IT was once one of Madrid’s ritziest places to stay, serving up high-class hospitality to the likes of Virginia Woolf, Henri Matisse and the arty set.
But somewhere along the line the Gran Hotel Ingles lost its pizazz, eventually falling into disrepair and lived in by squatters a decade ago.
So it is a joy that Madrid’s oldest and most distinguished hotel has been brought back to life after a ravishing €17 million refit.
Downsized from an original 72 rooms to a boutique 48, making them effectively suites, this 1886 gem oozes the elegance of a bygone age and its central location makes it a great choice for a long weekend in Madrid.
Romantic in the extreme, it has hung on to its elegant Belle Epoque interiors but now with a dash of Art Deco in the mix. The seductive lobby sets the scene and you really imagine yourself sliding into one of the wide banquette booths and ordering a Singapore Sling while being offered a freshly-ironed copy of the Herald Tribune or London Times.
Many original features have been saved, from time-faded photos of guests to vintage postcards and an ancient typewriter by the lifts.
The original iron pillars soar up to reconstructed wall mouldings extended across the ceiling, creating a pattern resembling electric circuits.
Our handsome young bartender quizzed us on tastes and zipped off to produce a cocktail to match our moods.
The rooms are equally sumptuous although understated, nothing fancy – unless you count the top quality linens (500 thread-count Egyptian, don’t you know) and, in many, dreamy roll-top baths.
The Lobo 8 restaurant is the place to wolf down a hearty breakfast, well-lit and with an enticing choice – perfect for starting the day, although the Eggs Benedict were not quite the best I’ve ever tasted.
With a Barrio de las Letras address – the intellectual home of Madrid – you are a short walk from from everything, including The Prado and Plaza Mayor (five minutes).
But what is perhaps most commendable about the Gran Hotel Ingles is the staff, who make guests feel relaxed and at home. They are there the moment you need them, and not when you don’t. Now, that’s what I expect from a good capital city five star!
C/ Echegaray, 8 – 28014 Madrid
(+34) 91 360 00 01
And here’s a trio of interesting things to do in Madrid this Spring, and a restaurant tip:
Take a walk from here into Madrid de las Austrias, which skirts around the bottom of Plaza Mayor. Taking its name from the days of the Habsburg dynasty, it’s a dreamscape of stunning buildings and interesting shops. The street, Cava Baja, has maybe two dozen excellent (and very busy) places to eat on weekends.
Done the Prado and the Thyssen? Seen Sorolla and Guernica? How about the Museum of San Isidro, a relatively new showcase on the origins of the city and its saint. Filling a 16th century townhouse, it houses three floors of exhibits from the days of the Visigoths, Muslims and Mammoths.
Few people bother to visit Madrid’s Sistine Chapel, a work of art undertaken by Spain’s very own Michelangelo, Francisco Goya, in the 18th century. Down by the much improved Manzanares river area of the city, the dome and interior of San Antonio de La Florida chapel was painted in just 120 days and depicts a murdered man being brought back to life. It is coincidentally also where the painter is buried (minus his head!). Entrance is free and if you time it right (let’s say, lunch time) you might get it all to yourself.
Take a French maiden and a local Madrileno grafter and you get this wonderful new spot, Lakasa.
While a little out of the way, it emerges as a stylish and original addition to the fast burgeoning Madrid restaurant scene.
Cesar Martin has been a jobbing chef in the capital for years, now finally out on his own, with his girlfriend Marina, from Brittany, out front.
It has a cool look with its vertical green wall partitions and an equally hip reggae-jazz fusion soundtrack on the speakers.
Its main USP is that every one of its two dozen or so dishes come in a half portion, meaning for food freaks like me, you can have double the number!
The mackerel in curry sauce and the artichokes with pork belly were two good picks.