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Style without spend in Barcelona

Press AssociationPress Association 14/11/2016 Susan Griffin

There's a storm brewing above our heads.

The sight of grey rain clouds looming ominously wouldn't normally present the ideal scenario for a short city break in Barcelona. But fortunately for us, these clouds don't pose a threat to our weekend away. They're merely part of the striking design of our room at Room Mate Anna, the Room Mate group's fourth, and flagship, hotel in the Spanish city.

Aside from the atmospheric ceiling, the room boasts dramatic decor, with red drapes and shutters, a crimson coral bedhead and giant white shells adorning the walls. It's an aquatic theme, though not as we know it. But the Room Mate Hotels' brand prides itself on bold and individual themes within each of their hotels; and it doesn't stop there.

Kike Sarasola, founder and CEO of Room Mate Hotels, launched the group in 2005, inspired by his travels with husband Carlos Marrero, including a trip to the Big Apple.

"At that time, the city was full of visitors, so we couldn't find a hotel in the centre. After coming back, we realised we spent a lot of money on a hotel far away from the centre, which we only spent a few hours sleeping, having breakfast and showering," he explains.

He decided to open a new hotel chain, offering everything he wanted, he adds.

"A hotel in a good location in the heart of the city, original and bold design, reasonable price, exceptional service and not flooded with extras that are seldom used."

And so Room Mate Hotels was born. Now, 11 years on, there are 23 properties in cities including New York, Miami, Mexico City, Florence, Istanbul and Milan, and eight upcoming openings, including two more in Barcelona in 2017, following the city's year hiatus on licensing new hotels.

"Room Mate Hotels is for those who want to stay in the centre of a city, see the sights, walk the grand streets and breathe in the life and spirit of the place," continues Sarasola.

And the most important characteristic, he notes, is "keeping the guest at the heart. We want them to feel as if they were at a friend's home".

Room Mate Anna, which opened in the summer, has 81 rooms ranging from basic up to junior suites, and the location is incredible. The airport bus, which takes about 35 minutes, terminates in the grand Placa de Catalunya, and it only takes my boyfriend and I 10 minutes to walk along Passeig de Gracia, which is lined with cafes and designer stores, to reach the hotel.

It might not have loud music, but there's something of a nightclub vibe to the small lobby, with pops of red and gold in the predominantly black space.

The receptionist is welcoming, taking time to mark out a few highlights on a map, such as La Boqueria food market and Passeig del Born, a picturesque, ancient avenue dotted with small bars in the Gothic Quarter. As well as free wifi in the hotel, we're offered WiMate, a complimentary portable mini router, which you can pop in your bag and stay online wherever you are in the city. Finally, we're informed breakfast's served until noon, so there's no need to rush in the morning.

We drop our bags off and make a beeline, via corridors adorned with fish-themed black wallpaper, for the rooftop plunge pool and enjoy a glass of bubbles on striped monochrome seating. There's also a quiet sun terrace, where you can plonk yourselves down on one of the beanbag beds; the perfect place to wind down after a day of sightseeing.

And Barcelona is all about the sights. Buy a book of 10 travel tickets for 10 euros ($A14) (there's a metro stop just outside the hotel) and travel to Gaudi's incredible Park Guell, and the whimsical amusement park on Tibidabo mountain, which can be reached via a funicular and offers glorious panoramic views.

Barcelona is made for walking though, and we enjoy a 20-minute amble from the hotel to the Sagrada Familia, a staggering cathedral, which is yet to be completed 134 years after work commenced.

Afterwards we come across the small, unassuming La Repanocha restaurant on Carrer del Bruc, where a three-course meal, including paella and salmon, and a drink, costs just under 10 euros each.

The afternoon's spent on the beach (the closest metro is Barceloneta), where we float in the warm, clear sea and watch paddle boarders and canoeists before returning to the hotel.

It's a wonderful sight watching the sun set over Casa Batllo, Gaudi's fairy tale-like masterpiece, from our room's balcony.

For dinner, we avoid La Rambla, the city's main avenue where restaurant prices are hoicked up for tourists, and instead visit the cavernous Les Tapes on Placa Regomir. Here you can tuck into a mountain of tapas, including the most succulent chorizo I've ever tasted, for under 13 euros. Barbara, the co-owner, tells us she visited the city over 30 years ago and never left. It's easy to see why.

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