A room for all budgets: the best cheap and expensive hotels in Spain
The EL PAÍS travel critic reviews two unique and very different experiences at both ends of the price scale
An amazing expensive hotel
Les Cols Pavellons (Olot, Girona). Double room: €340
It is categorized as a boarding house, but Les Cols Pavellons (Avenida de les Cols, s/n; +34 699 81 38 17), in Olot, Girona (a province in the northeastern region of Catalonia), is an establishment that boasts among the highest average prices in Spain. And this year, it received the top international distinction for its design: the Pritzker, which is considered to be the Nobel Prize of architecture. The award was accepted by RCR Arquitectes, which comprises the talents of architects Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta.
Mattresses appear and disappear. They are opened and closed. The guest decides
When Judit Planella started the project, she never imagined that it would reach such heights in these beautiful glass structures that now constitute not just her home, but the home of hundreds of travelers arriving from all parts of the world. But still, it was clear in her mind that hospitality is not limited to the physical necessities of lodging, but to a psychological experience of the senses. She pursued a unique objective, an approach to the concept of “the nowhere place.” And she obtained from the now award-winning architects an ethereal fantasy of beauty between glass. Judit describes it with these poetic words: “To be alone before the night and the emptiness, a refugee between walls, where opacity and the reflections of glass blend in a dialogue of lights and water, so that you regain a sense of nature that we believed to have been forgotten.”
One of the peculiarities of this accommodation is its paradoxical placement: inside the industrial complex of Olot – because it is considerably easier to build a luxury hotel against magnificent scenery like the Volcanic Zone of La Garrotxa, for example. But to do it between factories, as Judit and her collaborators have done, requires tremendous talent.
They do not exist. Les Cols is a nowhere place. Over the surface of transparent glass float emerald-colored mattresses that can be transformed into sofas, carpets, or beds. They appear and disappear. They are opened and closed. The guest decides. And at night, they can be folded back up so that you can lie back and gaze at the moon.
Nor is there a breakfast room in this nowhere place. The guests are not directed to the first meal of the day, but rather, the meal comes to them. The hostess serves them in the glass rooms at the agreed hour. Local products are made especially for the hotel, treating guests to aromas and flavors in a concert of the senses with a soul of glass.
And a charming, affordable hotel
Venta de Ulzama (Ulzama, Navarre). Double room: €70
Many readers will remember that winding road across the Belate mountain pass, between the cities of Pamplona and San Sebastian, which used to be packed with trucks. The trip took so long that no one could avoid a stop at the Venta de Ulzama.
On such a journey, the asphalt would give way to the lush, green landscape of Navarre, where awaiting the traveler was the hospitality of the Díez de Ulzurrun family, which is now represented by its fourth generation, Felisa Goñi and her daughter-in-law Inma Berberena.
The highway tunnel now avoids the ascent through the mountain, and with it, the inn has been left isolated in a forest of beech trees. But homeliness, attention to detail and good food still captivate the traveler in search of solitude. The hostesses ensure it with elegant discretion. Remnants of the old inn permeate the air as one walks up the stairs. A first floor, then another. Room 206 is perhaps the most charming, with its wooden headboards, exposed beams, and small windows. If the weather permits, there is nothing like engrossing yourself on the porch with some Patxaran liquor. As soon as it gets quiet, a herd of 20 deer owned by the inn will leave the thicket to seek amusement in the field.
To spend the night in the middle of snowfall like that which regularly falls on this mountainous area in Navarre is an unforgettable experience. And in the summer, the facade exhibits balconies lined with geraniums.
The continued refurbishments have left the inn in a current condition that cannot be criticized. Especially satisfactory is the double bed of Room 103, from which one can admire the forest of trees that enshrine this rustic home.
In the basement of the inn, one can find an authentic factory of milk curds. This cuajada, a typical dish on many Basque tables, is the star of the menu here and will be served at dessert and breakfast. Made with the same hot stones that were used more than a century ago, the artisanal curd is famed for being the best in Navarre. Especially if Mrs Goñi is putting the pot on your table.
English version by Henry Hahn.