Travel Writer & Author

Category: Spain (Page 1 of 2)


TÓTEM, a newly refurbished 64-room boutique hotel in Madrid, is housed within a 19th-century, neoclassic building in the city’s Salamanca district. The venture by the Marugal Distinctive Hotel Management Portfolio and Small Luxury Hotels is situated along the Calle de Hermosilla in the exclusive, grid-patterned neighborhood built in the mid-1800s for the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie. The beautifully fronted residences still attract the wealthy patrons who shop in its chic boutiques, dine in its Michelin-starred restaurants, and stroll toward the grand Paseo de la Castellana and the famous Parque del Buen Retiro.

The five-story building—complete with Juliet balconies on nearly all levels—reflects a model typical of the era: an entry floor that currently houses reception and a bar/lounge dining concept, and a first floor with 12-foot-tall ceilings that formerly topped aristocratic salons.

The façade, stairway, railings, and balconies of the original aristocratic home are protected by laws governing Spanish heritage assets. Architect Gerardo Mingo updated the functionality of the structure, which had operated as a hotel since the 1960s. Mingo reduced the room number from 67 to 64 to accommodate a few suites, while also replacing the small windows within the restaurant to frame grander views.

Nori Furlan and Paco Llonch of Corium Casa, a Barcelona-based interior design studio, oversaw the refurbishment of the entire hotel, facing the challenge of preserving the original, state-protected elements of the building, while adding contemporary sophistication. That meant the 19th-century pine staircase, complete with its iron railings and wood-topped handrails, and the building’s courtyard atrium, which was adapted into the new bar and lounge through the installation of a precisely proportioned, pergola-style roof. “Our goal was to create a welcoming and quiet ambiance in the bar and lounge,” explains Furlan. “The slatted ceiling repeats the material in the oak floor, permits the entry of natural light into the area, and adds exactly the amount of warmth that we wanted to give to the space.”

Crafted with a mixture of wool tweed and stately velvet, modern furniture injects warmth into the lobby spaces done in varying shades of blue, gray, and pink teamed. Bespoke glass-topped, steel tables further amplify the contemporary aesthetic, while in the bar and lounge, a floral wallpaper in blue and gray adds a playful touch.

The hotel’s sleek, light-filled restaurant, Hermosos y Malditos, a 21st century gastropub, draws its name from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and The Damned. Furlan and Llonch anchored the open space with contemporary furnishings—think wood tables, wood chairs with yellow and light blue upholstered seats, and slim banquettes in heather gray. Save for moldings, painted walls are left unadorned to allow the Salamanca streetscape beyond the windows to provide the backdrop. A wall behind the service bar is warmed with pages from the novel and a round hanging lamp—a found object reminiscent of the novel’s pre-World War I setting. “In the restaurant, we designed the little curved wall lamps of painted metal, which were inspired by an antique model,” Furlan explains.

Vestiges of the 19th century also punctuate guestrooms and suites, all of which feature restored the plaster work, oak and brass touches, and traditional moldings. Large mirrors reflect natural light filtered in via windows that look out on the street or courtyard. Small bespoke couches and desks enhance the space, while wood-framed, abstract sculptural paintings by Yaya Mur add interest.

Furlan and Llonch embraced the original indigo blue on the first floor, while injecting a palette of light brown and gentle gray hues across others, with punches of  yellow (a greenish tone for curtains and a bright tone for desk chairs) and black—in the form of swirling Negro Maquina marble sourced from northern Spain and geometric floor tile—in bathrooms. The twosome also resolved the issue of slanted walls on the attic floor by installing skylights and a wall-length shelf to deliver both a chic design element and space for a desk, storage, and mini-bar.

“As much as possible, our intention was to preserve the 19th century, period character of the building, while making it function it as an elegant, up-to-the minute hotel.”

Dos Cielos Review

In Spain, food aficionados are familiar with the twins Javier and Sergio Torres, the creators of Torres en la Cocina, a popular cooking show on Spanish television. The twin chefs, born in Barcelona, trained with culinary greats such as Alain Ducasse and Santi Santamaria, and like their mentors, prefer local and seasonal ingredients and minimal handling. Lucky locals and travelers — including my granddaughter Sage and me — have experienced their Michelin-starred restaurant Dos Cielos in Barcelona at the Meliá Barcelona Sky Hotel. We arrived there in February, a month after the hotel reopened following an extensive renovation by architect Fernando Mur.


The elevator took us from our room up to the 24th floor where the host greeted us and asked us if we’d be willing to dine at the chef’s table.

We were seated at the far end of a long stainless-steel table, where the place settings featured our silverware resting perpendicular on a small wooden log. There was a choice of an à la carte or tasting menu and we both chose the tasting; mine with a wine pairing from the brothers’ wine cellar, filled with a wide selection from both small producers and large wineries.

From our vantage point, we could watch the in-house chef, Daniel Molero, as well as the entire équipe (team) as they prepared dishes. The far end of our table was used as the point of departure for finished plates. Sage noticed how fluid it all was. Unfortunately, we couldn’t meet the twins, because they were in Madrid where they had just opened their newest outpost, Dos Cielos Madrid, within the 5-star Gran Meliá Palacio de los Duques Hotel.

Our dinner was impeccably served, beginning with the first of two amuse-bouches — a puff pastry with a creamy crab and sea urchin filling. Next, a consommé was poured from individual pots into each bowl and we were advised to use small brass tweezers provided to take out the miniscule vegetables that remained in the pot with the rest of the broth. A carpaccio followed. The thinly sliced, aged Rubia Gallega beef, from the northwest corner of Spain, is considered one of the best in the world. I later learned they marinate the top sirloin cap in a vinaigrette of meat juices and pickles for 90 days.

The three ravioli served next had a melted Boca foie gras interior, and fresh-from-the-garden spring peas in the sweetest sauce accompanied the jamón Ibérico course. The entrée was a simple, light and delicious grilled Saint Pierre fish meunière from the Mediterranean.

The dessert creations included combinations of sweet and savory and were equally impressive. Our first pre-dessert was a basil sorbet atop an olive oil cake, which preceded what they call a banana cloud, because it looked like a work of art, and it tasted ethereal. The finale? Chocolate.

The dinner atop a contemporary Meliá high-rise hotel was as noteworthy as the view of the Barcelona skyline and Mount Tibidabo.

Read the full story at Global Traveler

Dos Cielos

Meliá Barcelona Sky Hotel
Carrer de Pere IV, 286
08005 Barcelona, Spain
tel 34 933 67 20 50

Wine Travel Irvina Lew

Will Fly For Wine

Thomas Jefferson—who tried in vain for success as a vintner—endured weeks on transatlantic crossings and on horseback to visit wineries just to swirl, sniff and sip. Today, prestigious wine regions are accessible within two hours of major cosmopolitan cities, including New York City with its proximity to wineries on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley and in Coastal Connecticut. But for those looking for a break from New York, there’s no need to buy a horse, of course. Hop on a plane and clink glasses in some of the world’s most famous wine regions.

Mendoza, Argentina (Santiago, Chile)

Mendoza is the world’s fifth biggest wine producing region, in large part because of the weather. Hot dry days and cold nights make it perfect for producing Malbec, Argentina’s best-known grape. Mendoza City is central to 1,500 regional wineries and offers museums, parks and familiar luxury hotels—including The InterContinental Mendoza with its casino. Bodega Familia Zuccardi in Maipú is a 30-minute trip and the prestigious Bodega Catena Zapata, in the desert-like Valle de Uco where the winery rises like a Mayan temple, is only 50 miles away. Algodon Wine Estates, a hacienda-like resort set amidst the rolling foothills of the Sierra Pintada Mountains at the base of the Andes, is three hours away. It’s worth the trip for oenophiles looking for a well-rounded experience. The resort offers its few dozen guests and second home owners barbecue feasts, called Asado, winery visits, horseback riding, golf and a pool. Go.

Sonoma, USA (San Francisco, California)

In the nearby Russian River Valley, La Crema opened a new visitor center on the fabulous Saralee’s Vineyard for tastings, wine education and culinary exploration. Each September, people flock to Kendall Jackson Winery for The Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival. The two-day charity event is complete with chef-staffed booths, a cook-off and a tasting of each of the 150 different heirloom varieties grown on the winery estate’s vegetable garden. Executive Chef Scott Romano reigns at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in charming Healdsburg and serves dishes developed by his mentor, the late Long Island chef Gerry Hayden. The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn—with its mineral springs and spa—is a comfortable and convenient base for a California Wine Country tour. Go.

Burgundy, France (Paris, France)

Visitors to Burgundy pass wine estates colored in burgundy (grapes), green (vines) and gold (sunlight), which match the region’s famed glazed-tile roofs. The route reads like a famous wine list: Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, Nuit St. George, Pommard and Meursault. On European Waterway barges, the crew cooks, pours and drives to and, thankfully, from the tasting rooms. In Beaune, the Hotel Le Cep, an affiliate of Small Luxury Hotels, combines two historic mansions separated by a 16th century courtyard. Its Spa Marie de Bourgogne offers massages within a panoramic tower. From here, walk to wine merchants and the historic Hospice de Beaune and bike (40 minutes) to Puligny Montrachet for an al fresco lunch within a 17th century building at the 13-room Hotel Olivier Leflaive. Go.

Douro, Portugal (Porto, Portugal)

Quinta da Roêda (12)

The Douro Wine Region starts up river from Porto, the 2000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage city. Oenophiles drive, ride the rails or cruise on Emerald Waterways to visit its long-established port wine estates. In 2015, the 57-room Six Senses Douro opened within a 19th century turret and arch studded country house, which New York’s Clodagh transformed into a modern, multi-level spa hotel, 90-minutes from Porto. The wine library stocks local wines including Van Zellers Douro DOC wines (Quinta Vale D. Maria 2013, a Douro Red, ranks in the TOP 100 in 2016). And the owners of Croft, Fonseca and Taylor, who constructed The Yeatman, a Relais & Chateaux in Porto, recently launched the 43-room Vintage House, located riverside in Pinhão not far from the visitor center at their Quinta da Roêda estate. As for the view, it’s unbeatable. Guests are known to savor the view of rugged, vine-covered hills as much as they savor the world-class vino. Go.

Penedes, Spain (Barcelona, Spain)


The picturesque Catalan wine region of Penedes, which is best known for its Cava sparkling wines, is an hour from Barcelona. As an idyllic home base, there’s the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Barcelona with its spa, the high-rise Melia Barcelona SKY with its new YHI Wellness Spa or Hotel Bagues, a small luxury hotel in a historic palace on Las Ramblas. This is the pedestrian street boasting the bustling Boqueria market and the Liceu Theater, which connects Gaudi’s gorgeous modernist achievements with the waterfront statue to Columbus. Vilafranca del Penedès—reached by car, train or on a Viator wine tour—is the place to experience the wine and architectural artistry at the extraordinary Waltraud Cellar for Bodegas Torres. This wine estate was established by the Torres family in 1870. Designed by Javier Barba of BC Estudio Architects in Barcelona, the GREEN tri-level structure has an underground cellar, cloister-like meditative space, a museum and tasting room with the spot’s finest wines. Go. 

Read The full article at Long Island Pulse


Madrid, Paseo Del Arte

In Madrid, Paseo del Arte, the art district, refers to both the culturally rich neighborhood bordering the Paseo del Prado and the broad boulevard itself, which links the city’s three prestigious art museums: the Reina Sofia, the Prado and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Irvina Lew Travel Writer SpainThe “Art Walk” dates to the Age of Enlightenment, when Charles III (1716–1788) enhanced north-south carriage access through the prado (meadow) of the pastoral 17th-century monastery (now Retiro Park). The king embellished the route with monumental fountains, a tree-shaded pedestrian promenade and major educational institutions: the Royal Observatory, the Royal Botanical Garden and what he planned to be a natural history museum. When the massive building ultimately opened in 1810 as the art-filled Prado, the city’s cultural hub was firmly established.

At the southernmost point of the “Golden Triangle,” crowds flock to Reina Sofia to admire Guernica, Picasso’s antiwar reaction to the aerial bombing of the Basque town in 1937, and works by Dalí, Gris and Miró. Nearby, the CaixaForum, with its impressive exterior wall of greenery, houses an exhibition space within a former power station.


Heading north to the Neptune Fountain, the Museo Nacional del Prado, with its Neoclassical façade studded with columns and statues, lies on the right. Inside, walls display classics from the Flemish, Italian and Spanish schools, including world-famous paintings by El Greco, Goya and Velázquez. Across the Paseo, Villahermosa Palace became home to the Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1992. Artwork from the 13th century to the present includes paintings by Gauguin, Kandinsky, Matisse and some prominent American artists.

Two grande dames hotels — and others — lie within footsteps of these museums. The legendary Hotel Ritz, Madrid maintained its prestigious appeal since its debut in 1910, and its elegant Goya Terrace faces the Prado. At The Westin Palace Hotel, which introduced the first private bathrooms and telephones in 1912, a spectacular stained-glass dome tops La Rotonda restaurant. Facing the nearby park, the AC Palacio del Retiro, a contemporary boutique hotel within a restored townhouse, boasts the original curved, wrought iron staircase and high ceilings.

Paseo del Arte ends just beyond the 19th-century Naval Museum at the opulent Cibeles Palace, which faces Cibeles Fountain. The white Gothic former post office houses Madrid’s City Hall and a tourist information center, an exhibition space and dining options including the gastronomic Palacio de Cibeles Restaurant. From its rooftop observation deck, views extend over Madrid’s magical skyline.

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