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.
Eating and drinking
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.
Who stays there
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.
- Business Centre
- Fitness Centre
- High-Speed Internet
- Room Service
- Swimming Pool
- Business travellers
- Culture vultures
- Mature travellers
- People watching
- Design and architecture
Pros & Cons
- Pool, spa, tennis and gardens –all in the city centre
- Handy for nightlife at the Marina and Vegueta
- Heritage appeal for culture-lovers and history buffs
- Creative Basque dining led by a celebrated chef
- Less convenient for Las Canteras beach but take the free hotel shuttle
- Come here for historic charm and location, not high-tech wizardry