Apparently, Miguel Cervantes frequented the neighbourhood back in the day, which explains why the hotel’s interior walls are dotted with illustrations of his characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
No windmills for them to tilt at here, only sails. We’re on a spot overlooking Port Vell, the marina with its sunny bustle of people, rows of white yachts, sparkling blue water and gently breeze-blown palm trees.
This part of Catalonia’s capital is an area that would have been unrecognisable even 30 years past. Faded sepia photographs in the hotel lobby show how the surroundings looked when Barcelona “lived with its back to the sea”, a city embarrassed by its seafront, much as Panza might have been by Quixote.
The 1992 Olympic games changed everything for the better, ushering in a wave of redevelopment and gentrification, and providing the city with a new jewel.
Budget or boutique?
This is a cool, calm and sophisticated 40-room, four-star hotel with a friendly personality all of its own. It’s recently joined top chef Alain Ducasse’s Chateaux & Hotel collection of “charming hotels and gourmet restaurants”.
Staying in such a bustling, sunny city, most guests won’t want to spend too much time indoors, but the Hotel Duquesa de Cardona does a good job of providing distraction. Our Deluxe room’s window directly overlooks the marina. The styling is contemporary and cool, without being stark, with a large comfy bed and a sofa by the window to spread out on while sipping a preprandial cava or three.
The hotel has recently had quadruple glazing installed, so the rooms are also cocoon-quiet despite being slap-bang in the heart of things.
The staff are genuinely warm and happily multilingual. They’re also great advocates for their hometown with advice on activities and attractions.
Worth getting out of bed for
The main problem with a Barcelona short break is that there’s almost too much choice. From Gaudi to Joan Miro and Picasso, football to contemporary art, there’s something for everyone. Many attractions are within walking distance of Hotel Duquesa. We strolled along the waterfront for a visit to the aquarium and spent an afternoon with sharks, stingrays and other creatures from the deep. If you want to get a little closer to the water (but avoid the sharks) then the beach is just a little further away on foot, offering a long stretch of golden sand to bask on.
Head inland behind the hotel and you’re into the Barri Gotic, Barca’s historic old town, packed with sufficient bars, cafés, shops and museums to occupy a year’s worth of city breaks. We popped in off the famous La Rambla for a guided tour of the city’s opera house, the majestic Gran Teatre del Liceu, before heading home via the foodie paradise that is the Boqueria market.
Wining and dining
There are almost too many cafés and restaurants in the surrounding streets and alleyways. Which to choose? Dining out means prying yourself away from sunbathing on the rooftop terrace, so you might not want to bother. A few steps away from the hotel’s own loungers and plunge pool is La Terrassa del Duquesa, the hotel’s own cocktail bar and restaurant serving Catalan and Iberian specialities, much of them grilled right there on the BBQ.
We do, however, manage to venture out one night and stumble upon the rather excellent Sensi Tapas, at Carrer Ample 26.
Breakfast is served downstairs in cool marble surroundings. It’s a continental self-service buffet with hot and cold offerings. More than enough sustenance to keep Don Quixote fuelled for a full day of windmill tilting, and sufficient coffee to rouse him from the merriment of the night before.
A cool glass of sparkling cava on arrival soon soothes away the stress of the journey.
We found the Hotel Duquesa friendly and welcoming. It’s luxury on a budget and a fantastic location, with the best of Barcelona on the doorstep.
• Rooms from 165 euros per night (excluding breakfast). Hotel Duquesa De Cardona Barcelona, Passeig Colom 12; +34 932 689 090, www.chateauxhotels.com