You know you’ve arrived in Madrid when you find your car swirling around the majestic Fountain of Cibeles roundabout and can’t resist admiring Cybele, the Phrygian goddess in her chariot pulled by two lions with spumes of water all around her. It’s amazing to think that the iconic statue, a well-known symbol of the Spanish capital, was built in 1782 during the reign of Charles III. Fascinated by the magnificent figure, I almost wanted to go around again. However no time to lose – there was a brand new luxe hotel to discover very nearby.
Within seconds I was on Gran Via, the main artery that flows with the very life blood of Madrid, the street that never sleeps, the street that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, with fabulous 1910s and 1920s architecture, and a name that gives me flashbacks to “Gran Via productions” street-sign logo seen at the end of every episode of Breaking Bad.
Here at Gran Via 2, on the corner with Calle Marqués de Valdeiglesias 1, you will find the new kid on the Spanish capital’s five-star hotel block. The Principal Madrid is brand new, but the building itself opened its doors as a residential property for well-heeled Madrileños almost 100 ago, in 1917. Now it is the proud home of the luxurious Principal Madrid.
First impressions count
The second your car pulls up to the door, as if by magic bellboys in elegant black suits wearing soft white cotton gloves, just like the ones I use to handle negatives, run out, open the boot and carefully take out your luggage, disappearing up a short flight of stairs behind heavy velvet curtains. I am very partial to a theatrical entrance; it makes arriving so much more of an occasion.
As we walked up the stairs, I admired the oil paintings adorning the entrance, with their ornate thick gold frames – portraits of noble Spanish men and woman from a bygone age. The bell boy accompanied us to a seamless check in on the 6th floor, where two glasses of chilled cava awaited with eye-level skyline views.
My abode for the next 24 hours was room 401.
The window from our room looked like a framed landscape of Madrid, with the Iconic Metropolis building built in 1907 by architects Jules and Raymond Février and the Círculo de Bellas Artes both almost close enough to touch.
This is Madrid – the windows are sound proofed, but you could actually open them, something I long for in many hotels. Living on the Mediterranean I often crave the “white noise” of a city. Oh yes, the grass is occasionally greener! I found myself opening the window, listening and contrasting it with the silence within the hotel. Oh, I do love a city fix.
I love to spot the details – a selection of sharpened pencils, own-branded sweeties and in the mini bar not-too-exorbitant price tags, expresso machine and tea-making facilities, proper coathangers, Gilchrist and Soames amenities – the ones with the really wide openings, no more squeezing tiny bottles through pinhole tops. I do like their logo – clean and simple, understated. There was also a quality black shoebox with a lid to send your shoes for commentary shining – a nice touch; apps to guide you around the city and free downloadable national and international newspapers; the “Do Not Disturb” signage.
The hotel had only been open for three weeks and had that new-car, new-hotel smell; you really felt like you were the first one in. The place was impeccable.
The dining and the views
The hotel’s menu was created by Ramón Freixa (2 Michelin stars) and the great thing is that wherever you dine you have panoramic views to the capital.
As a photographer, the constantly-changing light and the Goddess on top of the Metropolis building, installed in 1975, had me mesmerised.
The rooftop, with 360-degree multi-level views, solarium area, and chill-out zone with signature cocktails and DJ mixes, will come into its own in the summer months.
The Principal Madrid.
With only 76 very comfortable rooms and a cosy lounge with plenty of reading material, it’s almost like a private club; a perfect base to explore the capital on foot and a glorious bird’s eye vantage point for photographers.