Madrid. July. Heat. Three words inextricably bound together and, for me, charged with excitement and a dash of dread. Having lived there several years ago, Madrid is one of the few places where I feel at home outside of London. I love it, all of it: languid Saturdays in Retiro park; La Latina’s Sunday tapas sessions; cañas (beers) in the labyrinthine streets of Malasaña by day and the echo of Lady Gaga thumping like a pulse through Chueca by night. The sole drawback is the inescapable mid-summer temperature – dizzying and unattractive.
Fortuitously, on our recent visit, my companion and I rolled straight from Ryanair into the Hospes Hotel Madrid on Plaza de la Independencia, a haven of cool and calm amid the clammy clamour of the centre.
We’d never seen the city from this angle – not only were we beautifully located beside the park (in a room overlooking the neo-classical monument, La Puerta de Alcalá), but luxury like this is a far cry from the rough and ready frolics with which we associate Madrid. It was a real, and very welcome, break.
I was putty in their hands from the off. We were met with neutral tones, minimalist shapes and warm Iberian smiles. The décor stands apart from the gaudiness of other high-end Spanish hotels. It’s quite literally no frills, without precluding luxury (think a full set of Korres toiletries and a bienvenido of chocolate-dipped strawberries).
Which brings me to the food. I’ve never been a fan of hotel dining, but here we could sit out on the “terraza” of Plaza de la Independencia and look down El Paseo del Prado, leading to famed gallery of the same name. There – Rioja and Rueda in hand – we momentarily became two of the charmed few by whom we’d walked jealously in the past.
We had deep-fried asparagus with garlic mayonnaise and pulpo a la Gallega to start. Let’s focus on the latter. For those who don’t know, Galician octopus is one of Spain’s most orgasmic affordable delicacies, but very difficult to cook. Using the trusty El Parador Cookbook, I tried once and, after epic failure, decided simply to order it at every opportunity. So I was itching for pulpo: tender white and pink tentacle-flecked, accompanied by sliced boiled potatoes and a dusting of pimentón. I wolfed it down in a manner unsuited to a 5-star hotel.
Next, I had tuna with stir-fried vegetables. This was full of flavour and humoured my hunger, though I prefer tuna slightly seared rather than cooked-through. Wine flowed like water; bread, olives and amaretto (!) were abundant. But the generous service really iced the cake.
Hospes Madrid does general hospitality competently. Our room was spotless, the beds delicious, the bathrooms spacious and full of treats. And, easily pleased, we both praised the air conditioning! Never again would we live in Madrid without an apartment equipped with AC!
We were a little disappointed by the spa facilities. Ironically, the indoor pool was too cold (like, freezing) so we decided on a sauna, which transpired to be a damp little room at just above room temperature. And our room service breakfast (admittedly, ordered after the wine and amaretto) came without essentials like bread and milk. These shortcomings were forgivable, though, in light of the lovely staff – small errors became trifles.
Several days later, we went to Hospes Casas del Rey de Baeza in Seville. This caused considerable excitement: neither of us (both committed Hispanophiles) had ever been to the city of orange trees, but we were also weary following three nights of Madrid fiesta. We were crying out to be spoilt and, no less lovely than Madrid but very different, Las Casas del Rey de Baeza didn’t disappoint.
Hospes have kept the authentic features of this eighteenth century neighbourhood patio. Rooms are set on three levels surrounding two courtyards. Houseplants, wicker blinds, baskets of oranges, Moorish tiles and lanterns make the hotel cosier yet somehow more boutique than its capital city counterpart. It’s rustic, but it works.
As in Madrid, the highlights of the meal happened in its earlier stages. Bread rolls arrived with thick, green olive oil and five varieties of flavoured salt, followed by homemade ravioli with langoustine and truffle. I once again had tuna that was once again a little over-cooked. All this figures: the Spanish of course excel at small dishes, and it would perhaps be unfair to rely on inland cities like Madrid or Seville to cook well-travelled fish to perfection.
We enjoyed the fruits of our Hospes breakfast the next morning. Literally. Four days of tortilla and jamón serrano and we were gagging for anything fresh. After inhaling melon and oranges, we dedicated ourselves to lying beside the rooftop pool. Which, again quite literally, was the highest point of Hospes Seville.
Because darlings, nothing quite compares to reclining poolside with cava, clear skies and white-washed views. Especially when you’re two girls from Brixton headed next for a youth hostel on the Costa de la Luz. And that’s just it – Hospes invited us to suspend real life and luxuriate. I suggest you do the same.
Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza, Seville