Santa Catalina Hotel
Leon Y Castillo 227 , Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, 35005
- Recommended for:
- Business travellers, Couples, Culture vultures, Foodies, Mature travellers, Design and architecture, History, Nightlife, People watching, Sightseeing
Best for Nightlife - Expert review of Santa Catalina Hotel
Built by the British in 1890, this dowager hotel was responding to the capital’s appeal as a healthy destination for visitors arriving by steamer. In my eyes, it still retains its allure. With its carved, Canarian-style wooden balconies and secluded gardens, there’s nowhere more special to stay in the capital. Santa Catalina has huge appeal for history buffs and culture-vultures, like myself. The hotel also works for exploring Vegueta, Las Palmas’ lovely old town. Vegueta is not just my favourite district but the most beguiling old quarter anywhere on the Canary Islands.
Beyond being a hotel, Santa Catalina is a legendary landmark, which is both a blessing and a bind. This is where generations of locals have gossiped, flirted, fallen out and then celebrated their weddings - and golden weddings. But this mountain of memories makes it hard for the hotel to move on. Alejandro, the dynamic new manager, has loved the place since he was a child but admits he’s facing an uphill struggle to revamp the hotel while keeping its character. Even he celebrated his wedding there, he sheepishly admits. But tweaks are taking place. Santa Catalina’s status as a heritage hotel may give it a cloistered feel but the re-energised restaurant has a distinctly creative buzz. This Las Palmas grand-dame is finally getting a facelift - but it’s more like cosmetic surgery than the full face transplant. Thank goodness.
The smart location is convenient for cultural forays, nightlife and restaurants – and not ruled out for the urban beach scene. The landmark hotel occupies a suitably plush spot, on a prestigious square close to the chic marina, the Muelle Deportivo. The marina is a cool nightlife magnet for a younger crowd but I prefer picturesque Vegueta, the heart of the historic district, which is just about within walking distance. Apart from being home to my favourite museum (Casa Colon, Christopher Columbus’ house) Vegueta has the most eclectic nightlife scene, from sophisticated restaurants to quirky bars and happening tapas joints. Round the corner from the hotel is the touristy Pueblo Canaria, a quaint place for a drink. The beach, Playa de las Canteras (via the free hotel shuttle) has a breezy urban buzz, especially at weekends. Lining the seafront are enough bars and restaurants to keep me there long after sunset.
The Spanish grandee look prevails, with the sombre, carved furniture offset by half-glimpsed views of the gardens or the sea. I like the fourth-floor bedrooms for their views and style, a blend of low-key refinement and old-world opulence. Expect low lighting, marble floors, gorgeous Canarian wooden balconies or surprisingly large terraces, in some cases. The bathrooms are pleasant, if rather old-fashioned. Given the idiosyncratic nature of the hotel, the bedrooms can be very different, even in the same category. While number 414 and 113 are both standard doubles, the former is relatively small while the latter has a huge terrace. Junior suites are set in the corners of each floor and enjoy views across the gardens to the sea.
Set back from the seafront, Santa Catalina radiates a delightful sense of calm and seclusion. Given its lovely location, the hotel sat on its laurels until the arrival of a dynamic manager this year. In places, the heritage look can seem rather timeworn but there are refurbishment plans in place. The grand marble lobby, decorated with hotel memorabilia, leads to the clubby bar and a series of dignified, dated but delightful rooms that can be used for parties, private dining and events. Conveniently, there is a hush-hush hotel entrance for incognito celebrities.
As befits its British heritage, the ground-floor Bar Carabela has a clubby, old-colonial feel more suited to winter than summer. Past guests include Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill and you can imagine them both here. But the bar terrace is the best of Santa Catalina: it’s both a charming meeting place for high society and the haunt of politicos and power-brokers. The breakfast room is set in an atmospheric winter garden while the pool bar is under the palms.
La Terraza, the gourmet restaurant, is now led by the celebrated Spanish chef, Jose Rojano, who comes from the foodie hot spot of San Sebastian. He has brought a new dynamism to the restaurant with his interpretation of creative Basque nouvelle cuisine. A typical dish is grilled grouper with creamy cauliflower purée and papaya vinaigrette, or steak tartare with mustard ice cream. Yes, there are echoes of Heston Blumenthal and molecular cuisine.
Santa Catalina’s strength is its space, seclusion, gardens and leisure facilities, which are unrivalled in Las Palmas. For a city hotel, Santa Catalina’s setting is surprisingly lush, surrounded by sub-tropical gardens. The hotel also faces a charming square, with an iconic dragon tree in the centre.
The spa, complete with heated indoor pool, steam room, Jacuzzi and massage jets, is discreet and matched by a large gym. Pampering treatments include massage and aloe vera wraps. The outdoor pool, surrounded by palms, has a convenient pool bar for Mediterranean-style tapas. You can also use the tennis club and jogging trails next-door, along with a casino.
Even so, Las Palmas itself is the biggest `leisure facility’ and you would be mad not to explore the Vegueta old town cultural quarter, as well as Las Canteras, the urban beach scene (3 kms away, reached via the free hotel shuttle).
Service is friendly but a touch staid, with some staff feeling like old retainers. This is hardly surprising: long service is simply a sign of loyalty to the hotel.
Visiting celebrities, Canarian VIPs and Spanish royalty wouldn’t dream of staying anywhere else. Couples and culture-vultures will feel at home here, although there is a smattering of families at times. The smart power-lunching set will also lap it up.
Book early for the city’s fabulous Carnival, which takes place in February.
More information on Santa Catalina Hotel :
- Leon Y Castillo 227 , Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, 35005
- Free tags / Keywords:
- Spa, Foodies, Heritage, Nightlife, business
- Business Centre, Fitness Centre, High-Speed Internet, Parking, Restaurant, Room Service, Swimming Pool