Tell us a bit about the history of El Palace Barcelona and what inspired its opening…
El Palace Barcelona opened its doors in 1919 as Barcelona’s first five-star hotel and is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. Born the former Ritz of Barcelona, El Palace Barcelona embraces its rich heritage, blending timeless glamour with contemporary experiences and impeccable service, creating a truly elegant and memorable stay in one of the world’s most historic hotels. The hotel’s construction was initiated by Catalan politician and statesman Francesc Cambó, a regular guest of the Ritz Hotel in Madrid. The International Exhibition of Barcelona inspired several prominent Catalan personalities, including Cambó, to promote the construction of an international hotel. Although César Ritz was somewhat reticent initially, as he only chose large European capitals as locations for his hotels, he agreed to build what would be and continues to be one of the most popular hotels in Barcelona. The hotel is highly favoured not only by the local Catalan community but also by international movie stars, musicians, and European royalty. The hotel was completed in October 1919 and opened its doors in January 1920, with royal support from King Alfonso XII and Queen Victoria Eugenia. It quickly became the favourite destination for royalty and prominent guests to host events.
The hotel has always been strongly associated with fashion, particularly in the 1940s. The Hall, with its grand and opulent setting, hosted numerous fashion shows from Pertegaz and Bastida to modern designers of the Gaudí Hall. The “Fashion tea” or “Galas de teas” was the most popular in the city for many years. Hollywood stars like Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, Anthony Queen, John Wayne, Sofia Loren, and Woody Allen soon became regular guests. Other renowned guests include Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Ella Fitzgerald, Carolina Herrera, Alexander Fleming, Alfredo Kraus, Josep Pla, Ken Follet, Camilo José Cela, Rafael Alberti, Eduardo Chillida, Forgs, and more.
Can you describe the hotel’s design and concept and the influence behind its aesthetic?
All 120 rooms and suites are designed in the hotel’s signature neoclassical-inspired elegant style. Step into one of El Palace Barcelona’s six signature Art Suites, inspired by a former prominent guest artist, and their artistic preference, including painting, dance, architecture, literature, sculpture or music, and you enter the worlds of Ronnie Wood, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, and Josephine Baker. From the 1500m2 Rooftop Garden, Terrace, and Swimming Pool on the seventh floor, to the Bluesman Cocktail Bar and Cigar Lounge, with its live music and renowned cocktails, as well as its award-winning afternoon tea, art, and gastronomy offering in the Great Hall, and indulgent treatments in Luxury Mayan Spa, El Palace Barcelona is the perfect destination to dine and relax in style.
How did you find your way into hospitality management?
I was introduced to the world of luxury hospitality at a young age in Marbella, where my father was the General Manager and a pivotal figure in the success of the award-winning Marbella Club. In 2001, there was a strike at the hotel, and I decided to help my father. First, I oversaw all the sunbeds next to the beach and then went to help with the Reception. The next day, a guest asked about me at Reception. I was so nervous as I thought I had maybe done something wrong, but instead, he wanted to congratulate me and thank me for doing such a good job. He joked that he would come to the hotel next time there was a strike as he was so impressed with my dedication. I felt very proud and decided from then on that this would be my job forever. I studied Hospitality Management at the prestigious École Hôtelière de Lausanne. During my Bachelor of Science studies, I interned and worked at some of the world’s most renowned hotels, including Le Bristol in Paris, El Palace in Madrid, Puente Romano in Marbella and Design Hotels in Berlin and London.
Upon graduation, I launched Culdesac Experience, an international events and communications company, with my sister, Sophie von Schönburg Glauchau. After a few months, I realised I missed hotel life and moved to London, where I started working at COMO Metropolitan Hotel, one of COMO Hotels and Resorts’ key urban hotels. I then joined the team at The Savoy for the hotel’s Grand reopening. Three years later, I was recruited as Director of Guest Relations to lead the opening team of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts’ first European property, Rosewood London. I was then approached by the prestigious Maybourne Group to run the rooms division at two of the Group’s award-winning hotels, The Connaught and Claridge’s. In 2019, following a 10-year milestone in London, I decided to move back to Spain. I joined El Palace Barcelona as a Hotel Manager to drive forward the hotel’s repositioning, staying true to its heritage but delivering exceptional and innovative experiences for local and international guests as one of the world’s leading luxury hotels. At the beginning of 2021, I was promoted to General Manager. Since my arrival, I have launched several initiatives, including Spain’s first rooftop Winter Cinema, an intimate Chalet experience in the heart of Barcelona. I have also created an innovative food and beverage offering with the highest attention to service with the recent opening of Amar Barcelona this Spring.
What makes the hotel so special, in your opinion?
We are proud to be the oldest luxury hotel and the first five-star hotel in Barcelona, dating back to 1919 when we opened our doors as the former Ritz of Barcelona. It is a unique place in Barcelona where history meets the present and the future. We have a rich heritage and history, which can be seen in our classic décor, but we are also not scared of taking risks, thinking outside the box, and bringing to life innovative experiences. Our creative pop-ups are unique in Barcelona to El Palace Barcelona, and both locals and guests love to see what new activities we are hosting.
Can you tell us about your favourite highlights of the hotel, including accommodation, facilities, and amenities?
Exclusive, original, and unique, our Art Suites were created in 2016 as part of the hotel’s renovations and suite expansion project. Step into one of El Palace’s six signature Art Suites inspired by a former prominent guest artist, and their artistic preference, including painting, dance, architecture, literature, sculpture or music and you enter the worlds of Ronnie Wood, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro and Josephine Baker. All Art Suites are identical in size with spectacular marble bathrooms featuring mosaics inspired by Roman baths and views over the Gran Vía and Roger de Llúria. Guests love the unique touches in each of the art suites, for example, the jukebox in the El Palace Suite by Ronnie Wood.
Our rooftop terrace is unique in Barcelona. Inspired by the romantic garden of Francesc Cambó’s palace and the paintings of the modernist painter Ramon Casas, the Rooftop Garden is an oasis in the heart of vibrant Barcelona with panoramic views over the city. An elegant pergola decorated with tropical plants inspired by the Ciutadella Park’s greenhouse takes centre stage to create a magical setting for a relaxed drink or bite to eat during the summer months. A second pergola, known as the Pergola Sagrada Familia, allows guests to absorb the smell of orange blossoms and jasmine as they stroll to the sculpture of Diana. A telescope enables guests to observe Gaudí’s well-known artwork from the privacy of the roof terrace. The hotel’s pool is at the opposite end of the terrace and is inspired by the ancient Roman baths. From the pool area, you can access the solarium, the highest point of El Palace Barcelona. An almost secret spot with stunning 360 views, the solarium is the best place to watch Barcelona’s spectacular sunsets and enjoy our summer cinema screenings.
We are the only hotel in Barcelona to have a Pet Relations Manager, Lulu, who is always ready to welcome our 4-legged guests. You can also follow her on Instagram to see what she is doing at the hotel.
Since my arrival at El Palace Barcelona, I launched several initiatives, including Spain’s first rooftop Winter Cinema, an intimate Chalet experience in the heart of Barcelona, and also the open-air rooftop Summer Cinema Series. I have developed experiences like the Vendimias dinners, Brunch and Vinyl on Saturdays and Sundays, Rooftop Yoga, Rumba Thursdays, a Kids Club, the Art & Drinks experience, and created an innovative food and beverage offering with the greatest attention to service.
I believe in building solid relationships with the local community. We have subsequently launched rooftop yoga with our neighbours, Frizzant, worked with Carner Barcelona to curate a collection of perfumes for guests in our Art Suites to use during their stay, and are making our own beer with the local restaurant and micro-brewery, La Textil.
Our latest opening is AMAR Barcelona, a new restaurant and dining destination. The restaurant is in partnership with renowned chef Rafa Zafra, the former El Bulli Head Chef who also headed up the much-talked-about restaurant Heart Ibiza for the Adrià brothers. Zafra brings his expertise and passion for the sea using the best and freshest seafood, treated with the greatest respect and expertise. Dishes are a homage to Mediterranean culture, with delicious sea products like oysters, caviar, and other seafood, along with a selection of classic Catalan dishes. Signature Mediterranean starters include Langoustine Carpaccio, Spider Crab Salad with Romesco Sauce and Tarragon Jelly, as well as the restaurant’s signature Seafood Platter with fresh oysters, clams, prawns, scallops, mussels, sea urchin, crawfish, and king crab.
A separate menu dedicated to Marennes-Oléron oysters pays homage to Albert Adrià. It features oysters prepared in eleven ways, including fresh oysters in a tarragon mignonette, grilled oysters, tiger oysters, and Bloody Mary oysters. Amar Barcelona also offers a caviar menu in which Zafra uses the caviar as an ingredient to enhance the flavour of his dishes, rather than as the traditional central element of a recipe. Signature dishes include lobster, salmon and caviar, seasonal sea urchin and prawn tartare with caviar, and rigatoni with cream and caviar.
Hero Catalan main dishes combine produce from the Mediterranean Sea to the lofty Pyrenees mountains, such as Spider Crab Cannelloni, Chicken Broth, Sea Urchin, and tributes to the Ritz, with French flavours such as Classic Sole Meunière and Lobster Cardinale. The Grill menu is in honour of the Fishermen’s Guild of Roses and Restaurant Estimar, the pioneers of grilled fish, and includes fresh rockfish, turbot, and crawfish from Isla Cristina.
With natural light and elegant interiors in blue and gold tones, the new restaurant reflects the hotel’s ethos where history and modernity evolve in parallel, giving rise to exciting dialogues between the heritage of the building and the dynamism of a space celebrated for its creativity of the past and present.
What do you think is the most important thing for guests when they book accommodation, and how do you factor this into the hotel El Palace Barcelona experience?
One of the most important things is our location. El Palace Barcelona is only moments from Passeig de Gràcia, the historic Gothic Quarter and home to some of the city’s most prestigious boutiques and restaurants. The hotel is surrounded by prominent modernist buildings such as La Pedrera, Casa Batlló and La Boquería. It is a stone’s throw away from the city’s prominent cultural and tourist attractions, including Plaza Catalunya and the bustling Ramblas, allowing guests and visitors easy access to explore every aspect of Barcelona’s rich history.
I firmly believe that a hotel should be a place where locals mix with visitors. This is precisely what we are doing here at El Palace Barcelona by offering visitors a wonderful luxury overnight experience and a vibrant calendar of events for the local community to enjoy. Our history is so rich – imagine staying in a place where Freddie Mercury met Montserrat Caballé, where Salvador Dalí had a taxidermy horse brought to his suite, and where Ronnie Wood decorated his own suite. Our history makes us a truly special and unique place, and there is always something happening at El Palace Barcelona to ensure everyone can enjoy their experience with us – whether for an afternoon or as their home away from home.
Another important thing for guests is room size. We offer some of the largest rooms and suites in Barcelona, with our Classic Room starting from 38 sqm.
Have you seen a difference in what guests look for from their travel/hospitality experience over the years?
Luxury is about creating experiences and ensuring guests have all they need at their fingertips while receiving an authentic local experience. The modern traveller is now also looking for transparency and strong sustainability initiatives. Our Guests want to know that we are contributing to fighting climate change and protecting our planet and that we have the measures in place to do so. For example, we recently launched our new sustainability partnership with a local brand, Lab Noma, to eliminate all our plastic bath amenities and replace them with refillable aluminium containers containing zero-waste, ecological, vegan, and environmentally sustainable ingredients grown in the nearby Parc de las Flors.
We have been certified by “Barcelona Biosphere” as a sustainable hotel. As part of this accreditation, we are consistently reviewing our procedures and products to reduce our use of plastic throughout the hotel and use local products as much as possible to support local suppliers. For me, it is vital that we support our local community in every sense. We, therefore, have numerous exciting projects in the pipeline, all with their own contribution to our local community, which I am positive our guests will enjoy and appreciate.
What do you think will leave the biggest impression on guests who visit El Palace Barcelona?
We pride ourselves in remaining true to our origins (our heritage and history), while at the same time we understand the wishes of the modern traveller and, therefore, the need to adapt our services and offers. When guests arrive and stay at El Palace Barcelona, they feel like they are taking a little tour through time – you have our magnificent historical lobby where we serve traditional afternoon tea together with classical piano and jazz music, and our cosy speakeasy Bluesman Cocktail Bar transports you to the glory days of the 50s 60s and 70s. You can then move to our rooms, which feature our neoclassical-inspired signature style but without being claustrophobic. Finally, we arrive at our panoramic rooftop terrace and garden, where we are continuously changing our offerings and experiences. I always like to compare El Palace Barcelona to a stick with cotton candy; the stick is our history and heritage, which should never change and what we hold on to, while the surrounding cotton candy around this stick must constantly change to remain attractive and relevant to guests and clients.
Any upcoming developments that visitors can look forward to?
We are always thinking about new experiences and services we can offer our guests. We are working on a new overall scent for the hotel, in partnership with Carner Barcelona, which should hopefully launch soon. We will continue our rotating art gallery in the Great Hall to support local artists and are currently working on the programming for the rest of the year. El Palace Barcelona has always had a strong art and cultural heritage, and we want to keep this tradition. We are working on a new top-secret concept for a new restaurant, as visitors need to know we are always offering something new and innovative experience in our classic walls, but I can’t give away any more details at this stage…