Welcome to (the) España

The Hotel España has an air of faded glamour about it. Its entrance is on the Carrer de Sant Pau, just off Barcelona’s Ramblas; a quiet, semi-pedestrianized street, it leads few people to the hotel doors by mere happenstance. The windows that open onto the street suggest a clean, well-maintained establishment worthy at least of its two stars (in fact, it’s probably only the lack of a bar that’s prevented it from getting a third).

Inside, though, one can see that something—although it’s not clear what—has cleared out of the hotel and gone elsewhere entirely. Many of the walls are painted with what look like frescos which have every right to have been left untouched for years, but where redecoration has occurred it looks very 70s–80s. It’s probably just coincidence that the décor is in line with current Spanish fashions (which all seem a bit dated). All the furniture and fittings are genuinely a few decades old, and the wardrobes doors have those ubiquitous, pointless slats in them.

The dining room is a display of madness for which the hotel front doesn’t warn you: a T-shaped space, perhaps eight metres high, with ornately carved wood to head height, topped by enormous underwater scenes. Circular domed tiles are set into the wood with various coats-of-arms on them, and the ceiling consists of opalescent chunks which let in light from, of all things, a courtyard accessible from the first floor of the hotel. There are ventilation shafts set into this floor/ceiling, and you can see people walk across it as you eat. With its marine theme and unnecessary flourishes on all scales the room suggests influence from Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, although not as coherent a design as Gaudí’s genius permitted in that case.

It’s hard to find fault with the hotel, though, as the staff are incredibly polite and helpful (although, oddly to an Englishman, not at all deferential). The plumbing comes close to being an annoyance: our sink tap dripped constantly, and the mixer tap for the shower was so sensitive and temperamental as to almost have been designed to satisfy expectations of preverbially bad hotel showers. But the hotel is comfortable, welcoming and fun, and as a pied-à-terre is very convenient for the Ramblas and the Gothic quarter.

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