Story and photos by Manos Angelakis and courtesy of the hotels and the Tourist Office of Spain.
Two Five Star Hotels in Spain
This journey was before the COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The five star hotel category offers the affluent traveler a wide range of luxurious experiences from the opulence of the Grande Dame, to the intimacy of the boutique, or the creature comforts of the resort/spa, all carrying the same hotel class designation but offering a different travel experience. To gauge how dependable is this rating system given its diversity, we decided to launch an exploration. Our travels took us to Spain, where in a relatively small area we had the opportunity to experience a resort/spa hotel on the Mediterranean and a world-class luxury hotel that helped birth the designation of the five star category.
First stop: the Kempinski Resort Hotel Bahía, in Estepona on the Costa Del Sol. This five star resort and spa hotel is built in the beehive style reminiscent of a Moorish palace -- minarets and all -- and makes striking use of the copper colored soil of southern Spain to tint the façade an inviting terra-cotta hue. You enter into a massive sweeping stone lobby with warm wooden modesty screens softening its upper reaches, to be welcomed by a friendly and professional staff waiting to guide you through the registration process. Walk past the lobby bar into the spectacular formal tiered gardens on a meandering path leading to a sandy beach and the Mediterranean beyond -- unfortunately looking muddy and gray at this time of the year. The gardens contain trees from olive to palm and everything in between; broad carpets of manicured green lawn for sunbathing and strolling; and flowering plants in a profusion of shape and color. Pink, fuchsia, coral, purple, red, white, magenta: a plethora of blossoming colors that cascade down the sides of the building from the generously sized balconies protruding from each room or suite, enfolding and flowing around the mammoth grouping of pools and lawns in the gardens below. The pools are sufficient in number to insure that no matter how many guests are in residence, you never feel crowded or cramped as there is room to enjoy solitude as well as water sports.
As in all the hotels we visit, the rooms and suites were handsomely appointed and had all the obligatory modern plumbing fixtures and electronic hardware; fully stocked service bar; and convenient personal safe for guests to store their valuables in the privacy of their room. Guests are provided with slippers and bathrobes, the finest of bed linens and plush oversized bath towels as well as a fragrant high quality amenity package. As befits a five star category hotel, all room and housekeeping services were courteous, prompt and efficient.
The spa and wellness center at the Kempinski utilizes products and services developed on the Ayurvedic principle of harmonizing body, mind and spirit. A sampling of the services offered left us feeling refreshed and invigorated and hungry for the bountiful daily breakfast buffet.
The El Mirador restaurant was replete with serving stations offering everything from smoked fish and caviar; to the meats and cheeses Spain is famous for; to an outstanding array of cold salads, hot accompaniments, fresh fruits and pastries; to the grill at the ready to make eggs in any style, or crepes, or fried bread… and the list goes on and on. And this exceptional offering was only a tease for the gastronomical delights the executive chef had in store for us at dinnertime at the Baltazár Bar & Grill.
Even though our time at the Kempinski was limited we fortunately spent a most enjoyable afternoon and evening at the charming seaside town of Estepona; it still maintains the old world ambiance of a Mediterranean seaside village. It boasts the obligatory broad promenade along the water with narrow winding streets leading up the hill to the central square. Here on Sunday afternoons, after church, you can still see entire families dressed in their finest, hats, gloves and all, stop for bowls of the creamiest Gelato this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of sampling. We also had a delightful dining extravaganza when serendipitously we stopped for an early dinner at one of the few restaurants open at the unspeakably early (for Spain) hour of 7:30 P.M. Although neither José Moria, the owner/chef, nor any of his staff spoke English, nor was the menu in any language other than Spanish, nevertheless we managed to order a meal that left no doubt that Spain’s talented chefs practice world class cuisine, whether they are Michelin-starred or not.
Next stop Madrid and the Grande Dame of hotels… one of the hotels that helped set the standards for the five star category… the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Ritz, Madrid. And yes, it is all that it is cracked up to be. A perfectly situated corner setting so that you pass by the exquisite patio and garden. A majestic circular Belle Époque entrance, overseen by a regally uniformed attendant. Rich carpets and a massive crystal chandelier in the lobby and the grand tea room just beyond, all evoke a time when elegance and ceremony were the order of the day and only the rich and famous dressed to the nines set foot in the Hotel Ritz, Madrid.
But, alas, times change and it is not unusual now to see guests toting Escada, Prada, or any number of international designer shopping bags alighting from cabs dressed in torn blue jeans and belly tee’s rushing through the lobby. Under the ever watchful eye of the Reception Manager, the changing scene is becoming the new style for a hotel so steeped in history and mythology.
You probably know the story by now, King Alfonso XIII was so impressed with The Ritz Hotel on a visit to Paris at the turn of the 20th century, that on his return to Madrid he commission an identical but smaller version of the hotel be built; thus insuring Spain’s status in the small world of luxury destinations as capable of playing host to royalty. The hotel still maintains its elegant furnishings and formal dress code for its employees and the guest rooms still have silk wall coverings and beds with crowns draped in rich fabrics and tassels galore adorning the draperies. Hand made carpets with the weavers name line the guest rooms as well as the halls and the embroidered bed linens were the absolute finest Egyptian cotton. Traditional food and service are still de rigueur in the main dining room and the sommelier was one of the most knowledgeable we have encountered, though here was a slight deviation from tradition, as the sommelier was a young woman.
Regardless of the size or style of hotel, the designation of the European five star category next to a hotel’s name guarantees that certain expectations have been and are still always being met. You can choose your hotel experience, and you can rest assured that the highest standards will be adhered to and the highest levels of service will be offered.
© January 2022 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.
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