Gran Meliā Palacio de las Duques
In early May 2019 during a visit to Madrid we decided to stay in the Gran Meliā Palacio de las Duques, and this is my second hotel review. We had spent a great couple of weeks at the Gran Meliá Sancti Petri in spring 2018, and had later received a nice offer to use our points in 2019. We picked a 6-night stay in Madrid, and we took a half-pension and an upgrade to what they call 'RedLevel' at Palacio de las Duques.
Booking tells us that the hotel is 'superb' with a score of 9.2/10 (882 reviews), the only slight weakness might be the free wi-fi and obviously 'value-for-money'. Booking quoted 580€ night for RedLevel with breakfast, and 655€ half-pension, fortunately the offer we received from Melía was more attractive. Key comments on Booking included the great location, excellent service, and the impressive courtyard and garden. Trip Advisor gave it 5/5 and also highlighted the excellent service. So lots and lots of very positive comments.
We can start with a write-up in El País from May 2017. What we learnt was that Melía had renovated the 'palacate' of the Duques de Granada de Era y Villahermosa which was built in 1851. The renovation included the building next to it, the Santo Domingo Convent, one of the largest Dominican convents and dating back to the 13th C. In renovating two adjoining buildings the architect, Álvaro Sans, has done a really good job integrating some of the original features into a modern 5-star hotel environment (I should say 5-star GL environment). As far as I can see at least one of the two buildings was originally the 5-star Hotel Tryp Ambassador, and renovation started in 2015. According to El País the previous owner of the 'palacate' had been a well known art collector in the 19th C, with a passion for Velázquez. El País mentioned that he had actually donated a Velázquez to the Museo del Prado. It is for this reason that the Las Meninas is a decorative theme throughout the hotel.
El País rightly mentions the excellent restoration of the very elegant central staircase.
A 5-star hotel in Spain must provide a double room of at least 17m2 with a bathroom of at least 5m2 and including both a bath and shower. There must be a telephone, central heating, air conditioning, and a safety deposit box in the room, and the hotel must have a lift and a bar. A 5-star GL standard for 'Gran Lujo' and is equivalent to a 6-star hotel in some countries, and just means having exceptional installations, equipment and service. As far as I understand things the 'GL' has no pre-established definition, and is given by the tourism authorities on a case-by-case basis. I could not find an official list of 5-star GL hotels in Madrid, or for that matter in Spain.
The Palacio de las Duques is part of The Leading Hotels of the World, and is one of 5 such hotels in Madrid.
First things first
About a week before our reservation we received an email from the hotel. They asked us to confirm some personal and travel details, and asked about some preferences. This included our preferred floor, and desires for a quiet room. They also asked about the type of bed we preferred, our preferred pillow types, preferences for still and/or sparking water, food intolerances, minibar preferences for drinks and snacks, and our preferred newspapers.
I also checked out these video's (video 1, video 2, video 3, video 4 and video 5) about the hotel.
The hotel website makes a point of offering particular aromas in the clients hotel room, and the hotel website mentions "exquisite in-room aromas menu". But we never saw this 'menu' and the hotel did not ask about our preferences in the pre-arrival email, nor did anyone ask us during check-in. I later found out that this was just a scent-burner placed in the room. So did it matter, no. Often closed corridors in hotels have a kind of 'stale' odour and this time I did note with pleasure that there was a specific and pleasant aroma in the corridors. I've no idea if this is intentional, but I took it as a welcomed effort.
In the pre-arrival email we were asked for our preferences for pillows, i.e. duck feather, latex, or cervical. I asked for latex for me, and latex and duck feather for my wife. I've no idea how that worked out, since there were three different pillows sitting on both sides of the bed. We were both happy with what was offered.
We were also asked in the pre-arrival email our preferences for water. My wife prefers still, and I prefer sparking. Again I don't really know how this worked out, but we welcomed the half-litre of still water left in the room each day.
Arriving in Madrid
We had no trouble finding the hotel even if it might not be totally obvious that you can drive down through Plaza Santo Domingo to get to Cuesta de Santo Domingo.
Nevertheless our car gps got us there with no problems. Parking is limited in the street, but arriving on a Sunday we found some space in the taxi rank in front of the hotel. The entrance is quite discrete, but with the staff welcoming guests we had clearly arrived at the right place. Our bags were quickly unloaded and the car driven off to the secure parking within minutes. They had asked immediately if we had a reservation, and with our names they knew to introduce us to the special 'RedLevel' reception. Below we can see a modern arrangement of lighting and flower that was situated in the entrance to the hotel. It set the scene for what we were about to experience throughout our stay in the renovated hotel.
Just to cover some of the practical details concerning the region around the hotel. Plaza Santo Domingo is home to a supermarket, a metro station, an electric bicycle station, and nearby there are two chemists and a surprising number of coffee shops and restaurants (no guarantee on the quality). And we should mention that the hotel is within walking distance of the Palacio Real, Teatro Real, and the Gran Vía with its El Corte Inglés and every other conceivable type of shop.
Unfortunately Plaza Santo Domingo is also the subject of daily attacks by taggers, and there are cleaners there almost everyday, but they appear to be losing the battle.
First impressions count, and we were impressed. The staff at the hotel entrance collected our bags and dispatched our car with efficiency and a smile. Walking into what is a bright but smallish reception area, we immediately got the message. We were in for an 'experience'.
We said that the hotel was themed around Las Meninas and this became obvious immediately as we entered the hotel reception.
I am a great admirer of a modern renovation that respects and values traditional architectural features. And I must give the architect a 10/10. In addition the interior design of the public spaces is outstanding, another 10/10. We can see in the interior patio how the architect has created a modern, light interior whilst retaining the classical architectural elements. And the interior designer has gone for a modern style but with antique highlights. Brought together, what they have created is a very compelling but relaxing atmosphere. Half tradition, half modernist, just how I like it.
Symbolic of the effort to retain a certain authenticity in the restoration of the palacio is the 19th C chandelier that sits above the central patio or tea room.
But having booked a 'RedLevel', we were ushered through a sliding glass door into a special reception reserved for privilege clients.
'RedLevel' is a "boutique hotel within a 5-star hotel". On the hotel website we learn that the 'RedLevel' allows their 'VIP guests' to choose the aroma for their room, and request services from a personalised butler and concierge service. I must admit I did not detect any particular aroma, and I can't remember ever needing any personalised services. On the other hand we did benefit from the private reception area, and we used daily the 'RedLevel' lounge and private terrace area. Access to this 'RedLevel' lounge and terrace included a buffet breakfast and an all-day open bar with a choice of canapés, tapas, sweet and savoury snacks, and including Ruinart champagne.
'RedLevel' provides a separate, personalised check-in. Driving up from Aranjuez we had arrived a little early, but they were able to free-up a nice room on the 2nd floor. We must say that throughout our stay all the staff working the 'RedLevel' desk were exceptionally friendly, and several of them would come and say hello during breakfast, etc.
We were exceptionally well received by Eugenia, who seemed to go out of her way to be friendly and helpful.
You need the 'RedLevel' card to select the floor on the lift, but of course you can always use the stairs! The card is a contact-less version that also opens the bedroom door and the access to the 'RedLevel' lounge. Whilst I found the stairs nice and airy, I found the corridors overly dark.
Here are two views taken from the web, but which present our exact room. As you enter the room you pass two sets of wardrobes and a sliding door leading to the bathroom. Entering the bedroom you are immediately struck by a wall covered in a toned-down, but massively enlarge copy of Velazquez's Infanta Maria Teresa. Velazquez painted several portraits of the infanta and the one in this room was the one from the Museo del Prado. The hotels' website speaks of "class, elegance and comfort", and for once they are right. Other rooms have different layouts, but all appear to have a bed headrest with a Velazquez-inspired picture. We were particularly lucky to have a room with such an iconic picture.
The decor is very much tone-on-tone, but totally successful. Everything is perfect, with the exception of the 'throw' on the bed which I hate because they collect germs (hope they change it with each client). In front of you there is a window to the street, flanked on one side by a sitting area with sofa and coffee table, and on the other side by a small round desk with two chairs (and USB connections on the wall). The king-size double bed sits in front of a wall-mounted 59-inch flat-screen LED TV. Below the TV there is a low piece of black furniture, home to a Nespresso coffee-maker, a mini-fridge, and an electronic safe easily large enough for a laptop plus stuff.
When we turn round we see next to the bed a completely transparent glass wall showing off the designer bathtub and separate rain shower. There was a curtain that could be pulled to cover the glass wall, separating the bedroom from the bathroom.
Retuning to the wardrobes we can find bathrobes and slippers, and a wide range of coat hangers (including a tie rack).
The wardrobes are large enough to take quite a collection of clothes and accessories. There was also a suitcase rack.
Access to the bathroom is through a sliding wood door, and access to the WC and bidet is through a second sliding frosted glass door. There are double hand-basins, and the large draw is home to a separate hairdryer. There are a wide range of Clarions produces available.
Before we leave our room we should note the following positive points:
Not necessarily a very big room, but a great sense of space
Comfortable seating and good lighting
Plenty of wardrobe space, and the clothes brush was really great, and the red umbrella was a nice touch as well
Good use of space in bathroom, although I wonder how many people still use a bath
TV programs, lots of options, but you alway end up watching the same channels
Plenty of power sockets all in the right places, plus an adapter for international plugs
Warm and cold air-con command is by the bed, as are all the major lighting commands.
Bars & Restaurants
The hotel website mentions the 'Coroa Royal Gallery & Garden', the 'Montmartre Restaurant - Wine Bar', and the 'Restaurant Dos Cielos'. This is in addition to the 'RedLevel' lounge.
The 'palacio' garden terrace
One of the outstanding elements of the hotel is their 1,000m2 of terraces and outside garden, which they claim to be "one of its kind in the heart of the city".
Before going into details concerning breakfasts, etc, let's take a look at the public spaces.
I'm not sure this space is really called the 'tea room', but one of the review reports used this term. Also I'm not sure what would be included in such a tea room, but here goes.
Leaving the main reception area, we pass the lifts and restored staircase, with what look to be pair of antique Spanish or Italian collectors cabinets sitting on the first landing. Cabinets such as these were also sometime called 'coin cabinets' or 'table cabinets'. These type of cabinets have a central door with an architectural inspired inlay that usually reveals more draws. The inlay decoration can be geometric or show country scenes. The cabinets often stand on some form of 'bun' feet, and sit on a supporting table. The inlay could be tortoiseshell, bone or ivory. The best pieces were highly prized as show pieces, and the idea was that they contained curiosities, rare objects, or coins and medals. I think the idea for this type of cabinet originated in Antwerp ca. 1600, but became very popular in Italy in the 17th C. Spanish cabinets of this type could date from ca. 1800 and would usually be in ebonised walnut with tortoiseshell and bone inlay. They could be surmounted with elaborate tops, with crowns and family crests. They would come with matching stands. The inlay on the better versions could depict hunting scenes or landscapes, or even ships or castles.
Next to the left-hand newel post of the central staircase there is an intriguing Spanish 19th C wooden carved figurehead.
Now we enter the 'tea room' under the central chandelier, and the associated sitting areas.
The 'RedLevel' lounge
The 'RedLevel' lounge consists of a closed sitting area, a covered terrace area and a reserved part of the garden.
As a 'RedLevel' client we could take breakfast in the Coroa Bar or in the 'RedLevel' lounge. No doubt there is a wider variety of options in the Coroa Bar, but the 'RedLevel' lounge was fine for us. There is a buffer of fruit and breakfast snacks, and a menu for a variety of cooked breakfasts. On the first three days service was fast and the buffet was well plenished. They would serve coffee for me and green tea for my wife, and also bring us a basket of pastries with some butter. Jams were on the table. We took fresh orange juice, yogurt, some sliced fruit, and sliced and grilled breads from the buffet.
On the fourth day, the lounge was a bit more crowded and we had to wait for 20 minutes for coffee and tea, and on the fifth day service was faster but this time the buffet had been decimated and not replenished. We could always use the Nespresso machine, but you kind of wait thinking that the maid will come soon, and suddenly you have waited 10 minutes. On both days we (finally) had the breakfast we wanted, so no hassle. However, staffing levels could have been improved since they know in advance the number of clients likely to use the 'RedLevel', and the backshop operations in the kitchens might need looking at.
Our 6th day, and last breakfast, was not much better than the previous two. There appeared to be more staff on services, but it made no difference. There were not many people in the 'RedLevel' lounge but two people sitting near us waited at least 20 minutes for their cooked breakfast. We stuck to a continental breakfast, but our request for some butter arrive after 15 minutes, as we were leaving. The lounge was not crowded, yet the service appeared rushed, and everything appeared to arrive late. The person who checkout before me also commented on the same problem.
Problems on one day might be anecdotal, but problems on three consecutive days is a sign that something is wrong with what should be a well-oiled machine.
'RedLevel' open bar
From 13:00 to 23:00 the 'RedLevel' runs an open bar for their VIP clients. This includes an "extensive choice of canapés, tapas, sweet and savoury snacks, soft drinks, fruit juice and premium-brand alcoholic drinks, including Ruinart champagne".
Once we had returned from our sight-seeing trips we would pop-in to have a glass (or two) of champagne (water for my wife) and a few snacks. And probably a few too-many snacks. This option was very much appreciated, and the service was relaxed and efficient.
Montmartre Restaurant - Wine Bar
Our 'media-pension' or half-board included dinner in the Montmartre Restaurant. For the first three days we took dinner in the Montmartre covered terrace.
The service was very pleasant and provided by the very professional and friendly Diego.
The reality is that we had booked the half-board which included a appetiser with bread, etc., and a 3-course meal, including a glass of wine. But after a late breakfast, and a snack or two at about 16:30-17:00, we were not inclined to take on a full 4-course menu at 21:00. So we would pick and choose a couple of first courses, or a main course, plus an ice cream for my wife, and that was more than enough. Some of our favourite dishes included "huevo 'cocotte', turfo, queso brie y cebolla", "créme brûlée de foie y turfo con crujiente de semillas", "pluma ibérica confitado, tapenade de aceitunas Manzanilla", and "lubina 'en papillotte', coco y jengibre".
Frankly with what was offered in the 'RedLevel' lounge through to 23:00, my wife and I are sure that we would not book half-board again.
On our fourth and sixth evenings the Montmartre terrace appeared closed so we decided to dine in the Coroa Bar Restaurant (see later for our opinion).
On our fifth night we again found the Montmartre terrace closed, so we tried the 'main' Montmartre restaurant. We were lucky to find a nice table because it's actually quite small, and looked to be more or less fully booked. Personally I found the atmosphere stuffy, and over warm, but my wife found it comfortable. One couple found it too warm and they were accommodated in a corner of the bar area. As with the people in the Coroa bar they seemed not to be fully aware that we were on half-board, but everything worked out fine and, as usual we ate too much.
The food was fine, but I did not like the atmosphere in the 'main' Montmartre restaurant. I found it closed, stuffy, dark, and the decor a bit 'over-the-top' and lacking a relaxed style that we could see in the other dinning locations. The service was fine, except that twice we were offered dishes ordered by other tables.
As a last point, the Montmartre is also called also a wine bar, but this is not evidenced by the wine menu or the restaurant experience. We only took a glass here and there but what was on offer was not inspiring. The wine list could really do with a bit more effort, and what about a wine-tasting menu, matching wine with each dish. Spain has a fantastic variety of wines, but the wine list is far too conservative.
Coroa Bar Restaurant
The Coroa acts as the hotels main bar and restaurant, and serves also the breakfast buffet. With our half-board option we could draw from the Coroa menu and the menu of the Montmartre restaurant. The atmosphere is comfortable, but I personally found the long line of seats and tables a bit too 'regimented' and not particularly conducive to a relaxed evening meal.
We ate twice in this restaurant. In both cases the food was perfect, but the service was less so. The first time things just appeared to take forever. We waited to get our drinks, to order, to get our dishes, and to pay. The second time things went a little better, but with our final order of ice cream we gave up in the end. The waiter presented the excuse that they were crowded and busy, but I looking into the different rooms and the place was almost empty at 22:30.
Clearly the hotel thinks that the rooftop pool is a major selling point. Its on the banner header on their website, and all the photographs give the impression of a magnificent rooftop pool, etc.
The positives are that the rooftop pool exists, that the staff were very friendly and helpful, and that my wife loved it up there. But the reality is that the pool is small and only 1 meter deep. We were there when someone actually tried to swim in it and drenched the seating (and me who happened to be sitting too near). We were on the rooftop twice. The first time there was someone sunbathing, and a couple working with a computer. The second time there was someone sunbathing, and a couple with the man trying to show off his swimming prowess. Quite a number of people came up to take photographs, but do they return for a dip?
Getting to the pool was quite interesting. The hotel is really two buildings, and the pool is situated on the 7th floor of one of the buildings. Our bedroom was on the 2nd floor in the other building, but on the 2nd floor there is no connecting corridor between the two buildings. So we had either to go up or down, then use the connecting corridor to get the lifts in the other building. There were two lifts, but only one goes to the 7th floor. Naturally each time we called a lift, the one that did not go to the 7th floor would arrive. Finally the technique was to send that one to the ground floor, and then again call for a lift, hoping that the other one arrived first.
We need to balance the positive and negatives taking into consideration what the hotel promises and the price we pay. Before we start with the negatives, we must note that positives far outweigh the negatives.
So let's have a look at the negatives first:
The hotel staff in the reception clearly have been instructed to place their right hands over their hearts as a sign of welcome when greeting clients. Initially we found this rather funny, but it finally became just a bit stupid. Some staff forgot, some were very enthusiastic, some late, some 'half-hearted', …
Now for our first real criticism. In the pre-arrival email we were asked about our preferences for newspapers. The hotel website mentions that 'RedLevel' clients have the option of Spanish and international newspapers. I asked for The Times and El País for my wife. Upon arrival we asked if the French newspaper Le Monde might also be possible. We found out that you could have one of several Spanish newspapers, but the only international newspaper was the New York Times (later I was told you could also have the Financial Times). They even managed to translate Le Monde and provide my wife with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo!
Another criticism concerned the wi-fi in the room. I had no problems with the signal when using my MacBook Pro, but using my iPhone the signal would drop off and recover every few minutes.
During our stay we used the hotel's laundry service, but we had to ask about our clothes for them to reappear in the room wardrobe, all beautifully hung in nice black fabric protective bags, etc. The real story is somewhat different. The room had two large and very well equipped wardrobes, but during our stay the doors started to drop and scrap across the floor. Clearly the maid who dropped off our laundry noticed this and called the hotel maintenance. So when we returned that evening we found not only our laundry but also that the wardrobe doors had been rehung. A great sense of initiative on the part of the maid. Unfortunately, the problem reappeared again after a couple of days.
One minor comment on the wardrobes, concerns the lighting. Each wardrobe has a light that is triggered by movement. However the timing is such that the light goes off far too quickly. You just had time to open and look into the wardrobe and then the light goes out. You try to find something and the light goes on, triggered by movement, but then almost immediately goes off. So annoying.
A far more serious criticism concerns the bathroom. There were two problems. The shower door has started to slip meaning that it has become very difficult to properly close the shower door whilst taking a shower. The maid(s) who clean the room daily must have notice this, but they did not contact maintenance.
Also concerning the bathroom, the bidet was not properly mounted on the wall, and moved quite a lot when used.
A real problem occurred during the last three days at breakfast in the 'RedLevel', everything was slow and uncoordinated. Also the service for our two dinners in Coroa was not perfect.
Enough with the negatives, now what about the positives?
The architecture and interior design (public spaces and bedroom) are outstanding, and really create a sense of contemporary luxury and an original style. The result is a quality experience. We really loved the decor in our bedroom. The design and what's offered in the room were perfect, shame about the small maintenance issues.
We loved the 'RedLevel' lounge idea, and the staff are really trying to please (shame about the long delays). What was on offer in the lounge was perfect for our needed. The terrace and garden really take the experience to the 'next level'.
The staff working the 'door' were outstanding.
We really enjoyed the terrace of the Montmartre, and the food at all times was consistently both interesting and good. We very much appreciated the Montmartre menu, with lots of interesting options.
The article from El País gave scores for the hotel. I'm not a fan of scores, but we can 'compare results'. El País scored the architecture an 8, the decoration an 8, and the 'ambiance' a 10. We would agree with the 'ambiance' but I think we would score the architecture a 10, and the decoration a 9. El Pais gave a 9 for 'state of conservation', we certainly might have agreed with that if it were not for the minor maintenance issues in the room. Setting aside those issues we would give 'comfort in the bedroom' a 10 (El País only gave the hotel a poor old 8). The friendliness of staff, etc. merits a 10, even if there were practical problems in the service in the restaurants. What was on offer for both breakfast and dinner, for us, was worth a 10, but others might expect a more extensive choice of options. Overall, El País gave the hotel an 8.5, whereas we would tend to agree more with the score of 9.2 on the Booking website.
One key question is about 'value for money', and I think both my wife and I felt that what is offered on the 'RedLevel' is certainly worth the difference. Another key question is 'would we go back'? We would have no hesitation in returning to the same hotel, 'RedLevel' included, but we also would not hesitate looking at alternatives in the same category.