Monday, March 06, 2006

Staying: Madrid

I spent my first night in Madrid, back in the early 1980s, in a small pension still thoroughly stuck in the Franco era. The rooms were dark, the owners severe, and the “private bath” turned out to be a raised platform with a drain, located right in the middle of the room. I took one shower, flooded the place, and was forced to flee in shame. From there, I moved to another pension, this one located right off the Plaza Mayor. The beds were concave and slightly damp, the shared bathroom just this side of filthy, but the twin dwarf brothers who owned the place were friendly, and they offered me a small, greasy glass of wine each evening when I returned.

Mostly I stayed there because the place cost about 4 bucks a night, which pretty much won me the accommodations category in those latenight bullshit sessions with fellow backpackers. But even when I became a bit more upwardly mobile, I learned that Madrid’s more expensive hotels weren’t all that much better. Of course, the very top end—the Ritz, the Palace—were lovely, ornate places. But most mid-range accommodations throughout the 80s and 90s were dreary at best and subject to unfamiliar standards of cleanliness at worst.

It’s all different now. I’ve written about some of the city’s great new hotels here and here and here, but I’m beginning to lose track of them all. In the last couple of weeks alone, three of the more stylish chains-- Petit Palace, AC, and Vincci—have opened delightful new hotels that combine sleek accommodations with classic Madrid architecture. And more are on the way.


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