Entering Barcelona’s Hotel Majestic was like being swooped into a Hollywood film, albeit that I didn’t look like a film star. Tired, and weighed down with bags, I half expected the doormen to turn me away. The whole process of being welcomed, drawn through, checked in, and guided to my room was, however, so seamless, so comfortable, so accommodating, and so friendly, it was as if I had been levitated from the street into my room, with a view over Barcelona’s Passeig de Gracia.
This almost cinematic welcome is perhaps to be expected given that the hotel played host to the filming of Robert de Niro’s 2012 supernatural thriller Red Lights. The difference is you don’t expect the hotel to extend such a warm welcome to its less illustrious guests. And as I look out from my winter sun-kissed balcony onto the bustling street below, a glass of excellent, and perfectly chilled, Cava in one hand, and a slice of Pata Negra ham in the other I am for once – and this is very out of character – happy.
What more could you desire from a hotel than to provide you with serene, uninterrupted contentment? That contentment is not dependent on the material luxury that surrounds you. Sure there are Bulgari products in the cathartically powerful wet room, yes the rooms are calmingly well-proportioned, the gym is well-kitted out, the spa is one of the best in Europe, the head chef is acclaimed Michelin-starred Catalan maestro Nandu Jubany and in the summer evenings there is an exclusive rooftop pool and bar open overlooking the city – but none of that would make any difference were it not for the hotel’s staff. Chatty, jovial, laid-back but also refined and polite, everyone at the Majestic makes you feel at ease. They are not overbearing, and they do not judge.
The Majestic is, however, a world away from the city itself. For first-timers in Barcelona, visiting the Gothic Cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s house, and the Parc Güell are all worthwhile sights. However, if you’ve already been before, Barcelona can easily become a tired, touristic status-quo with substandard, expensive, clichéd restaurants off the Ramblas. To get the best out of the city you have to embrace its modern identity.
Barcelona feels like a young city. Not because its population is young, because it isn’t, but rather because of its politics. Catalan flags are draped from apartment blocks; almost everything in writing is exclusively in Catalan; I was even petitioned in the street to show my support for the independence movement. As an unpartisan bystander, I couldn’t give two hoots about the political implications of Catalan nationalism, but it makes the city feel rebellious, and recalcitrant; and that can be a lot of fun.
The best place to soak up the city’s modern vivaciousness is in El Raval, one of the districts in the old city. It’s a bit like Barcelona’s Shoreditch insomuch as it’s where the city’s hipsters congregate – but unlike Shoreditch there’s a degree of authenticity to the bohemian sensibilities of El Raval. You can get a 2-bed flat right in the middle of the action for €142,000 or £106,000. A quick search has revealed that it is impossible to find anything similar for this price within the radius of the M25.
With that in mind, the urbane, hipster cool of El Raval is slightly more palatable, and so are the prices. Trailing through the vintage markets on the weekend I picked up a beautiful suede coat for €20 – with the exchange rate the way it is right now, that, dear reader, is a proverbial steal. As well as the shopping there’s also the CCCB. Although the acronym makes it look like some kind of dyslexic remnant of the Soviet Union, it’s actually a massive arts complex that stages events, festivals, lectures, and exhibitions related to contemporary Catalan culture.
Back in my hotel room – with another bottle of surprisingly excellent Cava – Barcelona’s avant-gardist sensibilities incline me to a spot of poesy as I consider the glass’ ebullient bubbles. The city of Barcelona is much like a glass of Cava; youthful, sprightly, exuberant and rebellious. And the best accompaniment is a perfectly aged Jamon Ibérico. Now if Barcelona’s the Cava, then the Majestic is most definitely its perfect accompaniment – refined, well aged, and sensuously sublime.
Occupying a neoclassical building in the Passeig de Gracia in the heart of Barcelona, the Majestic Hotel & Spa has recently been added to the Leading Hotels of the World collection. In addition to its accommodation, culinary and spa offering, it features a collection of more than 1000 notable pieces of art, giving it the name ‘The Hotel of the Arts’. Rates currently start at approximately £189 per night, single or double, including VAT. For more information, visit www.hotelmajestic.es.