Cue the Concierge: Alfredo Martínez of Cotton House Hotel, Barcelona
Each Wednesday Culture+Travel presents a weekly series in collaboration with Les Clefs d'Or, the professional association for hotel concierges worldwide. Recognizable by their set of crossed gold keys worn on their uniform lapels, let the world’s leading experts in personalized service reveal the hidden secrets and hot new places to visit – Cue the Concierge!

In Barcelona, the Cotton House Hotel is a head-turner. Housed in the iconic neoclassical 19th-century building of the former Cotton Textile Foundation headquarters, the refurbished modern-meets-historic boutique hotel is an instant eye-pleaser.

But while the elegant rooms and beautifully setting may have helped the new hotel (its splashy debut into the Barcelona hotel scene was just earlier this year) to win over a steady pool of fans, the positive reception is due to no small part to its attentive concierge service.

This June, Les Clefs d'Or recognized its Gossypium (get it?) Manager Alfredo Martínez as one of Spain's top Chief Concierges. Along with his colleagues, Martínez has but one desire, and that is to elevate the guest experience to great heights.

"I remember once upon a time, this lovely middle-aged couple approached the Concierge desk," he related to Culture+Travel, recalling a special guest request he once helped to make reality.

"Their faces were bright and you could already foresee they had some very special plans on their minds. And it was in my hands to fulfill and exceed their expectations," he said, adding that this couple wished to find a Volkswagen Beetle from the 1970’s they could drive across the French Riviera, so as to re-enact the great love story of the man's grandparents.

From there, Martínez and his colleagues got in touch with the Volkswagen headquarters in Germany and tracked down a replica of the car in Italy that was available. The couple bought the car and it was duly shipped to the French Riviera — a "dream come true".

Ahead of Swab Barcelona 2015, the international contemporary art fair that runs through October 1 to 4, we turned to Martínez to suss out the best on what to do and see.


CULTURE+TRAVEL: Tell us about the latest new hip and stylish restaurant in town. What makes it special?

MARTINEZ: Disfrutar is the new hip and stylish restaurant in Barcelona! As its name suggests, this restaurant, is all about enjoying. Disfrutar means ‘to take pleasure’ or ‘to have fun’ in English. The gastronomic experience expresses the haute cuisine using the most updates and stylish techniques at an affordable price. This originality and care is even reflected in the decor, which features the white of Cadaqués alongside typical Barcelona tiles, a fun combination in keeping with the restaurant’s philosophy.

I’m jetlagged and it’s midnight. Where can I enjoy a drink with a view?

Eclipse within W Hotel is definitely the place to see and to be seen in. This exclusive 26th-floor hot spot located at the top of the emblematic W Hotel in the Barceloneta Beach offers amplified beats from resident DJs, inventive cocktails by master mixologists and creative Sushi Fusion Cuisine and sets the tone for vibrant nights. It is open daily till 2am and on weekends until 4am.

Where can I find the work of local up-and-coming artists on display? What kind of work are they producing?

Nowadays people are attracted to Born district for the shopping which consists of some beautiful yet pricey boutiques and shoe shops which are useful to find that one-off piece. Some of the trendiest shops around such as Brazilian company Colcci have chosen Born as their home. It is a picturesque and cultural part of the city with a vibrant café culture and bar scene, just far enough removed from the beaten track to maintain a bit of calm and charm.

El Born is characterised by its little treasures. This fashionable district is the place where you will chance upon innovative boutique shops selling recycled bags, champagne bars serving up first class Cava (El Xampanyet is something of a legendary stop-off in Barcelona!), or discover the joys of Lomo photography.

I’m in need of a new, stylish hair cut. Who is the best in town at ensuring I turn heads when I walk out?

Alberto Cerdan sees styling and hairdressing as an art, the art, of beautifying women and men, since it says that the face is like a frame and hair the canvas, to enhance the beauty and style of each. That is why many familiar faces, who are constantly exposed to the demands of the press, have relied on their good work and daily adds to the list of regular clients that are top priority Alberto Cerdan. For this reason, the press has dubbed the "stylist of the celebrities."

I need an outfit to match, by a local designer. Who would you recommend for him and her?

That’s an easy one! I work at the Cotton House Hotel which was once the former headquarters of the Cotton Textile Foundation, thus it strives to recover the essence of this tradition by offering its guests an artisanal tailor service provided by the local designing professionals of Santa Eulalia, which is the most prestigious tailor establishment in Barcelona. Fashion runs throughout the history of Santa Eulalia. It is a benchmark in the world of fashion. In its vicinity you will find a wide array of international luxury brands and collections for men and women. It is committed to offering a selection of the best in the world of fashion, creating comfortable clothing where all the details are taken care of, and providing their clients with top quality service as if it was their first day 170 years ago. I would highly recommend the Santa Eulalia not only for its deep history in the clothing industry but also for the authenticity and perfectionism they possess in creating their masterpiece suitwear.

What’s the best new spot in the city for a coffee or tea for a quiet chat?

I would highly recommend the Café Jaime Beriestain. This is by far the new 'place to be' in Barcelona as it is a cafe-restaurant run by Jaime Beriestain, a prestigious Chilean interior designer living in the Catalan capital that has created an exquisite space right by his concept store in L’Exaimple. In a cosmopolitan and trendy atmosphere, the Executive chef Pedro Salillas offers excellent seasonal cuisine prepared with the best produce of the season. This café is simply perfect for a quiet chat with friends.

I fancy an afternoon stroll in a garden to escape the buzz of the city. Where should I head?

The Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona's urban "green lung", was for decades, the city's only green space. Nowadays it includes the city zoo (once home to the albino gorilla Snowflake, who died in 2004), the Parliament of Catalonia, a small lake, museums, and a large fountain designed by Josep. One half of the park's paths are sinuous and rather natural seeming trails, and the other half ordered and parallel. Along both, huge a variety of vegetation is displayed.

Nevertheless, if you have more time, I would also suggest to head towards Tibidabo hill and visit the Laberint d’Horta which is an historical garden and the oldest of its kind in the city, where you can literally escape the buzz of the city.

What’s your favorite forgotten tourist spot, one not at the top of the tourist route or that is often overlooked?

Plaça del Rei (not to be confused with ‘Plaça Reial’) is a 14th-century medieval public square in the Barri Gòtic of Barcelona, which is known for its link to Christopher Columbus. It is widely believed that it was on the steps fanning out from the corner of the square that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella greeted Columbus when he arrived home from his first voyage to the New World. Many visitors tend to forget to visit this Gothic architectural square, probably because of its small street access, however it is definitely an harmonious and peaceful spot which is still imbued with Barcelona's splendour during the Middle Ages.