Last week I flew in and out of Berlin for the day for a travel exhibition. Glamorous though it might sound, I was all too quickly transferred from airport to exhibition centre and back again, touching down on home ground before I could even say “ein bier, bitte”. Such is the difficulty of business travel: even if you’re lucky enough to stay the night, chances are you still won’t see much of the city you’re in. And you can almost completely forget its culture and food; an on-the-run, mass-produced bratwurst for lunch doesn’t exactly count. The one thing you can guarantee seeing, however, is the inside of your hotel room which, let’s face it, more often than not translates as tired décor, grey carpet and, if you’re lucky, a couple of overwashed, crusty, off-white towels in the bathroom.
Fortunately last time I was away, in Barcelona, I stayed somewhere a little different: Hotel Cram, a 4-star with reasonably priced rooms during peak tradeshow season. This hotel, a short hop from the Passeig de Gracia, offers an overnight stay with an injection of more emotive modern design. In fact, emotion is exactly what this hotel focuses on, and it comes as a welcome change from the usual soulless airport tower block. On the corner of Calle Aribau, the grandiose, art deco and avant-garde style building looms over you – quite the sight, particularly under darkened skies when it becomes colourfully and majestically floodlit.
Inside, the ambience is retro, almost 70s but with an air of classic cool. Colours are dark – reds and blacks and purples – but the cocktail bar on the ground floor can’t help drawing you into its sultry personality. This alone, when really you could be in any of the world’s greatest cities, provides a gentle reminder that this is indeed Spain. Scatter cushions and low loungers, with white orchids breaking up the blocks of colour, allow for some downtime between meetings, or simply the perfect welcome backdrop for when you and other colleagues arrive. Next to the bar, a curvaceous indoor courtyard opens up in a white helter skelter to the light and airy roof above. Rooms are set at angles surrounding this, and are adorned with their own red and white modern design themes.
Of course, inside the rooms are all the classics including seriously comfortable king-size beds, with some rooms designed by Treca de Paris offering plasma screen TVs and additional quirky features like touch-tone lighting. Gastón & Daniela curtains encase balconies that look onto the hubbub of downtown Barcelona, but nothing beats the bathrooms: good quality toiletries, freestanding powerful showers and enough beautifully soft towels to ensure you’ve got absolutely everything covered.
Two of the real highlights of this boutique-esque hotel are the infinity pool, best experienced first thing in the morning under the early rays of skin-warming sunshine. Wake yourself up to the day in a more refreshing way and then breakfast in the rooftop bar with sweeping views onto the Eixample district below. Spot Barcelona’s own version of the Gherkin, and take in five minutes of head-clearing views before your day begins. Not the average day in the office by a long way.
The other reason to come here is for the 1 star Michelin Restaurant Gaig. Sadly I didn’t have the time (or the expense budget) to try it on this occasion, but I’m told the strongly Catalan-themed dishes are divine. It has an incredibly long-standing tradition of serving spectacular food, having been founded in 1869. In 2005 it moved to the Cram under head chef Carles Gaig. His signature dishes include red tuna tartar with asparagus salad, cannelloni with truffle cream, rice from El Delta with squab and ceps, beef steak tartar with Calvados and partridge with cabbage, prepared in the traditional Catalan way. And nothing, I’m sure, would beat his Catalan crème brûlée. Certainly a must for my next stay, and I’m also very tempted by the sound of the Gaig’s two tasting menus, coming in at around €100. My nose at least told me when I was here before that the diners were onto a good thing – sumptuous, stylish and simple.
A welcome piece of personality when the airport Holiday Inn has lost its gloss, Hotel Cram will remind you of Barcelona’s fiery red soul. Re-invent the business hop and give yourself something more to talk about than how much your feet ached after three days of client schmoozing.