Old Oct 14, 09, 1:25 am
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DavidO
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Berkeley, CA
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The Luxury Hotels of Spain and Portugal - site inspections

LISBON

Hotel Ritz Four Seasons

This hotel is located in the heart of Lisbon, overlooking the Parque Eduardo VII. An easy walk from the major downtown street, Avenida ad Liberdade, the Four Seasons is ideally situated for easy access to shopping and sightseeing.

Built in 1959, the Ritz is a ten-story hotel with 282 guest rooms and suites, a large hotel by Four Seasons standards. Rooms are spacious (484 square feet for Superior and Deluxe rooms) with large marble bathrooms that include a large soaking tub, step-in shower, and dual sinks. Deluxe rooms are on the south side of the building overlooking the Park, while Superior rooms are 5th floor and above on the north side with city views. Moderate rooms, slightly smaller, are found on the lower floors on the north side. Junior suites are large (721 square feet) - although because of the unusual configuration of the rooms, the extra space is not really useful. 1 BR Suites (968 sq. ft) with separate LR and BR are found in the middle of each floor. I was told that Superior rooms upgrade to Deluxe 99% of the time. With relatively few suites, upgrades into them is not likely, although the hotel can sometimes double-upgrade from a Deluxe to an Imperial Suite.

The Imperial Suite is the place to be. Located on the southwest corner of the building, its LR overlooks both the Park and the River while the BR has a Park view. The suite is large and beautiful.

There is a great exercise facility on the roof of the hotel. A glass enclosed exercise room provides expansive views of Lisbon with an outdoor track around the roof. They serve a fitness breakfast buffet in this facility as well.

The Concierge staff was helpful and efficient with restaurant recommendations and reservations.

Lapa Palace

The Lapa Palace is set on a hilltop in an elegant residential neighborhood of Lisbon, surrounded by upscale homes including the residences of many foreign ambassadors to Portugal. It is set around a large garden with an outdoor infinity pool. If you want to be in the center of the action, choose FS. But if you want a garden oasis, Lapa Palace would be a great choice.

Rooms are large and attractive - 430 square feet - though not as large as at the Four Seasons. Guests booking through Virtuoso receive an upgrade at booking. Originally built in 1870 as a private residence, the old wing of the hotel contains the lobby, restaurant, Signature Rooms (which are available in both Louis XV or Art Deco style), as well as some impressive suites. The new wing is a five-story addition that contains most of the guest rooms. Pool and Garden rooms are on the lower floors and River View rooms on the higher floors. Behind this wing is a new building containing Villa Rooms (a bit more spacious than the Pool/Garden/River rooms with larger bathrooms) and Suites, as well as the hotel's spa. All bathrooms have dual vanities and step-in showers.

There is a particularly good set of Virtuoso amenities including upgrade at time of booking, full American Breakfast daily (already included in the rates), complimentary parking, and (for guests staying 3 nights) complimentary round-trip airport transfers and a complimentary 3-course la carte dinner.


MADRID

Westin Palace Hotel

Built, in 1912, the Palace Hotel is a large, 468 room hotel, beautifully located in the heart of the tourist attractions of Madrid. The impressive marble lobby creates the atmosphere for your stay. Deluxe rooms have Queen beds with a courtyard view (quiet). Premier Rooms are about 5 sqm larger and offer beautiful views of the fountain and circle in front of the hotel. Executive rooms are the same size as Premier but without the view; they offer late 4 p.m. checkout, breakfast, free shoe shine service, express laundry, and free internet and pay TV. Junior Suites are extremely nice, 58 sqm — and come in a choice of King, Queen, or Twin beds. The "58" series are particularly nice with a small living room along with a bedroom; trade-off between a slightly larger BR and a powder room. Finally, the "36" Executive Suite is a real Wow.

You can request guestrooms with either a Tub or a Step-in Shower (but not both). Double vanities are found throughout the property.

Hotel Villa Real, a block away from the Palace Hotel, is a small, 115 room boutique property with very contemporary styling. A member of Small Luxury Hotels, standard rooms are small - just 31 sqm - but they offer real value with a room rate of approximately 150€. Rooms feature hardwood floors and a queen bed - but are quite narrow. Rooms are on two levels. The hallway leads past the bath (dual vanities in the bathroom but a shower in the tub) into the bedroom, then down a couple of steps to the sitting area. Fifth floor rooms are Duplex, with both Standard and Large versions (the Large is double-width).

The owner of the Derby Hotels collection has an extensive art collection, and a number of Roman mosaics are found throughout the Villa Real.

Hotel Urban, also a member of the Derby Collection, is a couple of blocks away from Villa Real. Featuring bold, contemporary architecture, rates are about 40€ greater than at Villa Real. I was shown a king-bedded suite with a glass enclosed bathroom, sleeping area, and sitting area. Size is about 50 sqm. Floors are dark wood with pink marble bathrooms. African art is seen throughout this property. (Not Virtuoso).

Hotel Ritz Madrid

An historic property built in 1910 at the direction of King Alfonso XIII, the Ritz is right next door to the Prado Museum - and across the plaza from the Westin Palace (which the Ritz originally built in 1912). A small, elegant hotel operated by Orient Express, the Ritz has just 137 rooms and 30 suites. Guests can expect a superior level of service. Example: like the Palace, the Ritz has two concierges on duty, but they serve the needs of approximately 1/3 the number of guests. We experienced the need to wait for a concierge at the Palace but were able to walk right up and get our questions answered at the Ritz by both concierges.

We were able to view a Classic Room, a Deluxe Room, as well as a One Bedroom Deluxe Suite. The rooms we saw had twin vanities, tubs, and step-in showers - but as every room in the hotel is shaped and furnished uniquely, you should make your preferences known to your travel consultant. We heard that the Ritz will close next year for a 12-18 month total renovation. Presently very elegant but a bit tired, the Ritz should emerge from its renovation a stunning and up-to-date luxury hotel.

Hotel Villa Magna

Located in the shopping district of Madrid, Hotel Villa Magna is in a good area for nightlife with many restaurants and bars in the vicinity. The hotel itself underwent a complete renovation, reopening in January 2009. With 100 rooms and 50 suites, it is a beautiful hotel with a classic contemporary feel. I saw four rooms — Deluxe, Prestige, Jr. Suite, and Executive Suite. Rooms come in two different color schemes, one using cool, neutral colors — tan, beige, and plum — with the other using a white and dark brown color motif. Personal preference: I liked the tan, beige, and plum styling. The rooms feature "mirrored" flat screen televisions and marble bathrooms. The lead-in Deluxe room is about 350 square feet while the Prestige room is about 450 square feet. If at all possible, Virtuoso guests get upgraded to a Prestige - which features walk-in rain shower, full tub, and dual vanities. (All rooms except Deluxe have walk-in showers). The Junior suite has a separate bedroom and living room section … while Executive Suites provide sliding pocket doors between the BR and LR.


SEVILLE

Alfonso XIII

Built in 1929 as a hotel, Alfonso XIII is a visually stunning property located in the heart of the tourist area of Seville. Upon entering our room, we were struck with its elegance — 12 foot ceilings, padded silk wall coverings, marble floors, canopied bed, antique furniture, and a dual vanity bathroom with very interesting copper-colored tiles. However, at this point, the accolades stop and the criticisms must begin. Although this Starwood Luxury Collection property is a 5-star hotel, it does not offer 5-star service. (It is not Virtuoso). There was no welcome amenity and just a pre-printed "Dear Guest" card in two languages — albeit a small thing but, in conjunction with the rest of this property's shortcomings, paradigmatic of a lack of attention to guest services. We had reserved a King-bedded room but were given a room with two twin beds … the most uncomfortable bed in which I have ever tried to sleep. Both mattresses sagged and were rock hard, so that spending time in bed was genuinely painful.

I had the misfortune, while at this property, to catch a 24-hour virus and spent a complete day in bed - the painful, sagging, rock-hard bed. My partner told the front desk that I wasn't feeling well and asked if the mattresses could be replaced. The only response was to send up two housekeepers who put a bedboard under the mattress. No one got in touch to ask if it made the bed comfortable. No one asked if I was feeling better. No one inquired if there was anything they could do to make my stay more pleasant. Five-star service is proactive; this hotel was indifferent.

We also asked, on two different occasions, to be provided with softer, thinner pillows. They kept sending up the same thick, uncomfortable pillows.

What about the buffet breakfast? Similar buffet breakfasts were served at FS Lisbon and Westin Madrid where waiters poured freshly squeezed orange juice and filled our drinking glasses with mineral water. At Alfonso XIII? Everything was self-service from the buffet, and the orange juice was bitter.

Alfonso XIII did none of the small things well, and I would not recommend this hotel to guests seeking a 5-star experience.


GRENADA

AC Santo Paula

This hotel is a very tasteful mixture of old and new. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World (but not Virtuoso), AC Santo Paula is located on the main street running through Granada, a few blocks from the cathedral. The lobby is a very attractive contemporary space with beautiful shades of muted peaches and greens. The older part of the hotel, in the back of the house, has been converted from an old monastery and from an old Moorish house.

Amenities include complimentary mini-bar, free WiFi in the lobby, and an addictive chocolate welcome gift.

The Standard lead-in rooms are in the contemporary section at the front of the house, overlooking a busy and noisy street. We stayed in a Superior Room in the old convent section, overlooking a central courtyard with fountain. Our room was cozy but adequate, about 320 square feet, with very high ceilings, hardwood floors, contemporary furnishings, a fabulously comfortable bed and a perfect pillow (see above). The bathroom had terra-cotta tiles in the floors; somewhat small, it nonetheless had dual vanities (a unique glass counter with two sinks) and shower in the tub (but at least a glass shower door). The one major drawback… the bathroom door is glass and faces the bed directly. The bathroom lights are either off or full on, making it impossible to turn on the lights at night without their shining directly on the still sleeping occupant of the bed. It's a perfect room for a single traveler, though. (We unscrewed the ten lights on either side of the mirror, which should ameliorate the situation when using the bathroom in the middle of the night).

We were also shown a Junior Suite in the old Moorish house. This architectural style featured small windows (to keep out the heat) and low ceilings, and thus the rooms in this part of the hotel are darker but larger. The door of the suite opens into a sitting area with a desk and sofa. This space connects to a bedroom on the left and to the bathroom straight ahead. While spaces were a bit broken up, the problem of the bathroom lights shining directly onto the bed is not present here.

Hospes Palacio de los Patos

Hospes is a Spanish hotel chain that specializes in purchasing old homes and converting them into boutique hotels. It has nine properties in Spain and one in France (Hotel Lancaster in Paris).

Palacio de los Patos is located in the downtown area of Granada on a busy shopping and commercial street. There are 20 rooms in the old palace and an additional 22 lead-in Standard Rooms (which they call Dreamer Rooms) in the new section, built over the old stables. The two sections of the property are connected through a small garden with fountains as well as by an underground walkway.

While the old Palace wing preserves the traditional features of the renovated 19th century house (including a marble staircase, 16 foot ceilings on the first floor and 12 foot ceilings on the second floor), the furnishings and bathrooms are extremely avante garde. Most of the rooms feature the original white tile floors and elaborate carved wooden ceilings with painted insets. We saw two Deluxe Room, one of which was quite small. More interesting was an octagonally-shaped Junior Suite in the former Winter Living Room of the residence; it used a room divider to create an entry space in the front third of the room and a sleeping and living space in the back two-thirds of the room. The Presidential Suite was very large, 72 sqm with separate living and sleeping areas, but the suite seemed rather long and narrow. Bathrooms featured single vanities in Deluxe Rooms and double vanities in the suite categories. The Suites we were shown had separate walk-in showers in additional to a soaking tub, and we are told that some Deluxe rooms also have step-in showers; these rooms can be requested.

The Dreamer Rooms in the new building are even more avante garde. Each room is rectangular with glass walls dividing the sleeping and the bathroom areas of the living space. South-facing, they are extremely bright during the day.

While the contemporary design of the new wing and renovation of the Palace have won a number of awards, this hotel would only appeal to a select clientele who would appreciate its unique style.

I had lunch in the hotel's restaurant and especially enjoyed their tapas; the baby squid in their own ink was a wonderful meal, and I can totally recommend having lunch or dinner at Palacio de los Patos, even if you may wish to stay elsewhere. The property is graced by a talented and creative chef.

Last edited by DavidO; Oct 14, 09 at 1:54 am
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