A few months ago, a rather unexpected and very exciting email popped into my inbox. It came from the Association of Spanish Design (RED), a not-for-profit organisation that promotes Spanish design around the globe. Each summer it runs a week-long tour called ‘Sunny Design Days’, which gives a small group of international bloggers the chance to experience Spanish design first-hand, and I was one of the lucky ones invited to take part this year. Needless to say I replied ‘yes’ within seconds, and so it was that I found myself at Bristol Airport at 6am on a July morning, eagerly boarding a plane bound for Spain.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that it turned out to be a wonderful trip. We started in Barcelona (a city that I will always love, after spending a very happy time living there as a student), before moving on to Valencia, Murcia and finally Madrid – all the while accompanied by a heatwave that saw the temperature rise as high as 43°C. Along the way we visited studios and showrooms, met inspiring designers and innovative brands, and sampled some very stylish restaurants and hotels. I came back with a camera full of photos, a mind buzzing with ideas and a lovely new set of blogger friends – plus a minor case of sunburn, but I only have myself to blame for that.
I’ll share all my discoveries with you over the coming weeks, but I want to start with a look at the beautiful Hotel Alexandra, where we stayed during the Barcelona leg of the tour.
Hotel Alexandra sits in my favourite part of the city, the modernist neighbourhood of Eixample, just off shop-lined Passeig de Gràcia and a stone’s throw from Gaudí’s famous La Pedrera. Although now part of the Hilton brand, it’s actually family-owned and feels nothing like a chain hotel. It occupies a 19th-century building that was renovated in 2015 by Barcelona-based architects Borrell Jover, who successfully retained its period elegance while at the same time transforming it into a celebration of contemporary Spanish design.
The ground-floor reception, charcuterie counter and bar, plus the bistro-like Restaurante Solomillo above, are dark and moody, with a chic blend of blacks, greys and blond wood. They’re all decked out with pieces from RED member companies: lamps from Marset, marble tabletops from Cosentino, chairs from Sancal (more on those to follow in future posts). We dined in the restaurant on the first evening of the tour, and we were all impressed with the food: a delicious selection of classic Spanish dishes, with a particular focus on cheeses and cured meats.
The rooms are just as smart. Each one is slightly different, but all combine sleek design from Spain and Scandinavia with restored modernist features. Mine came with a beautiful tiled floor, an ornate plasterwork ceiling and a wrought-iron balcony overlooking the street below; others have cushioned window seats or swathes of parquet, and a couple even boast roof terraces with outdoor bathtubs! They also have all sorts of clever features that make them as practical as they are beautiful – in my case, a long headboard / desk topped with a sculptural ‘Eclipse’ lamp by Objekto, multi-functional LED lighting, plenty of storage in both the bedroom and bathroom, and movable wheel-mounted side tables that meant I could keep everything I needed to hand. What’s more, it was incredibly quiet for a city hotel, and I slept like a baby in my kingsize bed.
To the rear of the hotel lie a patio and lounge-bar, which occupy a courtyard known as a manzana – a typical feature of the Eixample, which was laid out in a grid pattern by pioneering 19th-century urban planner Ildefons Cerdà, with communal green spaces between blocks of buildings. Together, they form a true urban oasis, with alfresco sofas, screens of bamboo, geometric brick walls adorned with plants, and a pool whose ombre tiles are designed to echo the shades of the Mediterranean shallows. I spent a very happy few hours lounging there when I first arrived, waiting for my fellow bloggers to check in over a book and a glass of wine.
Finally, I need to mention the staff, who were friendly and helpful throughout – from Managing Director Carolina, who sat down with us to explain the hotel’s history, to the masseuse who soothed my aching back after a long day of design visits. It was a fantastic stay, and I can’t wait to return.
All photography by Abi Dare
I was given a free stay at Hotel Alexandra as part of the RED Sunny Design Days tour, but all words and opinions are my own.