It's never been hard to find grandeur on the Spanish hospitality scene - baroque palaces, ornate castles, fortresses and monasteries. But Barcelona, the coolest city in Spain, is now home to some of the coolest hotels. Grand Hotel Central in the Gothic quarter and Hotel Omm on Paseo de Gracia rode a new wave, and now they're joined by Murmuri Barcelona on Rambla de Catalunya. In a city that celebrates medieval architecture and modernist art, Murmuri Barcelona pulls off the trick of seamlessly inserting up-to-the-minute design into a beautiful 19th-century building.
Behind the elegant period frontage with arched portal, British designer Kelly Hoppen has created a simple but opulent environment that is less stylised than Starck; more architectural than Armani.
Murmuri director and manager Edouard Alexandre says both the style and attitude of the hotel reflect the fact that Barcelona today is a vibrant, hip city. "Old and big used to be beautiful," he says," but today's savvy traveller is looking for small and stylish. Aesthetically, Murmuri satisfies the human desire for a unique identity and an upmarket image."
The name Murmuri, says Alexandre, refers to the fact that the hotel is a meeting point in the busy Rambla de Catalunya pedestrian mall, where people can enjoy the murmur of the city's heartbeat. Opened only this year, it is also creating a few murmurs among the style-bible set.
The hotel offers 53 rooms and five apartments with one or two bedrooms. Facilities include a business centre, meeting room, WiFi internet access, rooftop terrace, solarium and limousine service. Both its Murmuri Restaurant and Marfil Bar immediately established themselves as see-and-be-seen locations and are constantly glam-packed.
There's something very Zen-like about Hoppen's design approach. But, at Murmuri, she softens her familiar straight lines and symmetrical layouts with round feminine shapes. Hoppen says there's a yin-and-yang unity in this use of straight and round lines. It contributes to the harmony of the design, she says, which has a calming effect on the interiors. The unity of opposites is also apparent in the colours and textures she employs - splashes and stripes of colour against gentle, natural tones; grainy dark wood furniture with soft, velvety fabrics. Fashion, design, art and architecture all come together, allowing sleek and modern to also say comfort and opulence. This statement is aptly expressed when entering the hotel's reception area by a seductive Hoppen-designed sofa that seems to coo: 'Why don't you come over here and sit with me?'
Murmuri doesn't try to use the old design-hotel deception that no television is an aesthetic imperative. Amenities include flat-screen televisions with satellite channels, MP3 docking stations, in-room safes and mini-bars. Bathrooms have Molton Brown products, hairdryers, bathrobes and slippers, and are luxurious without straying into that unfortunate realm of being so sexy the bedroom becomes an afterthought. All rooms are effectively sound-proofed, have individual climate control and offer views of either the city or the inner courtyard, which also maximises natural light.
The strong design sense of East meets West is especially relevant in the ground-floor Restaurant Murmuri, which presents a thoughtful fusion of Mediterranean produce and Asian techniques and flavours. The menu is the inspiration of acclaimed Thai chef Ian Chalermkittichai who also operates the Kittichai restaurant in Manhattan. Think Vietnamese-style crisp whole fish served with pickled daikon and chilli dipping sauce; rock shrimp tempura with Japanese eggplant and a soy-tamarind sauce; and black sesame crème brûlée with soy milk and sesame ice-cream.
Restaurant Murmuri overlooks Rambla de Catalunya and the rather gynaecologically named Passage de la Concepción… but don't let that put you off your coconut-cream chantilly. On the other side of the lobby, Marfil Bar and Terrace has established itself as one of the liveliest drinking holes in Barcelona. It has a great bar menu based around sushi and Asian-influenced tapas. The murmur here is more of a buzz.
Murmuri Barcelona's location on Rambla de Catalunya is a definite plus. It is surrounded by much of the city's modernist art and architecture, plus chic retail, dining, bars and open spaces. It also enjoys convenient access to major underground and bus services. Murmuri is a sister property to the grand luxe Hotel Majestic located just a five-minute walk away on Paseo de Gracia, and Murmuri guests receive a pass that allows access to all Hotel Majestic services and amenities including a gym and rooftop pool.
Murmuri Barcelona, Rambla de Catalunya, 104, Barcelona, +34 93 550 0600, murmuri.com