It doesn’t often rain in Madrid. It’s known to, but not often.
The ominous, heaving, dark clouds could’ve spelt the beginning of a rather damp weekend. But they didn’t. They couldn’t. Nothing could have dampened the soul and sunshine emanating from the Gran Hotel Inglés.
If anything, it prompted a jolly ‘awe well, we’ll have to stay in then’ attitude. Luxuriating in the freestanding Victorian bath, listening to the rain tapping melodically on the wooden shutter framed windows. It wants to come in too. No wonder. Thank you God for the non-touristic weather.
The hotel is one of Madrid’s oldest, built in 1853 as a restaurant, it progressed to a hotel in 1896. Ahead of its time, it is situated on one of the first streets to have electricity, Calle Lobo, later renamed Calle Echegaray, after the Spanish Nobel prize winner who was a regular at the hotel.
It was the second building to be fitted with lighting, second only to the parliament building. This drew a plethora of artists. Like moths to that light, they came and found solace; writing, reading, imbibing in the heart of the barrio de las Letras, the artist quarter of the city. It’s remained a cultural mecca. Come here to be seen.
European elite frequented en masse, especially during hunting season, this helped to propel it to a first class establishment, drawing in politicians and Spanish literati. Many greats stayed here, Clarin, Valle-Inclan and Galdos, even Virginia Woolf. History seeps from the walls.
During the Spanish Civil War, it served as a hospital. Another twist in its tale. It’s an honour to tread the floors that so many more worthy did before, immersed in a parallel world, tickets required. There was hope and passionate abandonment. Elopements were common. Spanish bullfighter El Gallito married Pastora Imperio the beautiful Spanish dancer here, in what I imagine to be in a haze of reckless debauchery.
The surrounding streets are enchanting, a melange if old and new; on one side a young artist has spray painted his thoughts on a gable wall, on the other, stonework that was leant upon by Cervantes himself. The hotel is tucked away, unassuming. You only realise you have arrived when the porter rushes to help with your luggage. A Michael Fassbender doppelgänger, very welcoming. You’ll find that throughout. A rush of assistance whenever you need it. Attention to detail is evident. They know your name before you have a chance to say ‘hello’. Ordinarily this could be slightly overbearing. Not here.
The entrance alerts you to the era you are stepping into. Wine coloured rugs, red leather chesterfields. Breathe in the leather, if you try hard enough, you may get the faint whiff of cigar. Years of hedonism embedded in the upholstery.
Flowers are essential, the scents of a hundred blooms crashing together, a welcome assault on the senses. Big, bold and beautiful. The lighting is subtle, just enough to see, but not enough to focus, that’s how you want to feel here, floating and non-committal. Best not to make any life changing decisions.
Greys, creams and oranges make for a cosy interior. Velvet is in abundance, chairs, curtains, walls. The gold pillars add a touch of Rome. The writers corner is perfectly apt, wooden bureau, old style typewriter and lamp. You could imagine Lorca making the finishing touches to a masterpiece.
The bar, LobbyTo, is startlingly elegant. It boasts a central reservation with 5 steal circular hangers, housing bottle after bottle of liqueur. This grand art deco lounge is delineated by bottles of wine. Front and centre is the rose gold Laurent Perrier. Ҁ Por que no?
As you make your way to your room, the art deco theme continues, the door number is fashioned in brass, dusky light illuminating the number.
The room is calming. A rich dark wooden table is emblazoned with the hotels name. The bed is so large it has border controls all of its own, never mind Brexit. Uplighters give a hazy hue; velvet and suede again snuggle the walls. The wardrobe has images of old style Madrid inside, the mini balcony is chic with wooden shutters, there a book on tapas by the bed.
If you listen carefully you can hear the rhythmic feet of the flamenco dancers in Cardamono Tablo Flamenco, facing the hotel, so good its recommended the New York Times.
If you prefer more reflection, claim your time back with a good book, in an armchair, by the crackling fire. Drown out the world for a short time at least, mooch through the library, it is filled with classic works of Spanish and Latin American literature, Greek and roman works.
To further your relaxation, head to the award winning spa. Its Egoiste, with a touch of Anne Semoin, France meets Spain. It is swathed in 1920’s art deco, I could see Hemingway here, if he’d ever put the glass down. Be sure to book into the private plunge pool.
LobbyTo and Lobo 8 are the restaurants and meeting points, you’ll have breakfast in Lobo 8, perhaps Virginia did? a nod to the wolf of Madrid. Hungry as a wolf is perfect for this setting, you’ll want to devour everything from the menu. Truffle infused pork, Iberian ham. Chef Willy Moya ensures he blends tradition with modernity. Breakfast starts with freshly squeezed orange juice, champagne if you so wish, you can decide upon a hardy meal of eggs or San Gines churros with sticky hot chocolate. Naughty, but nice.
Little touches well meant, fruit upon arrival, shoe shining, there’s a pillow menu, a handy phone, with free internet access, to take with you as your roam the city.
A carton of water is left by the bed every evening, alongside L’Occitane hand cream, bedtime perfection. Information on what’s on in Madrid is placed in the room, the concierge is ready and willing to help if anything catches your eye.
You don’t need to venture far though, why not take a cup of thick Spanish style hot chocolate and a handful of churros. Sit under a red cherry tree in the Plaza del Angel and watch the world go by.
This is Cervantes patch, be part of it, immerse yourself and let the rain fall, we shall wait.