Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Barcelona hotel spoils with simplicity

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BARCELONA, Spain -- It's certainly not your everyday hotel or B&B. You can eat free food 24/7. You can swing in a hammock in your private mini-lounge. And you can go green with a vertical garden outside your bathroom window.

When you travel, it's always fun to find something different -- in this case, an innovative combination of the thoughtful modern conveniences you expect in a hotel plus the caring and intimacy of a B&B or pension.

No wonder Casa Camper, with five rooms on each of five floors, has ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on TripAdvisor for almost three years.

Owned by the Camper shoe company of Mallorca (there's a sister hotel in Berlin), Casa Camper (casacamper.com/barcelona) has funky features like its colour scheme -- red is popular -- and the hammock.

It's functional -- with subtle night light; open shelves; an eye-level, in-room safe; and electrical outlet for recharging phones and other devices. It's also innovative with a 2 p.m. late checkout. And there's that free food; in upmarket hotels, usually only the executive -- read "more expensive" -- floors have access to a lounge with complimentary food.

"The Camper people travel a lot, so they designed the hotel to meet the needs of often jet-lagged travellers," general manager Susana Marin said.

"Most mini-bars provide mostly alcohol or candy, which you might not feel like if you wake up at 3 a.m. We have healthy options like yogurt, with or without muesli. And our guests respect this: They don't treat it like an all-you-can-eat -- or take away -- buffet."

You can choose from a wide selection ranging from cooked-to-order as well as cold items for breakfast, to soup, veggies, pasta, rice, salads, pastries, drinks and snacks the rest of the day and night.

It's top quality, from cloth tablecloths and napkins to the smoked salmon sandwiches and from the artisan potato chips and freshly prepared salads to environmentally friendly flow-through mesh tea bags with real tea leaves.

The food is constantly replenished and while it is mostly self-service, you can have breakfast for everybody in the room delivered for about $8.50.

The bathrooms look out on a vertical garden of potted plants. Every room (from around $400 a night) has its own private mini-lounge across the corridor with a couch (which can convert into a king-sized bed) and hammock. The suites combine bedroom with mini-lounge.

The restored 19th century gothic tenement has a rooftop terrace and a fully equipped basement gym. There are fun signs suggesting you walk downstairs instead of taking the elevator, and staff-only doors with signs saying "no!" instead of "private" or "do not enter."

The hotel fronts a mostly pedestrian-only narrow street, which could be a bit noisy for guests sleeping in their mini-lounge on the lower floors. But the bedroom is quiet.

The location is ideal; it's in the middle of the old town, two blocks off the popular strolling boulevard, La Rambla, just a few blocks down from Catalanya Square and a few blocks up from the colourful La Boqueria market.

And there's a bonus for foodies: Next door, and part of the hotel, is Dos Palillos, a one-Michelin-star restaurant where you have a choice of three tasting menus of different quantities and quality. You join fellow diners along a bar as the Spanish-Asian fusion dishes are prepared in front of you.

Some dishes, like the smoked bone marrow, are served still smoking from the charcoal. While there are two seatings, the restaurant is small, so book well ahead.

Casa Camper's philosophy sums up its approach: "At Camper we believe that luxury lies in simplicity, discretion, authenticity, healthy life and in understanding esthetics as culture, as a source of inner satisfaction."

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 E4

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