- Detailed Review
- Facts & Amenities
I’ve stayed at many Mandarin Oriental hotels over the course of the past decade or so. Well, long enough for them to have me down as a reader of what was initially the Herald Tribune, which then became the International Herald Tribune, and now the International New York Times. I anticipated I would find a copy outside my door in the morning at this particular Mandarin hotel, on this, my first visit.
Barcelona has long awaited the arrival of a hotel of this calibre. The Mandarin Oriental, opened in 2009 and the second wing in 2014, offers guests what can only be described as an ‘experience’. From opulent suites and bathrooms, world-renowned chefs, and state-of-the-art technology in the rooms to name a few highlights, guests are wooed and wowed from the moment they set foot in the door. I know I was.
A former bank building, the hotel encompasses a natural light–filled, eight-story atrium with modern interiors by the Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola. Located on the bustling Passeig de Gràcia, the hotel is positioned amidst the finest top-end boutiques (Loewe’s flagship store is just across the street) and sites. From my window I could see Gaudi’s spectacular Casa Batlló and the recently restored Casa Amatllar, which I toured later the next day.
Set back off the street, the hotel is an imposing building. As soon as my car pulled up the doorman headed over at a brisk pace to collect my bags. With the lobby located on the first floor, (second in the US) the walkway (they call it the catwalk) up to the reception there is beautifully carpeted and offers glimpses of some of the boutiques situated in the hotel: Manolo Blahnik and Brioni for starters. Next door is Tiffany’s. I was in my element.
The building itself is not new. Established in the late 1900s as a traditional gentlemen’s club, it became a bank after the Second World War. Statues on the facade, of people at work, were added then, as a symbol of those who contribute to the economy.
I was escorted to the front desk through the lobby and had my room key in my hand within five minutes. The staff on duty went through a brief explanation of the hotel facilities and dining outlets. I made a booking for dinner and was escorted by my butler, a woman, to my room. The whole arrival experience was utterly gracious; utterly Mandarin. And from then on, everyone working there called me by my name. They even went out of their way to pop over and say hello if I was having coffee or just walking through the lobby.
Rooms and suites
I loved this tranquil and beautifully appointed room and its completely separate living room. No sounds could be heard in the hallway, and very few on the street, indicating solidly insulated walls, doors and windows, as the Passeig de Gràcia is certainly a busy street. There are two little terraces off each of the windows in each room. You can, as the hotel brochure claims, sightsee from your suite.
The butler offered to unpack my clothes but given that I was only staying a night, I declined the offer and instead hung the few clothes I needed in the vast wardrobe. I was impressed with the choice of hangers, to suit all types of clothing. I had, in a former era of my life, lived in the Oberoi in Bombay (as it was called at the time) where they never had any hangers with clips, for skirts. So I know a good collection of hangers when I see one.
Oak floors with Tai Ping carpets, high ceilings, and bronze highlights set a contemporary but comfortable tone in the rooms. The muted shades of beige and greys blended beautifully. As a rule, I usually don’t set foot on hotel room floors without slippers or shoes, but not so here. Immaculately clean with not a spot or scuff anywhere, I felt as comfortable as if I were in my own home. Which, incidentally, is the idea.
Separating the living room from the bedroom of the suite is a heavy, wooden sliding panel that glided easily when I tried it. The living room has a large sofa and a dining table for four so it could easily serve as a small meeting room in house. Light switches are simple, well-placed, and the entire room can be switched off from a switch right next to your pillow.
An Illy coffee machine, with a generous number of capsules, made my day. There is a connectivity panel on the desk from which I could connect any device I may have brought along to one of the two TVs on the wall in either room. High speed internet access, at no extra cost, functions perfectly, with the option of linking up to six devices at once. I talked on FaceTime with a friend or two internationally with no problem at all. Better yet, I did all this while listening to my own music from my Spotify account on my phone which I connected to the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin speaker on the desk.
The well-stocked mini bar had all the champagnes, wines, cocktail mixers, and accoutrements needed for a quiet drink in the room. The butler would have brought ice and lime slices and anything else my heart desired I am sure, but I opted to head to the Banker’s Bar to have a look around.
Suites and rooms come in many sizes here at the Mandarin, the largest of which is the Penthouse Suite with one or two bedrooms. An oversize terrace off the fifth-floor Barcelona Suite features a private Jacuzzi and an outdoor living room overlooking the architectural masterpieces along the Passeig de Gràcia. Next time.
The bathroom in this suite is larger than most; certainly larger than my first apartment in Manhattan when I was in my twenties, and a lot more spacious than any hotel bathrooms there now. It is essentially one large room with a bath and huge double vanity, with three rooms off of this main one: a WC (with another sink), a shower room, and a large dressing room.
Once upon a time, drying my hair, I blew out the power in the entire property of a bed and breakfast on Lake Como. So, given my need for electrical energy and a daily blowout I like to do myself, I consider this facility of prime importance when I travel. Sadly, when I finally found the electrical socket and plugged it in, the hair dryer in this bathroom barely reached my head, and it had about as much ‘blow’ to it as a long-term smoker in his sixties. I called the butler and asked for a salon appointment the next morning.
Generous-sized (75 ml) Acqua di Parma bathroom amenities were in abundant supply. No skimping here. They were placed in the shower and next to the bathtub. Bars of soap were at every sink (there’s a total of three in this suite) and the tub. A box of Gilchrist & Soames amenities was under the sink included spare toothbrush kits, mouthwash, loofahs etc.
Two ‘his and hers’ sets of bathrobes, in toweling and in printed cotton, were hanging in the cupboard for visits to the spa or swimming pools, or lounging in the suite in general.
To eat in Moments, where Seven Michelin star chef Carme Ruscalleda and her son, Raül Balam, create some of the world’s finest fare (according to reviews I have read), I would have had to book weeks in advance. I opted instead to have both lunch and dinner in two Michelin star Spanish chef Ángel Léon’s BistrEau.
And so for lunch, seeking something light, I had a mackerel salad which was delicious, followed by a beautifully prepared and elegantly presented fish dish. My water glass was kept topped up throughout the meal. Service was perfect and if I was looking for a quiet place to have a tête-à-tête lunch with a business colleague then this is the place I would go. But because it is Barcelona with all the buzz and hip-happening vibes the city projects, it probably wasn’t the social scene I was looking for.
The Banker’s Bar was great for a pre-dinner drink amongst the well-heeled of Barcelona. Obviously a popular venue, I enjoyed a glass of wine here overlooking the BistrEau restaurant on one side and the wall of old, perfectly polished, bank vaults of yesteryear. My drink came with some delicious local olives and what look like cat nibbles, but turned out to be wasabi-coated peanuts.
For dinner, again at BistrEau, I had hands-down one of the best servings of Kobe beef I have ever had, beautifully cooked and served. The menu had many enticing items to choose from, but being somewhat of a locavore, I went with the beef when I heard it was sourced from Northern Spain. The sommelier selected a delicious red from the same locale to accompany the meal. Again, my glass did not go empty.
Breakfast is served here in the BistrEau restaurant, buffet style, and hot dishes made to order, where for 35 Euros you can eat like a king. Merienda, the local version of afternoon tea, is also served here and would be popular, I imagine, with the Arab guests who like all things sweet as a rule of thumb.
You’ll know you’re in Barcelona when, in warmer climes, you head upstairs to the Terrat (Catalan for roof). You’ll expect David Guetta, Avicii, or the like to walk out of the lift at any moment – it’s that cool. There’s a small ‘dipping pool’ up here with lounge chairs for sunbathing in the day. The same area is transformed and serves as the bar area at night so party goers can enjoy views of the city’s most famous monuments and attractions while sipping a signature cocktail and nibbling on a delicious selection of Peruvian-Japanese fusion delicacies from the menu. The Sagrada Família can also be seen from up here, probably the nearest anyone needs to get to that tourist-swamped venue.
Spa and wellness
As I said before, I am something of a Mandarin afficianado and hence I was expecting great things from the spa as I headed downstairs for my 50 minute massage. I was not disappointed as the spa here has been built with no expenses spared. The team working here handled my visit professionally and smoothly, something you want when you visit a spa.
Writing as a profession does all kinds of things to the muscles in my right arm and hand. The therapist asked me which areas of my body needed attention and when I explained my aches and pains, she focused a great deal on those points, and I left here feeling a whole lot better indeed. Relaxed and reposed.
Pool and beach
Early the next morning, I popped back down to the spa area to have a swim in the indoor pool and pay a visit to the adjacent steam room. For those who enjoy a swim, this saltwater pool is a dream. There are lounge chairs for relaxing, magazines, water and plenty of towels. I spent about fifteen minutes in the steam room where several mosaic-covered, stone lounge chairs were waiting, complete with a mini shower spray next to each should things get too hot at any time. I have never seen such a nicely-appointed facility. Had I wanted to, I could have asked for the services of the personal trainer and spent some time in the gym but at this point, I just wanted to get dressed and head outside to explore the beautiful neighbourhood.
Staff and service
As I said before, as soon as I alighted from the car, everyone called me by my name. I could not find one single fault with any single member of staff here. They all spoke good English, even the housekeepers.
In my opinion, what makes a hotel stand out from the crowd is the difference the staff make in the form of more personalised service. And as downtime for guests is a luxury and sometimes a real need, the staff here seem happy to meet that demand. At the Mandarin in Barcelona, they seem to understand that whole concept.
This is a nirvana for leisure travellers seeking something special. Americans, British, German and other Europeans frequent the hotel, and when I was there I saw several Arab families who no doubt, through word of mouth, know that the Lebanese chef working here will prepare whatever they desire at a moment’s notice.
I did see an Arab woman at the concierge desk asking for help with shopping options in the area. Young and old, well-to-do Spaniards favour the Banker’s Bar.
Given that I didn’t want to leave, my departure went smoothly and I was out the door in a flash. I gave the concierge a postcard to mail that I found in the room and penned to a friend. He did not, I might add, ask me for postage money.
I left my bags in the room to be collected by the bellman and asked that they be stored on the street level till later that afternoon when my taxi was booked. Upon my return, I spent about ten minutes chatting with the bellman, a local lad who was knowledgeable about the hotel and the city, spoke fluent English, and was loving his life working here at the Mandarin. He made a good impression on me as to the kind of people the hotel selects as the face of the property.
How to get here
20 minutes by road from Barcelona - El Prat Airport
120 rooms & suites