Attempting to wrangle every thought I’ve entertained about a week long trip to Europe would result in my posting about it after weeks if not months passed. Instead, I’ll try to focus rather narrowly on little slices of the journey. Knowing my propensity to go on and on and on, this might also keep my posts to a digestible length for the digital age.
Home away from home: Hotel Catalonia Ramblas
We didn’t choose our Barcelona hotel. It was selected by the organizers of the conference where my husband was speaking. Sometimes, these choices are a disappointment, but something to put up with graciously. After all, I’m tagging along at little to no cost for lodging in an expensive city.
Hotel Catalonia Ramblas was not one of those disappointments. We were incredibly comfortable there as a family of three.*
Often, location is the single biggest factor in how a hotel stacks up. Hotel Catalonia Ramblas is in a prime location just two blocks from the heart of Barcelona, the Plaça de Catalunya. Leading downhill toward the Mediterranean from the Plaça is the famous La Rambla pedestrian thoroughfare.
It’s hard to beat a hotel location this close to two of the must visit sites in a city.
This is also a major shopping district. The grande dame of Spanish department stores, El Corte Inglés, is an imposing presence across the street. Which street? With more than one location near the Plaça, you can take your pick of all clothing to the south or housewares and toys, etc., to the northeast.
I saw internationally recognizable brands as well as shops with a Catalan flavor everywhere along the Carrer de Pelai, home of Hotel Catalonia Ramblas.
My bank has an agreement to waive fees with a group of other large, international financial institutions, and the ATM I needed to avoid paying fees was mere blocks away.
Two’s company; three’s a crowd?
We had what I believe was a standard room (i.e, not a suite), albeit perhaps an oversized one since it included a sofa bed for our son at one end. I know there are suites with private pools(!) available in this hotel, but I didn’t investigate any other room types.
Refer to the first paragraph: I was in residence as a beggar, not a chooser.
One entered our room from the public hallway into a short corridor with doors at both ends; the bathroom entrance opened from this corridor to one side.
The bathroom employed a frosted glass door, but the presence of the additional wooden door between the private hallway and the sleeping space meant no early morning light pollution when one family member rose early to go to work while his spouse and child lazed about for hours’ more sleep!
I dare you. Just ask my opinion of glass walls in double hotel rooms. These rooms are designed to be shared by more than one person who might have very different schedules. My thoughts aren’t positive.
Entering the bedroom from the hall, the closet separated the bathroom from the sleeping space. This no doubt added some sound insulation. I found it easy to sleep through DH’s early morning routine.
One section of the closet had shelves, including a pull out with electric kettle and instant coffee/tea things; the other two thirds offered standard hanging space. Three thick blankets and an extra pillow were at hand in the closet, proving themselves very useful as we experienced a rare run of freezing days during our week in Spain.
You might notice from my photos facing toward the closet that the pulls on the closet doors could serve as makeshift hooks; I kept our light and dark laundry bags there so my family knew where to put soiled clothes.
The main bed(s) were two oversized singles pushed together in the European fashion. I didn’t bring a tape measure, but I’d judge that each of these was closer to an American double/full size (54″ wide) than our twin (36“) beds.
This hotel makes up the beds with two or three layers of tucked in sheeting. There might be a thin (cotton?) blanket sandwiched in there, too. Romantics, take note: the tightly fitted sheets make cuddling impossible without untucking everything or squeezing into one single.
Overall, I’d consider the Hotel Catalonia Ramblas bed to be a lightly dressed one, more suitable for warm weather or employing the easy to adjust central heating to raise the ambient temperature. As I prefer heavy covers in a cool room, I made use of the extra blankets from the closet every night and slept just fine.
The oversized bed had spacious† tables at each side, thoughtfully including flexible gooseneck reading lamps with spotlight focus as well as general purpose lamps and concealed ceiling illumination above the headboard. Power (a single outlet) was only available on one side of the bed—the same side as the landline phone—and there was no clock at all.
As a fuddy duddy of advanced age, I still prefer to tell time by a clock, not my phone. Luckily, I travel with a pocket sized analog model. You’ll have to do the same if you stay here and share my preference for glancing at a clock face.
There were no drawers—in the bedside tables or elsewhere—but that tends to reduce overlooking vital items upon checkout. This omission was more than compensated for by leaving plenty of room on various surfaces for my own bags (packing cubes, etc.) to serve as temporary organization.
Beyond the bed on the same wall was the sofa bed. I prefer a setup with at least a partial wall between sections for a “family” hotel room, but beggars can’t be choosers. Again, I wish I had carried a tape measure, but I think the sofa bed was roughly queen (60″) sized. Though it was used by a child, he emphatically confirms it was a comfortable bed, with no bars poking his back or any other sofa bed perversions.
The large windows, two of which were operable for allowing in fresh air, came at the far end of the room, opposite the entrance.
Across from the sofa bed was an ample desk with available power outlets that flowed into an enclosed unit supporting the television and hiding the minibar. There was a corkscrew and an assortment of glassware—flutes, wine goblets, and tumblers—presumably for use with the contents of the minibar, but also useful for more reasonably priced beverages picked up at the Supermercado nearby.
DH’s meals were being paid for by his conference; mine were not! I tend to eat cheap, takeout suppers when I travel with my kids as we are often quite tired by evening anyway. We enjoy nice—and hearty—midday lunches in restaurants when we are wide awake and touring the town, followed by our simple dinners in our room.
A double width bench opposite the foot of the bed—ideal for convenient access to suitcases used as storage—completes the furnishings of the room.
All in all, the Hotel Catalonia Ramblas did a fantastic job of arranging this room for a comfortable stay. It was easy to find a place for everything, even with a third person sharing it. This included hiding large suitcases out of the way in the back of the closet for the duration of our visit.
If pressed to demand more, I would ask for a pair of wall hooks in the bedroom space as well as the bathroom, but that sensible addition is rare in any hotel. I prefer to hang my coat and hat separately from more intimate clothing, but I won’t ding this hotel for failing to do what few establishments do.
The bathroom was spacious and well appointed, containing a large vanity with one oversized sink, separate tub and stall shower, and commode.
Points I find worth a special mention are:
- plenty of DRY space to leave the unused towels out of water’s way,
- room for all my toiletries separate from my husband’s things around the sink,
- and two hooks inside plus another two hooks outside the shower stall for a towel and all the clothing one hopes to avoid pressing by employing steam with a generous measure of laziness.
Beyond these niceties, almost everything you could wish for was on offer. Hair dryer? Yup. Makeup mirror? Indeed, and close to the power socket for people with more complex beauty routines than mine. Extending from the wall on a hinge, you could use it to get a view of the back of your coiffure.
Toiletries included the obvious shampoos and lotions, though I found the hotel provided soap far too fragrant for our use. I stashed the stinky soap after every housekeeping visit in one of my 3-1-1 Ziploc bags; my note in English requesting no soap replenishment was either not understood or ignored, but it wasn’t so odoriferous‡ as to require a demand to the front desk to do more about it.
The shampoo was also scented, but with an interesting herbal fragrance redolent of clove. DH hated it; I brought the remaining shampoo home with me. Since I usually avoid scented products, this is noteworthy.
The toiletry array included a shoe horn, dental kit, shower cap, and a mini pack of facial tissues i.e., Kleenex. I’d forgotten this since my last visit to Spain was years ago, but, as I’d experienced at even five star Spanish hotels in the past, there was no full size box of Kleenex in the room. I bought one when we purchased snacks at the supermercado.
Spaniards may be less prone to allergies than we are, or more likely to carry a civilized linen hankie, but even their high end hotels don’t seem to stock what I see as a daily necessity. I get a sniffle every time I walk from the cold outdoors into warm air; I also have eyeglasses to clean. A family sized box of Kleenex tissues became a very silly souvenir** from Spain because, naturally, I packed the remaining ¾ box and brought them home when I left.
The Hotel Catalonia Ramblas shower deserves special accolades. I really liked its thoughtful design. Once again, frosted glass was employed for the door. Sharing the room with my husband and child, I was pleased to have that extra measure of visual privacy. Also, the corner shelf was large enough to hold at least a dozen travel sized bottles of products. No shuffling was required between users; there was plenty of room for everyone’s stuff.
A special note to caregivers: this shower would be ideal for helping a little one wash without being soaked oneself. The rain shower head kept all the water at the wet end of the roughly 3.5′ x 7′ space. There was also a hand shower for even more control. How did you get Nutella in your ear? Oh, never mind! The entire floor of the shower space would get wet, but an adult helping a child could remove only shoes and socks to step in and assist.
The plumbing itself made this work so well. Placement of the water controls at the end near the shower door—where the two interior hooks were also located—meant the water could be turned on and adjusted while staying totally dry. No icy blasts of water-not-quite-to-temperature here. Towels brought inside also stayed dry until one was was ready to use them when hung at this end of the shower stall. So did those wrinkled slacks and shirts brought in to steam.
The oversized tub was comfortable for adults, though a petite child found it too large to stay comfortably upright. He had to consciously take pains to keep his head above water if the tub was overfilled. DS recommends the hotel offer a grippy rubber bath mat to solve this problem.
There was more hot water available than we could use for two full tubs one after another. I also suspect that anti-scald limitations aren’t employed in plumbing in Spain. I had to drain off some water and add cold to avoid boiling myself when I wasn’t carefully attending to the filling of a very hot bath.
Once again, for caregivers and those who like to wash their hair in the bathtub: there’s a hand shower as well as the tub filler faucet here, too.
Breakfast was included with our conference sponsored rate. My own TripAdvisor research suggests it’s market price is fairly expensive, but I didn’t have to weigh the value. Considering the wide availability of cafes in this Barcelona neighborhood and my tendency to eat lightly first thing in the morning, I probably wouldn’t have purchased the hotel buffet every day, but big eaters might make a different call.
With that said, we enjoyed the buffet. Someone who likes a hearty breakfast will find what she needs at the Hotel Catalonia Ramblas. In addition to a standard continental spread of cold meats, cheeses, fruits, and breads, eggs and omelets were available cooked to order. There might have been more—I had more than I needed without troubling to inquire.
My own top request for a perfect morning is the availability of a decent espresso. A self-serve Nespresso machine is on offer here to meet that need, as well as the more popular insulated pots of warmed milk for café con leche. I have yet to be served bad coffee anywhere in Spain.
My son took most of the photos of the breakfast buffet. It’s not your eyes; they are a little blurry. He wants me to make special mention of the excellent cheese. It’s too bad they didn’t have labels displaying precisely what was on offer, because he’s still waxing rhapsodic about Spanish manchego over a month later.
Also of great import to a child’s review of breakfast, they do have hot chocolate and churros every morning. You should try this typical Spanish snack in a good cafe at some point, because the hotel’s chocolate was not as thick and decadent as that we found in specialty shops, but it was a yummy daily treat nonetheless.
Of greater interest to people with restricted diets, I took note of the dedicated gluten free table. With a close relative who has celiac disease, we are always aware of the effort required to find safe food to eat outside the home. Spain, or at least the area around Barcelona, is clearly aware of this important medical issue, and the Hotel Catalonia Ramblas is a case in point.
Lobby, pool, and other facilities
Reception and the lobby were what I expect from a nice hotel. We never had to wait long to speak to someone. Checking in and out were quick, efficient processes. There was comfortable seating near the entrance and in little alcoves along the rather long, somewhat winding reception hallway back to the bar and then on to the guest rooms. When we needed a taxi, there was a doorman ready to hail one immediately.
We did end up storing our passports in the hotel’s safe. There was a safe in our room, but its locking mechanism was broken. While maintenance came right away to address the problem, a new part was required and took another day to remedy. I didn’t bother to retrieve our documents immediately after the in room safe was fixed; it was easier to leave them locked up with the front desk. Everything was returned to me when we left, exactly as it should have been.
There was a bar between the front entrance lobby and the elevator to our room. We never made use of it, and it seemed only lightly used during the day, but the friendly bartenders never failed to smile and greet us as we walked by. There was always a cake of the day on display here, but I managed to resist these frequent temptations.
The Hotel Catalonia Ramblas is one of those larger hotels with several elevators accessing different parts of the multifaceted building. Not every elevator could access every part of the hotel. I didn’t find this particularly confusing, but it is worth listening to the instructions given at check in for finding the right lift.
My son insists that I comment upon the awesome wall covering used in the guest elevators at the hotel. It was more like tile than wallpaper, though it felt like it might be some kind of resin, not ceramic. Whatever it was, the boy loved it and pointed it out on every ride to and from our room.
The pool and its patio looked very pretty. We had a nice view of them from our room. It was too cold to even consider an outdoor swim during our visit. I saw no sign stating that the pool was closed, but I also never saw anyone go near the water all week.
We did see a few guests and perhaps employees enjoying a drink or chat together on the terrace when the sun shone. The sound of voices could be heard in our third floor room with the windows open, but it was a generally peaceful view during a winter stay.
My son and I took an exploratory ramble up and down all the stairs we could find on our first jet-lagged afternoon. We passed by the spa entrance open to users 14 and up and the conference rooms which are near the breakfast restaurant. We never ate in the hotel’s Pelai restaurant or exercised in the gym, but those facilities were also on offer. We were much too busy enjoying the rest of Barcelona to spend much additional time in the hotel’s common areas.
We did try room service once, and the service was quick and the food as good as it typically is in foodie paradise Barcelona. The room service menu was not particularly extensive, though we all found options we were interested in trying. The hamburger proved too “European” in flavor for my husband’s preference, and everything was too expensive for me to humor my child more than once, so the rest of our meals were taken in local restaurants and cafes which offered more variety at every price point.
Finally, I want to comment again on the generally great service at Hotel Catalonia Ramblas. From the front desk to the breakfast room, housekeeping staff to maintenance man, we received warm, competent service with a smile. I can’t think of a single customer service mistake during our visit to this comfortable, well-located, modern hotel in the heart of the city.
I didn’t choose this hotel, but I would definitely consider it for a future visit to Barcelona. I recommend it for both business travelers and families.
*Regular readers are aware that I have two children. Shockingly enough, one of my kids opted to stay home. He’s a teen, so I let him make this choice for himself, though I think it was a crazy one. Never fear: his paternal grandparents live downstairs, and his maternal grandparents had already flown in for an extended holiday visit so he was well supervised in my absence.
†Fashion be damned, I want room for a stack of books, my Tom Bihn Packing Cube Shoulder Bag full of sleep and comfort essentials, and my Red Oxx Travel Tray. My charging iPhone and iPad will end up balanced atop all of this somewhere. I failed to bring a tape measure, but I’d guess these bedside tables were a solid 24″ x 18″ at least.
‡I’ve come to terms with the fact that many people—fancily done up women and Europeans in particular—just can’t grasp the concept of how foul perfumes smell to a chemically sensitive person like me. It’s not that I’m allergic to a scent that is actually pleasant (like someone with celiac might miss eating bread); instead, strong floral perfumes are redolent of toxic chemical funk in my nostrils. They smell like “migraine headache” to me!
**One more weird thing you get to learn about me: when hotels use other brands of facial tissue, I often purchase my own box of Kleenex. I have yet to find another brand that is as soft to avoid irritating my sensitive skin. About a decade ago, Kleenex had a product that was made with some recycled content, but remained just as soft as standard tissues; I complained to the company when they discontinued those. I don’t want to cut down trees to manage my sinus issues, but I have yet to find a suitable alternative that doesn’t require access to laundry facilities.