Barcelona - Cracks are starting to show in Barcelona.
Not in any of the Gaudi facades, but in the relationship between the city’s 1.6 million inhabitants and the visitors that descend upon them from cruise ships and cheap Ryanair flights, seeking a break in the sun.
The old city, Ciutat Vella, has lost tens of thousands of residents in the past year as apartments are turned into holiday flats to bring in cash. Citizens elected a new mayor in 2015, Ada Colau, with a mandate to stem the building of new hotels and holiday apartments.
Enter Casa Bonay, a hotel made for the people of Barcelona. It's the opposite end of the spectrum from the walled luxury of brands such as W, Mandarin Oriental and Renaissance that have sprouted here in the past decade to accommodate swelling tourist numbers of almost 10 million a year.
The hotel is set within a converted 1869 apartment building and opened its doors to guests this year. We meet Lara Monset, general manager, in the interior marble spiral staircase, bathed in natural light and dotted with succulents in terracotta pots. “Normally when a hotel opens somewhere it is not a place for local people. We want this to be a place where people in Barcelona want to go,” she says.
Passersby might not even realise this is a hotel. Below its 67 rooms, two shop fronts flank the entrance to the staircase where Lara speaks to me. Satan’s – a craft coffee shop – and cold-pressed-juice company Mother’s share the shop on the left, which is just as likely to be filled with locals reading the paper as hotel guests buying a flat white before heading out to explore the city.
On the right, a pop-up called TÊT serves Vietnamese lunches of barbecued pork and deep-fried spring rolls. At night, the restaurant Elephant, Crocodile, Monkey takes over. Chef Estanislao Carenzo specialises in small plates, regional ingredients and natural wines. It’s quiet when we visit on a Monday save for another couple, who come in off the street speaking Catalan.
Casa Bonay is situated on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, in the Eixample district. Turn right out of the hotel and you will come to Parc de la Ciutadella, with its magnificent fountains and the city zoo. Gaudí’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, is just 15 minutes’ walk north. Take a left and you will come to Plaça de Catalunya, which was once home to the city’s Occupy movement. It is now a sanitised open square funnelling tourists down Las Ramblas.
Though it is home to many businesses, the thing that unites Casa Bonay is impeccable design. Co-owner Inés Miró-Sans collaborated with Brooklyn-based design company Studio Tack to restore the building to its former glory. On the upper floors, lino floors were painstakingly chipped away by hand to reveal magnificent original mosaic tiles.
Part of the back of the building was removed to ensure each room had natural light – like a slice taken out of the middle of a loaf of bread. Interior rooms have their own front doors that open on to this slim inner courtyard. On upper floors, guests have access to small private roof terraces with sunbeds.
Batabasta created exotic fruity prints that appear throughout the hotel: bathroom wallpaper, cushions in the rooms, coasters in the restaurants and even the shirt worn by our waiter in Elephant, Crocodile, Monkey bore the graphics. You can buy the shirts at the hotel front desk, which is tucked away in a side-door behind Satan’s.
Those who wander in from Gran Via pass bookshelves stocked by local independent publisher Blackie Books before they are drawn back into the hotel’s bar-restaurant, Libertine. Once the garage of the house, Libertine is now a vast dark green lounge with original iron columns. In the morning, as dappled light streams from the ceiling over bamboo chairs and velvet sofas, Marcos from Satan’s pours single-origin coffee and serves breakfast with a twist. Libertine serves comfort food for the rest of the day.
Casa Bonay has started hosting barbecues on the roof and “fine nights”, or Las Finas Noches, at Libertine to bring hotel guests and locals together. At the latter, Chef Carenzo serves casserole in the middle of the room, sherry flows, and tables are pushed aside for dancing to DJs. When I ask Lara if locals have started taking part, she laughs: “It’s so popular that the hotel guests are more likely to be the ones asking if they are allowed to join in!”
Casa Bonay is situated at Gran Via 700, Barcelona, Spain (00 34 93 545 80 70; casabonay.com). Double rooms cost from €130 (about R2 000), excluding breakfast.
Access: there are two rooms with disabled access
Pets: the hotel offers beds for small–medium sized dogs, they also include a dog bowl and will put treats inside the room for your pet. This costs €20 per night. Dogs are also welcome in the Libertine lobby bar for locals and guests.