Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Spain on the Brain

Just a few days after returning from a 10-day adventure in Spain, I'm wishing I were still lounging poolside at the Marbella Club or strolling along the beach in Barceloneta (pictured) or shopping on Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona. It's rare that I return from a trip and just days later, am already plotting my return, but Madrid, Marbella & Barcelona are cities that have that "I want to go back" effect on me. Each has its own special selling points...

Madrid boasts stunning architecture, sophisticated style and beautiful buildings amidst sprawling parks. Marbella, to me, is the best of Miami & Malibu combined with its gorgeous beaches, the best hotel in Costa del Sol plus easy proximity to Puerto Banus, Ronda, Granada and the charming, boutique-filled Old Town Marbella to explore. And then there's Barcelona...the hip, cool, fun city dotted with chic hotels (including my new favorite, more on this below), amazing tapas bars, and art and style pretty much everywhere you look thanks to Miro, Gaudi, Picasso & more.

Not only did I love the locations in Spain, but stays at The Ritz Madrid, Marbella Club, and the new Mandarin Oriental Barcelona are a MUST.

The most stylish boutique hotel in Barcelona, with 98 rooms/suites, is the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona. Loved for its location right on Passeig de Gracia(between Brioni and Tiffany), the property is sleek but warm, with lots of light-filled space from its Blanc restaurant to the welcoming lobby to the guest rooms and suites (the ones with outdoor garden-facing terraces are my favorite).

The massive Penthouse Suite regularly hosts royal families, who love it for the fact that it takes up the entire top floor. Other memorable mentions: the Asian-inspired, peaceful Spa; the chic Banker's Bar (reflective of the building's "former bank" history"); a rooftop terrace with pool & cityviews (pictured); an outdoor garden for all-day courtyard dining; and most notably, a hands-on General Manager (Gerard Sintes) who's constantly seen chatting with his staff and his guests and ensuring that everyone in house is beyond well taken care of. Sidenote: When in Barcelona, don't miss the opportunity to book an outdoor table at local favorite La Bodega or to book seats at a trendy tapas spot called Bar Mut (rumor has it Robert DeNiro loved it so much when he dined here that he's in talks with the chef to bring one to NYC!)

In Madrid, my favorite hotel is the timeless, 100-year-old classic, Hotel Ritz Madrid. The staff and the service is impeccable, and while the traditional style may be anything but modern, there is an elegance about this Orient-Express-run property that can't be duplicated by newcomers. Located just steps away from the famous Prado Museum in the "Golden Triangle" of Madrid, the 137-room hotel oozes a sense of "royalty stays here". I loved how the waiters remembered my preference for gluten-free toast without having to ask each morning; I also loved lunching on the garden-filled outdoor terrace (shown above) before heading out to see the city's key sights (all a short walk from the hotel). There are few hotels in the world that rival Hotel Ritz Madrid when it comes to the level of service; it's what sets this grande dame apart from the competition. Note: When in Madrid, take the advice of Ritz Sales Director Fabio Ramirez and have dinner at Rincon de Esteban, just down the street. We did, and it was one of our favorite meals of the trip!

Last but not least, no trip to the cities of Spain would be nearly as much fun without a few days of R&R at The Marbella Club. An easy scenic drive(about 40 minutes) from Malaga, the Marbella Club is a relaxed residential-style Beach Club at its best. The landscaped-filled grounds are dotted with gorgeous garden-facing villas, rooms and suites and there are also a handful of newer suites and rooms closer to the beach with ocean views. A huge selling point of this Leading Hotel of the World is its steps-from-the-sea thalassotherapy spa, coupled with multiple swimming pools, delicious food (the daily poolside lunch buffet at the Beach Club is a must as is dinner at the casual MC Cafe. A stroll along the beach-fronting boardwalk towards Puerto Banus or Marbella is a perfect way to start a day here in Marbella, while meandering through nearby Old Town was my favorite way to end this memorable experience. My only mistake at the Marbella Club: Not spending more than two nights here as it's truly a spot to enjoy sheer relaxation in a stunning setting.

For more information or to plan an upcoming trip to Spain--and for more details on the extra special perks (breakfast inclusive rates, unique amenities + priority upgrades) you will enjoy when booking Mandarin Barcelona, Ritz Hotel Madrid and The Marbella Club through Elite Travel International--, contact us by email or 310.979.9036.