Review: Grand Hotel Central, Barcelona


After years of Catalan misadventure, Monisha Rajesh finds somewhere she can actually get some sleep in Barcelona, in a 1920s architectural wonder

Review: Grand Hotel Central, Barcelona

Until last month my experience of Barcelona’s hotels was poor, to say the least. On my first jaunt to the city, aged 19, I spent all night sweating in a club called El Coño de Tu Prima and passed out at 5am in a dorm echoing with drunken screams from Las Ramblas. Two years later I was ejected from a boutique hotel on suspicion of soliciting (I’d gone in and out with three different friends who needed the loo), and when I finally stayed at an airy, beautiful spot on the edge of town, engulfed by trees and silence, I’d woken with a necklace of red marks from the hotel’s army of bed bugs. So it was with intrigue and yearning for a night of scream- and scratch-free sleep that I checked in with my family into the newly reopened Grand Hotel Central Barcelona on the edge of the Gothic Quarter.

La Terraza del Central

A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the hotel has undergone a change of management and ownership and overhauled its 146 rooms and suites, two restaurants and bars and wellness suite – which didn’t mean very much to me, having not seen it in its previous form. However, my ideal hotel is a majestic building, steeped in history… but with contemporary interiors: soundproof rooms; electric blackout blinds; and GHD straighteners. So this was right up my street. Overlooking the Cathedral of Barcelona, the historic rationalist building went up in 1926, inspired by the Chicago School and designed by Adolf Florensa in the Catalan Noucentisme style, a movement which came about largely as a reaction against modernism. It was built as the private home of Francesc Cambó, a politician and patron of culture and arts whose family, until recently, still owned the top-floor apartment which can be toured on request, a worthwhile twenty minutes to view the rooftop gardens with their weighed-down orange trees, fountains and panoramic views.

Can Bo

Designed by the London-based studio Sagrada, rooms are in direct contrast with the noise and trippy colours and curves of the city. It’s as though someone pressed mute and the sound switched off and the shades softened to duck-egg blues and blush for the bedheads and carpets, with a striking pair of silk cushions on the bed, possibly Indian in design. With full-size bottles of Bo-Bo by Carner in the bathroom, Aeris’ negronis chilling in the fridge and plenty of heavy crystalware, the rooms are made for settling in and staying put. That is unless it’s a searing hot day, which it was when I stayed, and I made my way up to La Terraza del Central for a late lunch overlooking the tiles and terraces of the city. At a glance the menu didn’t excite me with its calamari, croquetas and pizza, but lord, what a take on these staples. The cherry tomato pizzetta was warm and stretchy, spread with cold Stracciatella and drizzled with sweet olive oil; crisp croquetas pumped with the silkiest filling and chunks of jamón ibérico. Having chewed on a lot of sad, rubbery rings of calamari that week, it was thrilling to find a hot pile sprinkled with fiery paprika to dunk in lemon aioli which I took to eat by the pool.

The pool at Grand Hotel Central

Yes, that’s right, there’s an infinity pool on the terrace with double beds parked round the edge. Sharing it with no more than a couple of pigeons paddling at the corner and a thirsty seagull, I enjoyed many a smug moment watching early-evening drinkers arrive before sunset and stare longingly at the waters – the pool is the preserve of hotel residents. La Terraza is the kind of spot you hope no one ever hears about let alone visits. That perfect place, high above the city with the smell of split-open oranges wafting down from rooftop gardens and no one around to interrupt the sound of silence cutting through the heat. After sunset it thumps with the sound of DJs turning tables which was when we took leave for dinner. Can Bo, the other restaurant, hadn’t opened yet after the refurb, so we traipsed off for a giant pan of paella at Can Ramonet, happily counting the number of Palestine flags unfurled around the city.

As the blackout blinds hummed upwards in the morning, I realised it had been weeks since I’d slept without waking once, free from screams from the street, free from itchy bites and with a deep sense of annoyance that I had a flight. So far, so good with the soft-opening: if the new owners can guarantee the second restaurant and suites will live up to the standards of the rest of the hotel, then I might have just found my bolthole for a Barcelona weekend-break. C


Grand Hotel Central, Via Laietana, 30, Ciutat Vella, 08003 Barcelona, Spain