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It's A Hotel, It's A Museum - It's The Five Star Hotel Claris of Barcelona


“When my mother was a girl, she attended a wedding at the Palacio Vedruna which was the family home of the bride. It was a block away from Paseo de Gracia in a neighborhood with many 19th palaces. But my mother thought the Palacio Vedruna was the most beautiful she had ever seen. She often talked to us about that wedding, how splendid it was, like something out of the age of nobility.

“I’ve lived in Barcelona for 29 years now, and to me, the area around Paseo de Gracia is the best place in Barcelona. You can walk to the Ramblas, the Plaza Catalunya, Gaudi’s Church of the Sagrada Familia, or just go up and down the streets with all the fashionable shops and palaces. I often used to walk around the neighborhood, and whenever I’d pass  the Palacio Vedruna, I’d stop, look up, and think about my mother being at a wedding here long ago.”

We are talking to the engaging Victoria Amorós in the strikingly modern lobb of the Hotel Claris, a five-star hotel that opened in 1992 in time for the Barcelona Olympics. Victoria is smiling as she concludes her story: “Today I am the guest-relations manager here at the Hotel Claris. And I think it is an amazing coincidence because this hotel was once the Palacio Vedruna.”

It is a re-imagined Palacio Vedruna to be sure. All that remains of the palace is the elegant sandstone façade that wraps around the corner where Valencia and Pau Claris Streets meet. A glass and steel addition expands the dimensions of the property upwards to seven stories and outwards on either side. Nevertheless, it seems to recede out of sight as the foreground of the beautiful 19th century palace topped with the Vedruna family’s historic coat of arms captures the eye and provides the lasting impression.

Your taxi pulls up before the neo-classic structure, and before you have a chance to settle with the driver, people have come out to welcome you. They take your bags, usher you inside, swiftly dispense with the registration process, and in a matter of minutes, escort you to your room. “That is the uniqueness of the Claris,” Victoria says. “The most important thing to us is the way guests are treated. Everything is geared to making people comfortable. From the doorman to room service to housekeeping, everyone will give you service with a smile.”

The Claris is unique is other ways as well – in its stunning design, a seamless blend of past and future; in its minimalist/glamorous rooftop expanse that overlooks the city with fitness center, cacti plantings, swimming pool, and two restaurants (with its Brazilian DJ, one of them has become a Barcelona hot spot); in its excellent gastronomic restaurant, anchored in Catalan cuisine. But most of all, what sets the Claris apart is its dual identity as a hotel and as a museum of fine art and antiquities. Many deluxe hotels incorporate art into their decorating schemes, but the treasures of the Claris are so extensive, varied, and accessible, and their setting is so original, that even the briefest of stays becomes an experience not easily forgotten.

A courtyard at the center of a building is a typical Spanish conception, but at the Claris, it is a singular execution -- an atrium that rises seven stories to a glassed ceiling faced with glass panes and steel frames, a solid interior wall with conventional windows, another wall of silver slats with porthole-shaped windows, and an exposed elevator shaft through which the windowed elevator rides, turning every trip up or down into a wondrous excursion. Water continuously cascades down the glass walls into a pebbled pond that supports a tree with leaves shaped like those of birches, only they are made of bright red fabric. You sit on a modular leather sofa, rest your drink on a little circular table of glass and steel, look around at the marble surfaces, the concrete pillars and mirrored panels, the Art-deco inspired swirling stairways with glass and chrome banisters and, at the same time, take in the pair of ancient Roman mosaics hanging on the wall, the pair of ancient Roman statues positioned like bystanders. Lulled by the Zen-like sound of falling water, you realize how seemingly incongruous elements have merged into an ambience that is exciting yet serene.

The engaging Victoria Amorós beside a Roman statue in the Claris lobby - click to enlarge
The engaging Victoria Amorós beside a Roman statue in the Claris lobby

The combining of the avant-garde and the antique is a defining theme of the Claris. It translates into the comforts of modernity alongside the privilege of living, if only for a short while, with valuable works of art. Every one of the 124 rooms, which include two suites, 20 junior suites, and 18 duplexes, is distinctive. Yet all share bold color schemes, furnishings of Chesterfield sofas and Bauhaus-style couches and chairs, floors and wall panels of gleaming rosewood, and the latest plasma-style television sets. These co-exist with one-of-a-kind Turkish kilims (once the property of Lord Cromwell), pieces of distinguished period furniture, and valuable paintings, engravings, and sculptures. Our junior suite was accessorized with a whimsical pair of silver pedestals topped with globes the size of beach balls covered with pieces of red and orange suede, a 17th century English secretary, an 1809 engraving of Napoleon viewing the tomb of Ozymandius, and set into a niche but otherwise open to be touched as much as viewed, a wooden sculpture of the Indian goddess Kali dated to some time between the 10th and 11th centuries.

We had never seen quite anything like this. When we conveyed our impression to José Luis Fernández, the otherwise gentle and soft spoken general manger responded with the Spanish equivalent of “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” He then escorted us to a large space on the first floor above the lobby filled with an amazing array of treasures from ancient Egypt. Ranging in size from miniature statues to larger-than-life-sized busts, they represented dynasties dating as far back as 1500 B.C.

“This is part of a much larger collection belonging to Mr. Jordi Clos, the owner of the Claris,” Mr. Fernandez explained as we stood, mouths agape, at the wealth before us. “He has been collecting art for 25 years. But he is also a hotelier who founded the Derby Hotels Collections. In addition to the Claris, there are five other Derby hotels in Barcelona, two in Madrid, and one in London. He has filled all of them with works of art from many different periods and of many different styles. But ancient Egyptian art is Mr. Clos’ passion.”

A trained archaeologist who is well-versed in Egyptology, Jordi Clos has assembled enough Egyptian antiquities to display 900 of them in his Barcelona Egyptian Museum which is just down the block from the Claris and around the corner from Paseo de Gracia. One of the largest privately owned museums in Spain, its holdings represent a virtual time-line of this civilization of lasting intrigue.

It is easy to become lost in the world of pharaonic dynasties while viewing the collection at the Claris which makes entering “East 47” through a door at the end of the loft-like exhibition space likely to cause an attack of cognitive dissonance. Cross the threshold and you step out of ancient Egypt into 20th century America and the bi-level, ultra modern dining room and bar named for the Manhattan street where Andrew Warhol’s studio was located. The pop artist’s lithographs, particularly portraits of Marilyn Monroe repeated in various hues, decorate the walls; furnishings and tableware are sleekly contemporary; and the upbeat crowd is largely young and hip.

Jon San Millan, Maitre d’ and Sergio Gurim, F&B Manager at East 47 - click to enlarge
Jon San Millan, Maitre d’ and Sergio Gurim, F&B Manager at East 47

Still if the décor and art of the Claris reflect an international and pan-historic attitude, the cuisine of East 47 will ground you in the hotel’s locale. For with a few exceptions like tuna tataki, the menu is Catalonian; so is the chef. There are the classic dishes like poached eggs with cauliflower and caviar, colorful salads of marinated artichokes; braised chicken, pine nuts, tomatoes and dried fruit oil; the excellent products of Costa Brava’s Mediterranean waters like sea bream served with leeks fondant in a sauce of white asparagus and onions, and grilled scallops with caviar, celery butter and cream.

This northern section of Spain that meets the border with France is noted for extraordinary cuisine, and East 47 presents it at its best. One cannot go wrong, not with  the food, not with the wine, in our case, a fragrant cabernet sauvignon from a Costa Brava vineyard.

 Breakfast manager Gamal Zaki, “Jimy”

Front Desk Crew - click to enlarge
 Front desk team

Such are the multiple delights of a stay at the Hotel Claris. And then there is the staff, every one of whom seem delighted to be working there, from the maitre d’ at East 47, to our waiter who is from the Basque, to Gamal Zaki, known to all as Jimy, manager of the breakfast dining room. He met Mr. Clos when he was working in a restaurant in his native city Cairo. Befriended by the Clos family, he moved from Cairo to Barcelona and the Claris Hotel.

And of course there is José Luis Fernández who told us  “I love this job. I don’t have an office in the hotel beyond a small space with a computer. My office is everywhere.

“I remember when Mr. Clos hired me as a bellman in 1988. At that time, he said to me, ‘In this company, if you are responsible, if you like this job, you will be okay.’

“I went from bellman to reception, to night duty, to desk manager, to general manager. One day I reminded him.

“‘Mr. Clos,’ I said, ‘the first time I spoke to you, you told me if I work hard at the Claris, I can become its general manager. Well, Mr. Clos, here I am.’

General Manager José Luis Fernández - click to enlarge
General Manager José Luis Fernández

“He responded by giving me a big smile.”  

Claris Hotel
Pau Claris, 150
08009 Barcelona, Spain

Phone: 34 93 487 62 62


Hotel Granados: Just a few blocks from the Claris, the newest member of the Derby chain opened early in the spring of 2006. In its former life, the Granados was a hospital and the bustling mood of late 19th century Barcelona has been retained in an Industrial Age aesthetic which makes much use of materials like riveted iron and brick. But the mood of early 21st century Barcelona is here as well in an Electronic Age aesthetic that features stone and glass facades, minimalist interiors, a sky-lit central courtyard surrounded by loft-like and split-level rooms and suites of a neo modernist cast (some even have private swimming pools), and a Japanese garden outside a Mediterranean/Japanese restaurant that is a trip into tranquility. At the same time, it would not be a Derby hotel without some significant pieces of art, in this case Hindu antiques. Young in spirit, trendy, and exciting, it is rapidly becoming a place to see and be seen.

Hotel Granados
Enrique Granados 83
Barcelona, 08008, Spain



Sergio Aranada Barcelona: On a corner midway between the Claris and Granados, Sergio Aranda’s shop is a boutique museum of hand-crafted jewelry. Necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings and pendants of unique design and precious and semi-precious materials designed by this gifted Barcelona native are exquisite and well-priced.

Sergio Aranda Barcelona
c/València, 201
08007 Barcelona

Phone: 34 93 451 44 04


Photographs by Harvey Frommer    

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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