Large hotel buildings are synonymous with luxury. In a continuous flow of customers, they are usually among the best-known buildings in their cities, next to cathedrals, former colleges or old fortresses. It is no coincidence that the image that their guests receive depends to a large extent on their stay. They are also places where major festivals, events and celebrations are held. Resisting the passing of the decades or rising from the ashes, the most iconic hotels in Spain continue attending to those who can afford to pay for one of their rooms.
The Westin Palace was the best hotel in Spain when it opened on Spain’s National Day in 1912. At that time the greatest competition came from the Ritz and the now closed Hotel París, in the Plaza de Sol. It was designed by the Belgian hotel magnate George Marquet at the request of Alfonso XIII. From the beginning it included individual bathrooms and an internal telephone service among its initial features. Two services that today are taken for granted in which it was a pioneer. The location where it was built was key to its immediate success. Next to the Neptuno fountain, Sol, the Retiro, Gran Vía, Cibeles, the Barrio de las Letras, etc. are all within a stone’s throw…
Another element that made it unique was the material used to build it. Reinforced concrete was a risky alternative due to its novelty, but the works went smoothly and the building’s resistance has been more than proven. The ground floor was also defined as a very entertaining space from the moment it opened. La Brasserie was a tavern that brought together great minds among its imported beers. With a continuous readaptation through the times, it has not stopped being a hotel and gastronomic reference in the capital of Spain.
The origins of the Marbella Club, one of the emblematic hotels in Spain, on the Costa del Sol are closely associated with the highest circles. The German Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe-Langenburg decided in the 1950s to create a complex in the surroundings of the private residence of his father, Prince Max. They had come to the site on the recommendation of his relative, Ricardo Soriano Marquis of Ivanroe. With these precedents, success was assured.
Since it opened its doors in 1954 it has been a centre of reference for the high nobility. The parties were combined with activities such as donkey riding or eating Spanish tortilla. Entertainments that were very exotic for the aristocracy and the world jet set. Over time, the 20 rooms were expanded to the current complex. It has bars, restaurants and 55 suites. In the heart of Marbella‘s golden mile, Puerto Banús and the old town are just a stone’s throw away. Great beaches such as Manilva are also nearby.
Anyone who visits Barcelona for a few days must walk along the Paseo de Gracia, full of modernist houses, and any walk along this street must stop at the Hotel Majestic. Its building has a neoclassical style that draws its inspiration from the neighbouring country. It was first opened in 1918. Since then it has been closely linked to art and culture. For example, in 1935 García Lorca stayed there for months in preparation for the premiere of Doña Rosita la Soltera in Barcelona. It is also known for its great art gallery and its exhibitions, which attract a large number of painting enthusiasts. Miró, Picasso and various members of European royalty have also used its rooms.
In the Bella Easo awaits another of the most iconic hotels in Spain. The work to raise this key example of San Sebastian‘s belle époque lasted from 1909 to 1912. Charles Mewès was the architect in charge of designing it. At the same time, the Victoria Eugenia theatre was built, promoted by the same company that promoted the María Cristina. Next to the Concha promenade, near the gastronomic old town and the Urumea, it forms the nerve centre of Donostia.
Both theatre and hotel have had intertwined destinies. Thus, following the creation of the San Sebastian Film Festival, Hollywood stars joined the clientele of the María Cristina. Despite the change of the venue of the event to the Kursaal, the main attendees of the film festival continue to stay at the century-old building in San Sebastian.
By far the oldest venue on this list is the Posada del Peine. This Madrid hotel managed to survive a partial closure after more than three centuries of existence. Its history spans from 1610 to the 1960s. Although it managed to survive the rise of the Ritz and the Palace, it finally had to close. This change of focus at the beginning of the 20th century caused it to lose its preponderance. Until then, it was the reference point for anyone visiting the capital.
However, in 2006 it was rescued by the Petit Palace group. The current premises are the same as the one that closed, with several floors as a result of successive refurbishments and extensions. However, the number of rooms has been greatly reduced to adapt the space to the current concept of comfort. Thanks to this, this centrally located hotel, next to the spectacular Plaza Mayor, is once again an institution that is part of Madrid’s cultural heritage.
The location this building, one of the most iconic hotels in Spain, is one of its greatest assets. It is surrounded by the Plaza de España with its fountains, the María Luisa Park, the Royal Tobacco Factory and the Reales Alcázares. An ideal setting, close to the cathedral, in which it has prospered since it opened in 1928. Seville and Barcelona share the fact that they both hosted major international exhibitions during the first third of the 20th century. As a result, their architectural heritage grew considerably. For example, this historic building was built as a result of the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929.
The monarch after whom it is named was closely involved in the construction of the building and attended its opening. Both the exterior and the interior rooms mix Mudejar and regional Andalusian elements. The result is an ensemble with details reminiscent of great Andalusian monuments, such as the Mosque of Cordoba. Diana, princess of Wales, has been one of its most famous guests.
Like the Posada de Peine, the Gran Hotel La Florida knows what it is like to have closed. In fact, its history is rather patchy. Its sober building dates back to the mid-20th century, when it first opened. The promoter of the business was Salvador Andreu Grau, a Catalan pharmacist and philanthropist. He chose Mount Tibidabo as the construction site, in what is now the Natural Park of the Collserola mountain range.
Unfortunately, the Civil War brought its activity to a halt until 1950. Then it experienced its golden age. The rich people of Barcelona considered it a reference point for family tourism. The proximity of the famous Tibidabo amusement park helped to complement the stays at the resort. It was also chosen by film stars such as James Stewart and Rock Hudson. However, it declined again and closed in 1979. Its latest revival began in 2001, with an extensive refurbishment that means it now even has a spa.
César Ritz was one of the most famous hoteliers in history. He himself supervised the construction of what is still today one of the most iconic hotels in Spain. As in the case of the María Cristina, George Mewès was the chosen architect. The great figure of the opening, in 1910, was Alfonso XIII. As we have seen in previous cases, it is clear that the monarch was the great driving force behind the great Spanish hotels of the early 20th century.
Although there were places like the aforementioned Hotel París or the Posada del Peine, there was a lack of a top luxury option in the capital. That is why the Ritz Madrid was allowed to rise. However, it met with opposition from the city council due to its dimensions, which did not comply with municipal regulations.
Shortly after the Palace was finished, its owner took over the Ritz. For decades they would remain in the same hands. Its fame was based on its strict etiquette and a classic concept of luxury. It was also a priority place of residence for international dignitaries and figures visiting Madrid. Mata Hari, Himmler, Fleming and Ava Gardner are just a sample of its exclusive clientele over the years. Its last major refurbishment dates from 2018/2020.
It is time to return to the north to continue our review of the most iconic hotels in Spain. The Hotel Real de Santander has the honour of being one hundred years old. In 1917 it began a successful career in which it has become the great Santander reference in the hotel sector. Located high up, well connected by the A-8, it overlooks the bay at a midpoint between the Magdalena Palace and the old town. It has a beautiful garden where roses predominate. In addition, the protected beach of the dangers awaits at its feet.
The king who gave his name to the hotel was Alfonso XIII, who, together with his wife Victoria Eugenia, visited the Cantabrian city every summer from 1913 to 1939. Once the Dama Blanca, the building’s nickname, was raised, it was his favourite place. This was enough to attract high society. The effect was not lost over the years, with the Botín family being one of the last patrons of the completed restoration process.
In the heart of the Costa Brava, near Sant Feliu de Guíxols, lies a very luxurious resort: S’Agaró. Rafael Masó, an architect, was the main designer of the luxury development. The style chosen was known as noucentisme, associated with the avant-garde. Meanwhile, the money was provided by the Ensesa family. The project took shape during the 1920s.
What were two independent chalets were transformed into the Gavina hostel. Although it was inaugurated in 1932, it had already been in use for three years as a luxury hotel. Three successive renovations made it possible to go from two separate structures to the large hotel that has survived to the present day. Thanks to the peculiar result and the art deco interiors, it managed to differentiate itself and triumph among the Catalan high bourgeoisie. Subsequently, celebrities also fell for the charms of this hotel in the province of Girona, with such high-profile names as Robert de Niro and Elizabeth Taylor.
Back in Barcelona, the Palace was one of the first major hotels to be planned in the city. César Ritz received the commission, which came from a society of Barcelona investors including Eusebio Güell. In the minds of this group, led by Francesc Cambó, was the Universal Exhibition of 1929. However, the works took several years to complete due to the complicated social atmosphere that prevailed. The direct inspiration for this building was the Palace and Ritz in Madrid. Its location was the Gran Vía de Les Corts Catalanes, in the Eixample.
During the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera another of the most iconic hotels in Spain enjoyed great years; thanks to the regular presence of Alfonso XIII. It fared worse during the Civil War, when it was taken over by trade unions and collectivised. It was on the point of becoming an administrative headquarters, but managed to hold out. Once the conflict was over, it gradually took flight and consolidated itself as a reference point. Its last major refurbishment was in 2017, when it included a beautiful garden. As a curiosity, until 2005 its name was the Ritz Hotel, but due to rights reasons it had to become the Palace.