When you are next in Madrid, look up and you’ll notice something strange. It’s a five-storey city. The Spanish capital sits in its own charming space, neither ancient nor modern, not overwhelming but no shrinking violet. It must be a candidate for Europe’s most relaxed metropolis.
A city that generally stops climbing at five gives the six-storey Principal (seven, if you count La Terraza) a distinct advantage. This beautiful boutique hotel is a sublime expression of Madrid itself: elegant, grand in an unassuming way and, though it’s relatively new, already feeling comfortably lived-in.
The almost-secret entrance off a corner of the Gran Via gives a clue to its particular qualities. A doorman directs you to the lift, in which you ascend to the sixth floor that hosts the reception, dining area, lounge and Ático restaurant, all drenched in natural light by day and stellar panoramas of the city by night.
These distinct elements hug the circular floor plan, which surrounds the staircase and atrium. The real trick of this curious layout and the atmosphere it generates is to give the hotel the feel of a private members club, in which discerning visitors or Madrilenians will feel both at home and in exclusive company.
The Ático is overseen by Ramón Freixa (whose two- Michelin-starred Único is just around the corner in the well-heeled Salamanca district) and offers top-end Spanish/ bistro fare, such as croquettes of baby squid in black ink, monkfish with chicory and herb mustard, and cheesecake with candied pine nuts and honey.
It is wise to copy the Madrilenians’ love of long lunches, and food halls provide an atmosphere that restaurants and tourist traps may lack, while still serving the very best tapas and traditional Spanish food. Otherwise, tucked away in the Platea food hall – a converted cinema in the edge of Salamanca – dishes such as the deconstructed flounder and the veal tartare ensure that Arriba is packed for lunch from 2pm.
The on time you can guarantee the city will truly stir is after 10pm, so if you can retune your body clock, the Mercado de San Miguel is lively, young and stylish, with a wide range of superb seafood, meat and snack stalls, plus bars, sherry and cocktail seller.
As any boutique hotel with ambition would, the Principal has a spa, sauna, gym and welcoming and discreet staff, but the real joy comes from that feeling of relaxed exclusivity on the sixth floor. So when you’ve had your fill of Madrid’s nocturnal buzz, take your bucket-sized gin and tonic in hand and make the trip up to La Terraza for 360-degree views of the city from its (slowly) beating heart.