There's not much that's subtle about Madrid's Gran Vía. Blasting through the city centre, it's studded with designer shops, hotels and nightclubs. But hidden away at the street's eastern end, where there seem to be more banks than boutiques, is a new, less flashy addition.
The Principal occupies a grand old Spanish Renaissance-style corner building, with its main doorway discreetly hidden down a side street. Arriving – at least, late on a Friday night as I did – feels a little like getting into a private members' club. Just inside the entrance, with its dim lighting and low-key signage, you're greeted by a doorman with a list. This isn't the reception, but a sort of pre-reception; hotel guests are sent up in one lift to check in, while drinkers and diners are ushered into another. Both tiny lifts eject passengers just metres apart on the sixth floor, but I enjoyed the pseudo-exclusivity all the same.
In keeping with Gran Vía's reputation as "the street that never sleeps", music was blasting out from the bar as I checked in, though few people were around to make the most of it – perhaps word hadn't quite got out to the Madrileños yet, this being just a few weeks after opening.
As a member of Design Hotels, The Principal couldn't be anything other than tasteful in the extreme. Fifty shades of grey coat the walls, set off by gold-framed portraits, heavy red drapes and classic pieces of furniture in muted tones. There are two dining rooms either side of reception: an elegant space suited to long, boozy dinners, and a more casual, conservatory-style area with wicker furniture, pot plants and floor-to-ceiling windows. All around the outside runs a narrow terrace dotted with tables.
Headed up by Ramón Freixa, who earned two Michelin stars at sister property Hotel Unico Madrid, the Atico restaurant is open 24 hours to both guests and walk-ins. The eclectic à la carte menu includes a few Spanish cameos, while breakfast is a modest but delicious continental spread with local favourites such as tortilla and jamón ibérico.
The seventh-floor roof terrace and solarium weren't fully open when I visited, though I did go up to admire the view of the Beaux Arts Metropolis building, across the street. In summer I imagine the terrace will be heaving with guests making liberal use of the cocktail bar. The only thing missing is a pool.
The hotel sits just off Plaza de Cibeles, a square of Neoclassical buildings, marble sculptures and fountains. Among them is the elaborate Palacio de Cibeles, now used as the city hall. One gets the impression most guests would arrive at The Principal by taxi, but if you prefer to take the bus from and to the airport, it stops here.
Other top tourist attractions, such as the Museo Reina Sofía, busy Puerta del Sol, and Retiro Park, are all within walking distance. For an offbeat alternative to Gran Vía, stroll five minutes north of The Principal to Chueca, a lively area of design shops, cosy cafés and gay-friendly bars.
The 76 rooms and suites come in six categories, and even the entry-level Executive accommodation, in which I stayed, is perfectly spacious. Again, grey is the word, although the furniture is more contemporary: think smooth wooden headboards, banquet seating and minimalist lighting. The overall effect is intimate, without trying too hard. Abstract ink drawings adorned the wall of my room, and the king-size bed with its crisp, white linen was very inviting. The lengthy, plump pillows, however, proved totally impractical. There's complimentary wi-fi, and newspapers can be downloaded to your device free of charge, using a special app. Rooms also have a TV and Bluetooth sound system, and if you'd rather spend time in your room than see the Spanish capital, PS3s are available to borrow.
The bathrooms, meanwhile, are all seductive black metro tiles, gleaming white sink and Gilchrist and Soames toiletries. No bath, but the monsoon shower was very hard to leave.
Doubles from €204, B&B.Reuse content