|by Budget Travel||Europe, Spain, Barcelona, Madrid, Hotels||16|
Thanks to a vibrant design culture and growing tourism industry, Spain now has some of the best boutique hotels on the continent—including a recent wave of hotel chains that’s making chic accommodations affordable.
The real estate boom has been a key factor. Spying the potential, many entrepreneurs snapped up 19th-century residential buildings and converted them. Gat, a trailblazer, operates two hotels in Barcelona’s Raval, a multicultural neighborhood just off Las Ramblas. Both feature abstract art, acid green walls, and stylishly minimalist furniture. Book weeks in advance for the Xino (more appealing than sister hotel, the Raval). All its rooms have private baths, and you can admire the city skyline from the rooftop terrace (doubles from €70 ($110)).
The Room Mate chain is multiplying rapidly, with branches in Granada, Madrid, Malaga, Oviedo, Salamanca, Valencia, and counting. (It first caught our attention last year.) But don’t think chain-like conformity. Each property, named after an imagined roommate, has its own personality, as interpreted by a crew of hot young interior designers.
In Madrid, book Room Mate Alicia, a cultured, original, and slightly edgy creature, according to the owners. Near major museums, the hotel’s light-filled, airy rooms are stylish without going overboard on showy design elements. Ask for one that looks out over Santa Ana, the city’s hottest ‘hood (doubles from €100 ($157)).
Hot is regularly used to describe Madrid these days—and not just in reference to the climate. Finally stealing some of the limelight from Barcelona, Spain’s capital is going through a renaissance in food, design, and counterculture. Visiting creative types head for fashionable Chueca and check in to Colors Host, decorated in a chromatic riot of shades. Book rooms 1, 2, 10, or 11 for an enclosed balcony overlooking Calle Fuencarral (doubles from €45 euros ($71)).
At the other end of the spectrum, the Analina Rooms offers tastefully modernist brown-and-white interiors and breakfast next door at Maestro Churrero, a café famous for the quintessential Spanish snack, chocolate con churros (doubles from €65 ($102)).
—Suzanne Wales, reporting from Barcelona