24-Hour Room Service: Hotel Casa Fuster Barcelona
Saturday 15 September 2007
The Hotel Casa Fuster may not resemble the Taj Mahal in appearance, but it shares a raison d'être with that venerable landmark, in that it was built to commemorate one man's love for his wife.
When wealthy Mallorcan Mariano Fuster married the daughter of a Barcelona marquis, he wanted to build a house in her honour to show how much he adored her. To that end, in 1908 he commissioned architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner to erect what, at that time, was the most expensive building in Barcelona.
Considering its façade is made of white marble, it's not surprising things had run over budget by the time the family took possession of their home in 1911. The exterior is a beautiful example of Catalan modernisme, with ornate stonework, wrought-iron balconies and – as is typical of the architectural style of Domènech i Montaner – a turret. Unfortunately, Fuster ran out of money to pay for the roof, so the columns of the turret rise majestically, but are unfettered by any covering.
The building has had a chequered history since, and was almost torn down in the Sixties before the government stepped in to have it protected. The small Spanish hotel chain Hoteles Center turned it into a five-star hotel in 2004. Today, its 96 rooms and suites combine early 20th-century elegance with modern-day luxury – all provided by a particularly friendly and unstuffy staff. The roof terrace has a swimming pool and magnificent views along the tree-lined Passeig de Gràcia to the sea; the ground-floor bar offers a blast of modernista colour and form, with undulating banquettes that are reminiscent of Gaudí's serpentine bench at Barcelona's Park Güell.
Hotel Casa Fuster, Passeig de Gràcia 132, Barcelona, Spain (00 34 932 553 000; www.hotelcasafuster.com) is at the upper end of the Passeig de Gràcia, a leafy thoroughfare. Many modernista buildings are a few minutes' walk away.
Distance from international airport: About a 20-minute taxi ride. Expect to pay about €30 (£22), or spend 10 minutes longer on the frequent Aerobus link from Barcelona's airport to Placa Catalunya for €3.90 (£2.80).
Modern without being coldly minimalist. With sleek lines, dark wood and plush furniture, it's luxurious and inviting. The beds are enormous, and nice touches include individual readings lights, loads of chocolate at turndown time and bottled water. The bathrooms are marble with chrome fittings and twin basins; superior rooms have a big hydro-massage bath and a separate walk-in shower.
Freebies: You're invited to help yourself to the goodies in the bathroom; the hotel even provides you with a nice washbag to carry them all in. Men get a portable shaving kit; women get cleansing and bath products – all in addition to the shampoo and body lotion supplied by posh brand Loewe.
Keeping in touch: The LCD flat-screen television comes with a keyboard if you want to access the internet. Ethernet cables are provided if you've brought your own laptop. Wi-Fi is available in reception and in the bar, and the business centre on the top floor has PCs for guests' use.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Leading Hotels of the World (00800 2888 8882; www.lhw.com) offers stays in a double room at Casa Fuster from €294 (£200) per night, including breakfast.
I'm not paying that: Try the cheerful two-star Hotel Mesó* Castilla (00 34 93 318 2182; www.mesoncastilla.com) at Carrer Valldoncella 5 in El Raval, which has doubles from €135 (£92) including breakfast.
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