Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Barcelona Hotel . . . Curious?


I don't know how you search out hotels in new cities you're visiting, but I've been very lucky over the past few years and I thought perhaps you'd like to compare notes. Up until a few years ago, I would always begin by looking through a few travel books on our destination. These books (Lonely Planet, Frommer's, Fodor's, etc.) generally included the observations of someone objective, an experienced traveller who had actually been on site, at least so I hoped and believed. I would look in my price range for descriptions that appealed. Then I would look at the hotel website, if a URL were provided, and then phone or email for information. Depending on the feedback and on the vibe I picked up at that stage, we would book a reservation . . . or not.
I must admit that I still prefer the supposed objectivity and professionalism of print travel guides, the reassuring materiality of books. But clinging to that approach seems a bit narrow in these days of information richness. So I've developed a few simple strategies for finding a place to stay, and so far, we've been very lucky. The Hotel Curious in Barcelona is the most recent example of our good fortune --
As you can see, our room is not huge, but it's more than adequate for the two of us, with good design making the most of its relatively small space.  Clean, bright, attractive -- each floor of the hotel takes a different theme -- Earth, Air, Fire, and Water -- and these inspire the murals on the wall, photographic reproductions of a Barcelona image, that gives the room a contemporary boutique flair.

The hotel is situated just two blocks from the very busy Las Ramblas, so we worried that it might be noisy at night, but it's actually very quiet (while some might want to avoid this tourist-y area, we decided that the central location made it worthwhile -- 5 minutes to the stunning Museum of Contemporary Art! 10 minutes to the beach! 10 minutes to Cathedral Square! perhaps 15 to the Apple of Discord with its concatenation of architecture! and shopping all about). Those two blocks obviously provide ample insulation, and the street has almost no vehicle traffic. Our room faced into a narrow courtyard which wasn't particularly attractive but was cleverly enhanced by being viewed through these screens woven with green "leaves" . . .
One of the benefits to travelling lightly (we try to manage our travels with only a carry-on each) is that we can keep the budget sleek through hotel choice without having to be uncomfortable in the tiny rooms often mandated by the price point. We've often wondered, squeezing our bags awkwardly onto chairs, once even sliding them under the bed, how we would ever manage with a larger bag.

Hotel Curious has the best solution we've ever seen for easy access to packed clothes in a small hotel. It's so elegant that Paul had me snap a number of photos because he thinks he might try to replicate part of the system in our guest space at home. This counter/desk hinges flat against the wall when not needed, but the two halves can be brought up singly or together to be used as desk space or to open out cases.


With ample hanging space above to de-wrinkle dresses, pants, and jackets, and a roomy shelf above that for stacking folded items, organizing books, accumulating any shopping, etc. we were comfortably set up for our stay. You've already noticed, above, the clean and attractive bathroom, but what you can't see is there are several shelves under the sink for setting out hair products, cosmetics, deodorant, etc.
We would have been happy just to have this attractive, clean, comfortable, and quiet room. But the welcome we received at Hotel Curious was superlative. Not only were we checked in warmly and efficiently, but we were given an update on what was happening in Barcelona. We were offered a map and walked through the highlights we should not miss as well as given instructions on how to get to them. The hotel offers its own guide to Barcelona, several pages long, and well worth perusing, with staff favourites in a number of categories -- historical and cultural sites, restaurants, shopping. They also have a Twitter account guests can follow to be kept in touch with "don't miss" events in the city: @HotelCurious

So how did I find this gem? Well, my system involves starting several months before our trip. After all, I have some pretty stringent requirements -- price being a big consideration -- and I expect that the good places will book up quickly. I generally begin simply, by entering basic keywords into the Google search engine. This time I probably used: Budget Hotel Barcelona . . . and then I will often use one more adjective, such as "Charming" or "Boutique" -- even "Family-run."

I might spend an hour or two, over several evenings, sorting through the possibilities this search brings up. Along the way, I often find a list of, say, the "10 top budget hotels in Barcelona," published by one of the major newspapers (in this case, The Guardian, UK). I compile a short-list of possibilities, being careful to put the bookmarks in a file so that I can find them later. Generally, 5 or 6 contenders emerge: Either a hotel shows up on a number of different lists, or I really like the sense I get from a hotel website or TripAdvisor rates a hotel highly. I read guest feedback on TripAdvisor and other sites (always keeping in mind that my criteria might vary, that some travelers unrealistically want luxury accommodations for budget prices, that others expect American amenities and service in a European environment).

Why don't I simply stick to TripAdvisor? Or, as my sister does, rely on one of the sites that sells off really great hotel deals at a variety of price points? Primarily, I guess, and I might be completely wrong here, misguided, naive, but I want to preserve some element of individuality. I'm looking for something beyond the latest iteration of Best Western, even though I know that chain has some lovely properties not far from the Jardins du Luxembourg. My method has so far brought us to places that reflect the local while yet nodding to the international realities of travel. I want to hang on to the chance of discovering just the right amount of quirk, if that makes any sense. . . .

So, finally, I email an enquiry about dates and availability. Again, because I know that the best of these hotels, in this price category, will book up quickly, I often send out 3 or 4 emails at once. Not only does this broaden my odds of finding a room, but it also gives me the opportunity to compare customer service. I had already noted that the staff at Hotel Curious followed guest comments at TripAdvisor, being quick to respond both to compliments and to any suggestions for improvement -- never defensive, they seemed genuinely pleased to receive the generally appreciative comments, but they also obviously wanted to learn how to make the hotel an even better experience for their guests.

This is the impression we got, as well, from the very first email they sent, responding to our enquiry, to the follow-up questionnaire sent after our stay. Front-desk service is the friendliest and most helpful we've ever seen, aside from our friend's Paris hotel  Similarly, the young woman who cleared away dishes and replenished coffee in the self-serve breakfast room (with its very ample and satisfying buffet), brightened every day with her sunny greeting.

In short, the Hotel Curious in Barcelona, is a stellar example of what can found for around 100 Euros, including breakfast for two, in a European city -- and with the all-important free WiFi. We hope to return someday, as five days in the city barely gave us a taste. . .

I'd appreciate your feedback here. . . could you stay in a room like this or do you need more space, more luxury? Or are you prepared to pare down even more for budget (we've begun to insist, over the past 5 or 6 years, on our own bathroom, but savings can be had for those who don't mind crossing a hallway for the toilet or shower)? No judgements, I'm just curious to know how others travel, and why. I'd also love you to share any tips you might have for discovering new hotels in far-off places. . .

And if you've missed my earlier posts on budget hotels, you can find those links by clicking on "Other Travel" at the top of this page, just below the banner photograph. . . .

19 comments:

  1. I like to find accommodation at around 100 euros a night, knowing full well that I will sometimes need to pay more. A bathroom is now essential as is wifi. Hotel Curious is big enough for me and one other person. I read a lot of reviews from different sources and I am usually pleased with the results. Lots of times a 2 or 3 star hotel is a great find especially with breakfast. As elevators are scarce in small hotels, I find that it is wise to travel light.

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  2. I'd be perfectly happy in a room like that, but le monsieur prefers a bit more space to spread out. (And I have yet to convert him to carry-on-only travel.) We've tended to rely on Tripadvisor, and so far have been satisfied with our choices. But for our next trip I'm double-checking the wi-fi situation before we book!

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    1. It's hard to manage with less space if the bags are more than carry-on. . .And yes, Wifi is non-negotiable for me. How quickly we've become dependent. . . 5 or 6 years ago, I'd have managed with Internet cafes, a computer available in the hotel . . .

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  3. Rimowa?

    I'm a complete luxury hotel crazy, so have nothing of value to add:).

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    1. I know you have much of value to add, just perhaps not to a discussion of budget hotels. . . .I've much enjoyed the posts you've written on luxury hotels. They're just not what I want to spend my travel monies on. . .but they're delightful to dream about!

      And yes, that's my new Rimowa, which I love! So easy to manoeuvre, so much easier on my shoulders.

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    2. I'm with LPC - though I sense I might not share her budget :-)

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  4. We travel in much the same style as you. Carry-on bags and family run hotels at the same price point. When we travel we spend little time in our room - as long as it's safe, clean and comfortable, we're happy. We do insist on our own bathroom facilities.

    This is a great post worth bookmarking for future travel plans.

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    1. I hope you get a chance to check out the hotel someday! Do you find that besides being easy on the budget, family-run hotels (or small independents) often offer a personal touch that enhances your visit?

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  5. I don't mind tiny, as long as it's efficient. In Osaka we stayed in a tiny perfect room with a tiny perfect bathroom. I require cleanliness, first and foremost - then a bathroom, if I'm alone. I don't mind sharing in a certain sort of hotel. WiFi - definitely! A good bed is a luxury. I'd rather save my money for my out-and-about time!

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    1. We don't mind sharing in a pinch, as when we book too late at London's Alhambra Hotel. Like you, I'd prefer saving my money for seeing the city, restaurants, shows, etc. I love that image of a tiny perfect room with a tiny perfect bathroom. . .

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  6. I refuse to stay in chain hotels when I travel, preferring very small hotels or b& b's. We also like renting an apartment or small house, if possible. My first resource is Trip Advisor. I use the Bed and Breakfast tab on Trip Advisor. I then do a Google search for bed and breakfast in XXXX. I look for price, positive reviews with terms like "quiet, private". On a recent trip to Costa Rica we stayed in two bed and breakfasts and a very small (10 room) hotel. All were perfect.

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    1. Our approaches sound similar. . . Surprising what a reliable predictor those recurring words or phrases can be. I'm not as keen on a bed and breakfast that requires visiting, but it is convenient and budget-wise to have the breakfast provided with the bed.

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  7. Oooh, I love this post - and I think the room is darling. Very clean lines (which are a must for me). I prefer boutique hotels (40 roomsish) and I will admit that I have a weakness for elegance in accommodations - which is why I don't go away nearly as often as I'd like. My goal, as a traveller, is to feel completely free. That includes freedom from the silly constraints of finances. So when I travel I do everything high-style. (When I get back, I'm inclined to have a nervous breakdown over my Visa bill, but that's another story.)

    The next time I go to Europe, I'm seriously considering booking via Air BnB. I use Trip Advisor extensively for the commentary. I take recommendations from friends. And I like to do online research. I never read a book on travel. Books seem static to me. Travel is fluid. They don't align in my mind.

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    1. It's true, the trade-off we make to travel regularly is doing without the luxury, which I certainly wouldn't be averse to if money weren't a consideration . . .

      My son and daughter-in-law had a great AirBnB experience in Italy last month. Def worth checking out.

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  8. I should also say that I rarely like a Bed and Breakfast (in the traditional sense). I like anonymity when I travel. I don't like the idea that I'm going to have to have breakfast with someone I barely know - who might have been able to hear me having sex the night before. :-)

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    1. I'm the same way, although with some occasional exceptions, such as our friends' Chambre d'hôte in which we were happy enough to practice our French with the other guests at breakfast (Paul was happier than me, quite honestly. I like to drink my first cup of the morning in absolute peace). I do like the convenience of a breakfast room with separate small tables as so many European hotels offer.

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  9. When we travel (rarely, at the moment, unfortunately) we try to minimise what we spend on accommodation because we want to be out and about doing things. Small and clean is fine, so long as we have our own bathroom. And a little charm will also win us over - we loved the tiny apartment we had for 12 days in New York, piano and all.

    Having said that, when we first started travelling together, we'd backpack the whole way, then spend just one night in the height of luxury :)

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    1. Funny how and where charm can be found, even at . . .or sometimes especially . . .budget prices.
      I do love the idea of the luxury splurge after backpacking or other frugality. In such circumstances, the true value of luxury becomes particularly obvious, I think.

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  10. Could definitely stay in this room it's lovely. As long as there is a clean bath, rather comfy bed and a window the size of the room doesn't matter much to me. Location is where I start my hotel search. Once that's decided then I consult google, Trip Advisor and recommendations to send out emails on availability. I love this part of the trip, the anticipation and planning! Just started a part time job and will now be catching up with all your travel posts! Thanks in advance!!

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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