Children are welcome at Xerta; there’s no dedicated menu but dishes can be adapted to suit younger palates. Highchairs are provided and staff will happily heat up milk and baby food. Children are welcome at all times in the Sky Bar and in the lobby bar between 8am and 8pm.
€80 an hour and should be booked in advance.
No need to pack
Buggies can be borrowed at an extra charge.
No extra beds are available. Children can only share a room with one adult.
Biosphere Responsible Tourism certified Ohla Eixample is committed to hitting the targets agreed in the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Photovoltaic plates produce energy, 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 Eixample also works to combat social exclusion with foundations Mercè Fontanilles Foundation, Caritas, Fundació Roure, Fundació Trinijove and Fundació Guné.
For a rainforest-resembling setting, ask to be seated near the floor-to-ceiling windows and the huge trees they showcase.
Clean lines and colour-blocking to match the ice-cool Scandi-style surrounds.
Breakfast is a spread of typical Catalan produce, as well as cooked-to-order options, served in Michelin-star-holiding Xerta, which also serves up acclaimed fine-dining fare for lunch and dinner. Locally caught seafood is a star of the menu, including grilled octopus, oysters, squid, tuna and sea-bass, as well as shellfish and a daily catch.
There is a spacious Sky Bar up on the roof, serving salads, tapas, pastas, Catalan cheese boards and sandwiches, as well as oysters and caviar for the more patrician palate. The lounge bar serves a similar selection. There’s live music or a DJ on Thursday evenings.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 11am. Xerta opens for lunch between 1pm and 4pm, and dinner from 8pm and 11pm, Tuesday to Saturday. The Lobby Bar is open from 8am until 11pm; in summer, food is available on the roof terrace between 10.30am and 11pm.
Sharing plates of cheese and charcuterie, as well as comfort-food classics, can be dialled up to your room.
Ohla Eixample is in the district of the same name, between the city’s Avenida Diagonal and the Rambla de Catalunya.
Planes The city’s El Prat airport is a 40-minute drive from the hotel; transfers cost €80 each way. The airport is served by flights from all over Europe; from the UK, British Airways flies from London Luton and Gatwick; EasyJet from Gatwick and Southend; Iberia from London Heathrow; and Ryanair from East Midlands.
The closest train station is Sants, 25 minutes away by car. For more information on routes, visit www.renfe.com. The nearest metro stop is Diagonal.
It’s easy to get around Barcelona on foot and many of the city’s major sights are within a 30-minute walk of the hotel. If you do arrive by car, there is valet parking, with room for eight cars, at a rate of €36 a day.
Worth getting out of bed for
The Eixample barrio was a newer extension to the city in the 1850s; today, it’s famous for its art-nouveau architecture and well-heeled shopping and residential areas. Las Ramblas is just over a mile away, as is the Picasso Museum. The best way to while away your days though is on nearby Passeig de Grácia, inside its gilded boutiques. The concierge can arrange city tours, museum tickets, chauffeurs and bike hire. La Sagrada Familia is a 15-minute walk away.
The Mercat de la Boqueria has various tantalising food options, but the best is Bar Pinotxo, where you can feast on Catalan classics such as squid with haricot beans, cockles, gazpacho and tripe (known locally more romantically as callos) in a lively, atmospheric setting. In Eixample, try Alkimia (if you can get a table); the chef has made quite a name for himself and has the queues for his interesting food pairings to match.
For a coffee and churros pitstop in decadent art-nouveau surroundings, visit La Granja on Carrer dels Banys Nous in the Gothic Quarter – it’s been pepping up tired tourists with caffeine since 1872.
As Barcelona’s disappearing sun painted the sky a flamboyant orange, the fibreglass turtle at the end of boutique hotel Ohla Eixample’s rooftop pool stood and watched as I effortlessly swam another lap, hands cutting through the water with barely a splash, as poised as a dolphin that had been to Swiss finishing school. 'What a graceful and elegant swimmer,' thought the fibreglass turtle to himself, wishing he wasn't so rooted to the spot and could dive in too.
'You're in Barcelona, and you know nothing,' said Mrs Smith, breaking my reverie with a passable impression of the late Andrew Sachs, but without the moustache. But she was wrong. Well, we were in Barcelona, but this was a city we knew plenty about. We'd rambled the Ramblas, gawped at Gaudí, mounted Montjuïc and had stopped just short of joining the local beach-volleyball team. So this time, we demanded something new from the beachside city, and our mission base was one of its newest hotels.
We had immediately renamed the Ohla Eixample as the Hola Example. Just as Barcelona is a modernist city – or modernisme as the Catalans have it – then the Ohla is a truly modernist hotel. Almost an artwork, really. The exterior is a grid of neat, vertical lines, punctuated by wooden box-frames. The lobby has gallery-size windows and colourful glass balls dangling like Christmas decorations. Sprawled on one of the many dark sofas, Mrs Smith admired a sculpture of a body in perpetual freefall. Except it wasn’t really a body, but several entwined limbs, elbows and feet jutting out all over the place. A representation of our tangled moral confusion, I wondered, or our grasping search for identity? ‘It’s a bit like you getting dressed in the morning,’ Mrs Smith remarked.
As the name suggests, Ohla Eixample (pronounced ‘Eye-sham-ple’) is in the Eixample district. But just over the Avinguda Diagonal is the Gràcia district; just off the tourist beat, it’s a good place to measure the city’s pulse, where curious back streets that open out into squares filled with pavement cafés. It’s also a good place to measure out several glasses of bittersweet vermouth. Barcelona’s mixologists are still serving G&Ts in glasses so big that falling into them is a real danger (especially after downing a couple). But the newly resurgent vermouth bars were our MO, and we fell into one at random: the Cadaqués, where we ordered two glasses. Ordering vermut is simple. Go for either de la casa or a classic such as Yzaguirre – red or black, never white – with a dash of soda or without, and usually garnished with an olive and slice of orange. We walked a little further into the Gràcia and found Puigmartí, a brick-walled bar with ceramic donkey heads on the wall, where we were served more vermouth by a barman with a Dalí-esque moustache and a shirt that could cause traffic accidents. If we ever move here, we decided this would be our local.
Perhaps it was the vermouth’s wormwood, but the next morning I experienced some startling visions. Nightmarish, Punch-like figures with oversized heads, little legs and beak noses dancing around. A group of women dressed in white beating each other with sticks, while a marching band kept time. ‘You’re not dreaming, you idiot,’ said Mrs Smith – turns out we were watching a fiesta outside the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The MACBA gallery is a shiny white wireless speaker of a building, and the artwork inside can be brilliant, baffling and sometimes brilliantly baffling. Our favourite discovery was an enormous wooden barrel, beside which were clear instructions: ‘Take two ice-cubes from the fridge and put them in your mouth. One is sweet and the other salty. Then walk slowly down inside the barrel towards the fan heater at the end’. This sounded like a lot of fun, but sadly the ice-cubes had run out. We tried using chewing-gum instead, but weren’t sure it had the required effect. Then there was a meandering low wall made entirely of painted bread, by the Spanish food artist Miralda, and a series of films and photographs by actionist artists, the actions including blowing a cigarette paper off an upturned hand, and a 20-minute video of a cat lapping milk: a celebration of the unobserved moment.
Of course, some of Spain’s biggest artists can now be found in the kitchen, with more mists, sprays and sous vides than Heston Blumenthal’s boudoir. A friend was once invited to Barcelona to join a conceptual feast hosted by Spanish chefs the Roca Brothers, an epicurean opera in 12 courses that featured edible moon rocks and a wine that tasted of ‘death’. That particular wine was thankfully off the menu at the Ohla Eixample’s restaurant Xerta, but our meal here was plate-droppingly good. Modernist black-and-white dishes arrived with bright food and brighter mouthfuls of Hispanic flavour. A curve of delta eel daubed with miso and black garlic. A pale sea cucumber playing castaway in a lagoon of rich risotto, surrounded by Miró-esque dabs of seaweed mayonnaise. An incredible pudding that deconstructed a piña colada in the shape of an edible bar of soap and a bath sponge. The service was faultless. When Mrs Smith disappeared to the bathroom, her napkin was picked up using tongs and replaced with a fresh one. I watched, fascinated, as for some reason this too was tonged away and replaced. Mrs Smith returned, unaware of the whole unfolding-folded drama. ‘It’s a shame,’ she said, swirling her water glass. ‘We have the ice-cubes here, but no huge wooden barrel to stroll into’.
On our last evening, we headed up to the pool and gazed over the jumbled rooftops, some Ella Fitzgerald drifting from the speakers. There’s nothing like a rooftop pool for giving you that satisfying, urban hit of a penthouse lifestyle. Ahead is the outline of Park Güell, to our left the knobbly coral spires of the Sagrada Família. It’s a new perspective on an old favourite, and we’re happy to have found it.