Artfully majestic: Villa Real in Madrid

December 31, 2015

Inspiration comes in many forms. Personally, I’ve always been motivated by visual experiences and they strongly translate into my work as a writer. So upon arriving in Madrid earlier this year, I found myself fascinated by a city that I now call “majestic” because of its striking and incredibly impressive architecture, with many palaces and art on every corner. Several months have passed since I returned to Canada, but I decided to save this story until today because it was, by far, one of my favourite experiences of 2015.

But let’s backtrack a bit. I grew up between Moscow and Barcelona, so I was very excited to be back in Spain. Neither my husband nor I have ever been to Madrid, and we were looking forward to experiencing a new city together.

Ahead of the trip, I reached out to Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and within a couple of weeks, we were booked at Villa Real in the heart of Spain’s capital. What attracted me to SLH was that it consists of 520 small hotels dotted across 80 countries. Most of these locations are boutique and independent properties, that are hand-selected by SLH. The company says that out of approximately 1,000 hotel applications each year, they only accept about 50. Since its inception in 1989, they have also won many prestigious travel awards, so I was looking forward to our stay.

Hotel Villa Real (the name translates as “the royal villa”) was incredible in many ways, but what will stay with me forever is the memory of its design and art collection. I have experienced and reviewed many hotels around the world, but I have never seen such an impressive art line-up.

Villa Real brings together a selection of 40 flawlessly restored ancient mosaics from the Roman era and of Syrian origin, dating between the second and sixth centuries A.D. They range from geometric to plant and figurative designs, as well as a small selection of Christian mosaics. The works on display are colour compositions that show a great attachment to the Hellenistic mosaic tradition, both in trying to reproduce images naturally and in their iconographic themes. They also include many floral, plant and animal motifs. In addition, the hotel displays a collection of Greek kraters from Apulia belonging to one of the most important private collections in Spain, a variety of sculptures, along with contemporary paintings by artists such as Josep Maria Guinovart, Antoni Tàpies and Andy Warhol, who inspired the decoration of the East 47 restaurant.

This creative approach to decorating the property is a result of Jordi Clos’ passion for art and culture. Clos is a developer and chairman of a series of hotels in Spain (Villa Real being one of them) and is renowned in the country as a collector, scholar and patron of the arts. In all of his hotels, he has brought together a mix of art, culture and luxury, with many global influences.

In addition to its striking art collection — to this day, I can’t believe we had two 4th century A.D. mosaics on the wall of our room — Villa Real is an exquisite five-star luxury property. It is situated in the heart of the city’s Plaza de las Cortes. Right next to the hotel is the Congress of Deputies and the Puerta del Sol square is only a short walk away. My husband and I love walking and exploring the city on our own, so we found the location incredibly convenient.

We stayed at one of the largest two-floor suites in the hotel. It had an ensuite sauna, two showers, a bathtub with jacuzzi, a massive balcony, a staircase between its two floors and, in addition to the ancient mosaic art pieces, a couple of other collector items, including a sculpture and a vintage desk. The room was very tastefully decorated and when we arrived, we noticed a bottle of 2010 Baron de Ley Rioja and several delicious chocolates awaiting us on the table. Everything was very elegant, and there was a single red rose in a thin vase sitting next to the treats.

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The following morning, the buffet breakfast was delicious, and we spent some time walking around the building, enjoying its décor and looking at other art works that hung around the property. It felt like staying in a very upscale museum that was cozy, classic and very luxurious.

The city, the hotel, the art everywhere — stole my heart. Several months later, my husband and I still fondly remember this experience. Madrid, we will be back again, we know it. Happy 2016!

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By Hannah Yakobi
Photography by Brendan Ross, Hannah Yakobi & courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World

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