Run by the same family who’ve lived here since 1955, Primero Primera in Barcelona has Fifties glamour (toffee-brown wood and leather, mid-century furniture, sepia photography) and a quiet, exclusive setting.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 1pm.
Double rooms from £123.80 (€138), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of €1.21 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include WiFi, free minibar and snacks. Buffet breakfast is extra (€15 each).
Let staff know if you hanker after a personal shopper, or need a courier or hired car.
At the hotel
Gardens, small gym, library, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, minibar, Gilchrist & Soames bath products.
Our favourite rooms
For its tall ceilings, large terrace and sunset views, Room 22. For its wooden four-poster, citrusy shots of colour, mountain-view terrace and separate living room, Room 45. For its sloping beamed ceilings and bottle-green walls, Room 42.
Bring a book of cocktail recipes for the honesty bar but leave weighty novels behind: the hotel has a stash of magazines and vintage tomes for guests to plunder.
Dogs can come too for €25 a night, but remember to bring everything they need.
The hotel has the bare essentials for little Smiths: cots for babies and beds (free) for under-12s; a local nanny available for babysitting (book 48 hours in advance).
Out on the little terrace if it’s sunny; inside by the fire if it’s not.
Euroflash with vintage accents. Channel the Fifties feel: ladies, opt for full skirts with nipped-in waists; gents, follow Don Draper’s lead.
Every morning, follow the smell of freshly baked bread wafting from the snug bar area and settle in for the spread: home-made cakes, croissants, hams, fruit, cereals and yoghurt. Befitting a bar-cum-dining room, decor is cool and casual: cowhide bar stools, cushion-strewn sofas, framed sepia photographs and bookshelves crammed with National Geographic. Lunch and dinner is a feast of salads, snacks and sandwiches from the bar-style menu.
The dining room doubles up as the bar room. Expect to hear the likes of Sade warbling away as you deliberate over which Spanish wine to uncork (remember to jot down the damage in the honesty bar’s log book).
Help yourselves to drinks from the honesty bar at any time. Food is served from 7.30am until 11pm.
The varied room service menu is available between 7.30am and 10.45pm.
Primero Primera sits in Tres Torres, a quiet residential area that’s a 10-minute drive from the city centre.
Barcelona airport is a 20-minute drive away.
The nearest Metro station is three minutes away; the ride to the city centre takes seven minutes. Sants is 10 minutes away by car. The hotel doesn’t offer transfers, but staff will happily book guests taxis.
Hotel parking in the on-site garage costs €15 a day.
Worth getting out of bed for
Take advantage of the hotel’s snug communal areas: in winter, sit in the lounge by the fire with a book; in summer, stake out the terrace. The hotel has a little gym for fitness devotees. Go shopping, drinking and restaurant-ing at Sarria, an upmarket residential area that’s just 10 minutes away on foot. Check the map in the lounge: staff update it with details of upcoming events and exhibitions. They’ll also happily sit down with Barcelona novices to talk them through the city’s main attractions.
Acontraluz (+34 (93) 203 06 58; www.acontraluz.com), within walking distance of the hotel at Calle Milanesat, has a lovely garden at the front that’s perfect for balmy summer nights. The menu has Catalan influences; try the jamon iberico or the ravioli de ricotta con salsa de alcachofas (ravioli with ricotta and artichokes). Dos Torres (+34 (93) 206 64 80; www.restaurantedostorres.com) on Via Augusta has a tree-lined terrace and a creative modern menu. Sample authentic Catalan cuisine at Trapío (+34 (93) 211 58 17; www.restauranteeltrapio.com), set in a quiet, lovely house on Calle l’Esperenca. For flawless Chinese food, try Shanghai (+34 (93) 211 87 91; www.shanghai-bcn.com), an eight-minute stroll from the hotel on Calle Bisbe Sivilla. A 10-minute walk from the hotel, Montesquieu (+34 (93) 417 30 61) on Calle Mandri is great for comfort food; the flavourful tapas make for sociable meals (as does the excellent wine list).
Whenever this Australian Ms Smith and her Mr have visited Barcelona, we’ve always plonked ourselves conveniently in the city centre. So all my memories of this colourful coastal hub are of bars in the Barri Gòtic and wobbling home with the locals when the sun comes up. This is the Catalan city, I know and love. Keen to get to know how the other half lives, Hotel Primero Primera appeared in our crosshairs after Mr Smith, a well-travelled musician, declared it one of his favourite hotels. He is not alone.
Sarrià-Sant Gervasi is a sleepy, well-to-do district. The neighbourhood of Les Tres Torres is a 10-minute cab ride north of the Gothic Quarter, or the same time from the centre to its Metro station – still, it's not an obvious spot if you’re after the famous Spanish nightlife and frenetic buzz. But if you want to dip your toe in the action, shake it about and then head home for some calm respite, Hotel Primero Primera’s co-ordinates are just what the doctor ordered.
A stylishly renovated 1950s apartment building, the foyer is accessed via a driveway that sparks childhood memories of pulling into roadside country motels which lead right into reception. Except there’s not a flocked quilt or curtain combo in sight in this elegant sepia-toned lobby. Hotel Primero Primera has a midcentury aesthetic, but enough contemporary and classic touches to keep it from kitsch. A circular staircase towers to the top floor, lit by a skylight from above and across from here is the breakfast and bar area, where we were lured to for Continental-breakfast spreads of meats, breads, fruits and croissants. Mr Smith was taken with the slight masculine touch visible in cowhide bar stools and stainless steel.
The same family has owned the property since it was built, and they lived on the first floor, hence the hotel’s name, which translates as ‘first first’. Part of PP’s charm is that it’s like sitting in someone’s front room, surrounded by piles of magazines and much-thumbed beautifully bound books. Eight children grew up here and the hotel’s walls have the black-and-white photography to prove it; mother Monthse still has her own flat. This boutique B&B has aged gracefully, though: rooms are fresh and stylish – sister Nouria is responsible for the interior design.
If you drink like Don Draper (who’d love this place, I’m sure), I’ll bet they’d make an excellent Old Fashioned. It’s that kind of place. A thoughtfully curated selection of wines and spirits tempted us to enjoy a few local vintages by the glass (all excellent, on the recommendation of the bartender) and Spanish ales. Snacks are on offer all day in a second homey area (gracias, guys – although I probably shouldn’t have had those pains au chocolat before heading out to dinner), and boozy drinks are ever available care of an honesty system. Be sure to pause at the wall covered with a map of Barcelona. Great as an artwork it is also an innovative way to find out what’s on, and to see where you need to be – they even have arrows pointing to where the latest art exhibitions and enticing events are afoot.
Excellent intel is available from the front desk who kindly recommended a local restaurant, El Pescadito, which, going by the interior design, began trading around the same time as the hotel was originally built. Simple tapas included delicious calamari, croquettes, anchovies and cheeses – what this place lacks in glamour, it makes up for in first-class Catalan staples.
After our early tapas, we walked the few minutes to catch the train, and headed downtown to dine all over again – this time with friends back in our stomping ground, the Gothic Quarter. What’s the point of visiting Spain if you don’t seize every eating opportunity, I say. Legendary 19th-century watering hole, Bar Marsella lured us to El Raval for absinthe and more retro appreciation. Cobwebs hang from broken chandeliers, old liquor bottles covered in a century of dust sit on shelves behind the bar, paint peels from the roof: this is one of the oldest bars in Barcelona, which the decor corroborates. We ordered the bitter-green elixir the bar is famous for, and followed local tradition of heating sugar cubes on a spoon before mixing it in to the liquid. Things got a little hazy after that.
At an hour past my usual bedtime, we left the blue sugary flames of Bar Marsella and caught a cab back to the hotel. It was our room that really made the extra travel worthwhile. The junior suite is huge. The design is simple but meticulously thought out, more classic than statement, with pops of personality to elevate it above standard hotel propositions. The next day we nursed delicate heads by spreading ourselves around the room, moving from comfortable couch in the bedroom to chaise lounge in the living area to generous balcony, where we gazed out towards the hills of Barcelona. Who wouldn’t love the extremely large bathroom, complete with massive tub (the perfect tonic after a spirited Spanish night out) and Gilchrist & Soames products?
At 30 rooms, Primero Primera is small – so don’t expect extensive room service. And if that had been available, we might never have left, failing our task to see how the other neighbourhoods live. When dealing with a Barcelona hangover (I don’t bounce back like I used to), the complimentary beverages in the in-room fridge, self-medicating with enough sugar to get us back on track. So we headed out for a repeat performance of the night before, soothed by the knowledge that we had our chic family home on Doctor Carulla Street to return to – and the promise that we would never touch those fiery green drinks ever again.