Barcelona marches to the uptempo beat of an overzealous timpanist. Locals rush past Gaudi's dripping marvels and Jean Nouvel's frankly phallic Torre Agbar on their way to Ricardo Bofill's sail-shaped W Barcelona or dinner at one of a thousand bustling cafés. Attractive as it is, the unrelenting pace and eccentricity of Catalonia's capital can be overwhelming, which is why well-to-do locals flock to the stately Gran Hotel La Florida, a 1920s estate perched at 1,600 feet above sea level in the Serra de Collserola coastal range. The 10-year-old, 70-room boutique property overlooks Barcelona's mazelike downtown and the tantalizing blue water of the Mediterranean Sea from the green slopes of scenic Mount Tibidabo.
The best seats in the house are at the hotel's GastroBar Miramar, which serves up Spanish cavas and light, white albariños from an open-air, multitiered terrace. Guests can look out over the simmering metropolis from cushioned patio chairs or the shallow end of a wraparound infinity pool while listening to the light techno streaming from ubiquitous, but discrete speakers. The commotion of the 1.6 million people rushing around below is dampened to a minor echo that lingers eerily at the edge of the compound.
Mount Tibidabo, seven switchbacking miles northwest of downtown, boasts an ornate neo-Gothic basilica, an oddly placed amusement park, and little else. And that's the point: Gran Hotel La Florida was designed to be self-sustaining, a luxurious urban retreat with a menu full of foie gras and steak tartare and a world-class spa. In fact, the property was first opened in 1924 as a haven for Barcelona's wealthy before serving as a military hospital during the Spanish Civil War. Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Stewart stayed here in the fifties before the hotel ran into trouble. After shuttering in 1979 and remaining closed for 25 years, the hotel underwent an extensive renovation before reopening its doors to welcome celebs like Harrison Ford and Shakira (In Spain, she's a way bigger deal).
Most of the hotel's rooms are simple: Sturdy hardwood floors lead into spare all-marble bathrooms. Some suites open onto balconies facing the Pyrenees or the sea and eight design suites are decorated with muscular paintings and sculptures by the distinguished Catalan artist Isabel Cruellas. Still, visitors always find themselves gravitating back towards the view. Barcelona is perpetually engaging, even from afar.
More information: Rooms at the Gran Hotel La Florida begin at $250 a night. Taxis can drive visitors from the airport or downtown up to the hotel.