In 1859 Charles Dickens wrote ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness’ - almost 160 years later some might argue we are still living in such times, that very little has changed. Barcelona recently made headlines around the world due to the tragic events that unfolded in the city, making the words of Dickens as relevant today as they were back when he penned his classic novel. ‘It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’
Just weeks after the attack and Barcelona is once again standing tall, defiantly refusing to let the actions of a few change the lives of the millions of people who live and work in the city. Last week I visited and discovered for myself that Barcelona really is ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’
The Barcelona you will find on postcards and in holiday brochures is the Barcelona discovered by over 9.7 million tourists - and that’s just last year alone: The Gothic Quarter, the beautiful Park Guell, the crowded but oh-so-chic beaches. Luxury shopping, fine dining, rooftop bars, uber-cool nightclubs, world-class museums and art galleries. With 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites in one city it’s hardly surprising that Barcelona is the fifth most visited city in Europe.
I went in search of the perfect accommodation option for visitors choosing to explore this side of Barcelona but didn’t have to look any further than the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona.
Mandarin Oriental Barcelona
Located on the Passeig de Gracia the building was transformed from a city bank into Barcelona’s most luxurious hotel by a team of Spanish architects and designers. Since opening its doors in November 2009 the hotel has firmly established itself as THE place to stay in Barcelona.
From the moment you arrive and walk into the heady scent of amber that greets you in the lobby you immediately know there is something special about this place. It’s more than just attention to detail. Its more than world class service, it’s something you can’t quite put your finger on but it’s everywhere. The hotel hasn’t been designed to simply look good (although it is undeniably beautiful) it has been designed to make you feel good, and it does!
With luxurious rooms by revered designer Patricia Urquiola overlooking Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and Passeig de Gràcia the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona proves that urban can be opulent, that contemporary can be sophisticated.
You’d be hard pressed to find a collection of more beautiful rooms anywhere in the city. Suites come complete with butler service as standard. Choose from a spacious balcony or a large terrace - perfect for entertaining. A further 92 light-filled guest rooms have been designed to capture and convey the Mandarin Oriental’s personality - even the most avid traveller will be able to find the perfect accommodation option here.
Once you have taken care of all that shopping, sightseeing and maybe conducted a brief business meeting the wonderfully equipped spa is on hand to take care of you. A true sanctuary of relaxation. The indoor pool area combines natural slate and dark wood with jade tinted glass and very subtle low-lighting, resulting in a sensational dark lagoon-like effect that allows guests to take a midnight swim at any time of day – escape into a world of pure indulgence.
Gastronomic delights come courtesy of a host of dining options: Blanc is a Mediterranean restaurant offering an all-day menu. Mimosa Garden is a lunch or supper establishment in the courtyard with landscape design by Beth Figueras. The fabulous Bankers Bar takes its cue from the safety deposit boxes that once occupied this space back when the building was a bank. Sip a signature ‘bankers martini’ in a vault that once held cash, jewels and who knows what other secrets.
For discerning palates the award-winning Moments restaurant serves Catalan cuisine worthy of its Michelin-star status. However, the real pièce de résistance has to be the 360 degree views of the city from the rooftop bar and pool. Terrat at Mandarin Oriental Barcelona offers a truly memorable all day alfresco experience.
They say if you want to know what a company is really like, ask someone who works there! Rather than second guess what makes The Mandarin Oriental Barcelona so special I took a moment to ask one of the staff if she could tell me what she thought the secret of the hotels success might be. Her reply was perfect ‘All of the staff here have the same vision for our company, we all want Mandarin Oriental to be the best hotel in the world and for every single one of our guests to take away a unique experience that is exclusively Mandarin Oriental’ - I doubt even the company CEO could have put it better!
There are barely enough superlatives to sum up a stay at the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, with so much to discover all in one place the hotel is a work of art in its own right - a Picasso on the Passeig de Gràcia.
The best thing about the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona: Everything!
The worst thing about the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona: Having to leave!
So, what of the other Barcelona? The Barcelona that in 2008 was declared the fourth most economically powerful city by GDP in the European Union. The Barcelona that in 2009 was ranked Europe's third most successful city brand, and in the same year was ranked Europe's fourth best city for business – what of that Barcelona?
I wanted to learn more about the major European business hub that has played host to many international trade fairs thanks to several state of the art venues, most notably Fira de Barcelona - the second largest trade fair and exhibition centre in Europe. Thanks to a portfolio of 70 trade shows and 500 events held annually in association with the shows, Fira generates an economic impact of 2.5 billion euros every year. It is estimated that over two and a half million exhibitors and delegates descend upon the city each year, so to continue our tale of two cities I visited the Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos to take a closer look at what the hotel has to offer business travellers.
Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I
The Fairmont is a luxury urban resort in Barcelona, set in 25,000 square meters of lush gardens with unparalleled views of the stunning Barcelona skyline. A unique, five star resort, located on the prestigious Avenida Diagonal and surrounded by major attractions such as the famous Camp Nou stadium and the Barcelona Polo Club.
Originally built for the 1992 Olympic Games the Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I is a magnificent hotel with a stunning 16 floor open air lobby. It is without doubt Barcelona’s premier venue for events, conventions, commercial exhibitions and meetings. The hotel features 24 multifunctional meeting rooms and elegant garden salons, all include state-of-the-art technology.
Part of this world-class complex is the Palau de Congressos de Catalunya convention centre featuring 4,000m² of exhibition space and an auditorium capable of hosting up to 2,000 delegates. But it doesn’t have to be all work and no play - the hotel is perfect for business and pleasure.
The spa complex features a fully equipped gym with fitness instructors on hand, perfect for those times when you need a little more motivation to work-out. If you want less work-out and more chill-out the spa includes saunas and steam rooms with therapeutic aromatherapy options, heated hot-tubs with soothing massage jets, ice baths, Vichy showers and much more. With not one but two large outdoor pools the hotel feels more like a resort than a conventional corporate hotel. (The Spa pool is reserved for adults only while the main pool is open to all guests.)
Take lunch out on the terrace overlooking the pool and gardens or in one of the other hotel restaurants. Whether you want fine dining, tapas, light snacks or a full a la carte menu the five Fairmont restaurants cater for all tastes.
An ongoing hotel-wide renovation project is currently underway however the hotel will not close during this period of refurbishment. There are no obvious signs of work taking place as the hotel continues to provide the same excellent services in line with the Fairmont standard. Areas being worked on are isolated and access is blocked off; no work takes place between 8pm and 9am so there is minimal impact to guests. Following the launch of the new chic and stylish lobby created by the prestigious London studio Richmond Design Hospitality, the hotel is proudly releasing more newly renovated rooms every month.
The best thing about the Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I: The fabulous design of the lobby – stunning!
The worst thing about the Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I: Not within walking distance of the touristic centre of town
(However there is a direct metro line just outside that takes you right into the heart of the city)
To arrange your next corporate event or business trip please contact Traveleads on 0113 245 7745
If you are based in Scotland and would like to contact our Edinburgh office please call 0131 718 4000