My W Barcelona experience began the minute I stepped off the plane. After touching down at the swish new Terminal 1 of El Prat airport, I emerged into the world of Ricardo Bofill, the Barcelona-born post-modern architect responsible for the 850 football fields-size terminal. It opened three months ago, is shaped like a sword and bulges with curvilinear glass and steel.
Not content with creating the "envy of all European airports", Bofill is also responsible for what is an even more eye-catching project: the W Barcelona, which opened earlier this month. The European flagship of the American Starwood hotel chain, this architectural monument has been created with Barcelona in mind. Like a bookend at the end of the beach – and known locally as the vela, or sail, because of its shape – it is a vast vision of shimmering glass.
Barcelona's newest hotel has whipped up frantic excitement and controversy in almost equal measure. This is the first hotel to have direct beach access – in a city blessed with over 4km of Mediterranean shoreline. But it towers right over Sant Sebastià beach, much to the dismay of many locals. Modifications also saw the plans scaling the building down so that it is just below the 100m limitations for coastal buildings.
Still, the W is nothing if not striking, whether shimmering in the sunlight during the daytime, or with its outline illuminated in neon at night. Barcelona, the plaything of Antoni Gaudí, is already celebrated for its unique architecture, so it's fitting that Bofill's building makes a mark on the landscape.
There is a flavour of the city as soon as you enter the seven-story lobby: two marble sculptures, reminiscent of Gaudí's contorted Casa Milà roof statues, stand sentry to one side of the door.
The lobby stretches skywards, but laterally too, into the lounge and bar, the Wave restaurant, and beyond the glass doors on to the "Wet Deck" or pool area. Here you'll find scattered white parasols, cabañas and loungers set around a bracingly cool pool, with a bar at one end and the beach just below.
Bofill's aim was for the Mediterranean to be the primary focus of his building. Up on the 26th-floor Eclipse bar, the sea views are bewitching.
The hotel's interiors create the sensation of being underwater. Neutral tones give the appearance of sand, and there are meandering giant seaweeds preserved in frosted glass walls. The Bliss spa, meanwhile, is bright and white, with the brand's signature touch of a sushi-style conveyor belt at the nail bar.
By contrast, all the guest rooms are arranged off elongated, dark red corridors that are illuminated only along the blood red carpet and the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the sea at either end.
One final touch will be the signature restaurant. Set to open next month, it is being fronted by Catalan chef Carles Abellan, who learnt his trade with Ferran Adrià and has two acclaimed restaurants in the city – the Michelin-starred Comerç 24 and Tapas 24. For now, there's Wave, a more casual Mediterranean restaurant.
For a city heaving with charming enclaves, the W's port-extension location might seem strange. It's in Nova Bocana, an area so "new" that I found no mention of it in my guidebook. Built as a project with the Barcelona Port Authority, the hotel is the first major building in this industrial finger of land that points away from beachy Barceloneta towards the port. The vicinity is pocked with cranes that arch over gracious 19th-century warehouses and empty sites primed for development.
The staggering 473 rooms all come with decent floor space and wide-reaching sea views. As with all W hotels, there's an idiosyncratic approach to categorisation: starting with the Cosy room (lower floors) then moving on to Wonderful (standard), Mega (corner rooms), Fabulous (upper floors with beach views) and six varieties of suite.
In most rooms the bathrooms are integrated into the main room with a black slate wet room and sleek white vanity area, all stocked with Bliss products. Starwood's much-hyped Heavenly Bed sits like an island in the centre of the room and was every bit as cloud-like as I had imagined. It faces the window, which spans the length and breadth of one wall, flooding the room with light that glitters fetchingly on the shimmering gold suede curtains and iridescent sofa and cushions. And there are quirky touches too. A lightbox in your room can be adjusted so that its colour matches your mood. I also encountered a ceramic lizard and telescope by the TV, as well as all the gadgets and gizmos you'd expect of such a style-driven hotel.
W Barcelona, Plaça de la Rosa dels Vents 1, Nova Bocana, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain (00 34 932 952 800; starwoodhotels.com )
Double rooms start at €257, room only.