Mad for Madrid, Part II: Totem


Barrio de Salamanca is Madrid’s Mayfair. Just above the Retiro Park, and a walk away from the Prado museum, its gridded streets are wandered by grand dames in designer labels, sunglasses businessmen in bespoke navy suits, and young mothers in flowing, cream gowns.

Here are the designers, the Michelin stars, the beautiful people.

Like most well-heeled parts of capital cities the area used to have a reputation for stuffiness. Too much condescension and not enough comfort. Over the past ten years, however, it’s realised that luxury doesn’t have to mean conservatism, and it has become a far more enjoyable place to stay as a result.

Totem is an excellent example of the area’s shift away from stuffiness. A four star boutique hotel, it’s a fashionable, chic, intimate place that combines classic Spanish flair with contemporary, metropolitan style.

Located between the two main arteries of Salamanca, Calle Serrano and Calle Velazquez, the hotel is perfectly placed with easy access to the main boutiques and restaurants as well as a peaceful stay.

The discreet entrance leads to a stylish, relaxed lobby with a modern urbane colour scheme reminiscent of Soho House; the furniture and walls are plush purples, navy, dusky pinks, and charcoal grey.  The wooden floors and low tables give a Scandinavian feel. We’re welcomed by the hotel’s exceptionally pleasant and warm reception staff, and provided a seat in the hotel’s bar as our luggage is taken to our rooms.

Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, the bar – Malditos – is a great place to have a good, quiet drink in this part of town. Light jazz plays as our barman makes two signature cocktails. The menu offers a wide selection of classics and twists; our two gin and cava signatures are elegant, subtle creations.

After the drinks, we head up the beautifully renovated 19th century staircase to our rooms. We’re fortunate to have a junior suite in a corner of the hotel. With three large, floor-to-ceiling windows, the Madrid sun floods through the gossamer curtains and onto the deliciously soft bed. With such an inviting setting, we can’t help but take a siesta.

When I woke up, I realised this was one of the best hotels I’d stayed in. I appreciate that a hotel, like a meal, or a suit, depends hugely on personal tastes, but Totem felt like a bespoke suit. It fitted. In hindsight, I think much like anything that fits, it lets you breathe.

I left the glamorous companion sleeping, and headed to the bar for coffee. I was inclined to use the room’s Nespresso machine if only to disturb her cherubic slumber, but thought better of it. The bar and restaurant – Malditos and Hermosos respectively – are Spanish translations of Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned. Dotted about the hotel are a few references to the Fitzgerlad inspiration, including a gin-based F Scott Fizz, and a Zelda Cocktail after his wife. I’m not sure what the connection is, but had I known there was one I’d have brought my pristine copy.

After a perfect sleep on those excellent firm mattresses we had breakfast in hermosos. The set breakfast is good quality, continental fare: charcuterie, cheeses, yoghurts, fruit, or you can order eggs, avocado on toast and other heartier fare from the a la carte.

With the Prado just a walk away, and our return flight later that afternoon, we had every intention of seeing El Greco’s and Goya’s, but laziness got the better of us. Instead, we soaked up more of Madrid’s finest, and spent the morning by the side of the lake in Retiro park, watching the beautiful and the damned pass by.

For more information about Totem, Madrid, including details of events in the bar and an insight from their local ‘guru’ for ideas on what to see and do in the city, visit