THE MODERN CLASSICIST
There are entrepreneurs who ride trends and there are those who drive them. Pau Guardans, the Barcelona-bred hotelier and owner of Único Group, is decidedly of the latter kind. A veteran in the hotel business, he helped introduce design into the Spanish hospitality sector. Then in 2005, he struck out on his own with Grand Hotel Central, ...
“What people want when they travel is a concrete experience for every single destination. The idea that every hotel has a standard of its own was my aim when I created the company.”
... once again driving the market into the future, but this time by looking toward the past. He acquired a 1920s-era office tower in Barcelona’s medieval El Born neighborhood and took inspiration from the building’s particular vintage.
“That was really the years of those grand hotels sprinkled across Europe,” explained Guardans. “Most of them were linked to this concept of ‘traveling without speed’, which is an old concept and at the same time a very modern one, this idea of slow travel, taking advantage of time, truly discovering a location. It’s not just about getting there. That concept really opened my mind to the kind of experience that I wanted to create.”
Though its rooftop infinity pool feels like the apex of contemporary global luxury, Grand Hotel Central is both an ode to the golden age of travel and an homage to its environment. Catalan culture permeates the guest’s experience; for example, there’s the locally sourced cuisine prepared by renowned chef Ramon Freixa, whose eponymous gourmet restaurant at Guardans’ Único Hotel in Madrid has earned two Michelin stars. Grand Hotel Central’s new combination bar and gallery exposes visitors to local artists. And there is also Guardans’ personal effort to help guests discover local artisans, shops, and other under-the-radar attractions by providing them with detailed and customized neighborhood guides.
The city of Barcelona is central to Guardans’ life and work. He grew up in its medieval cobble-stoned squares and colorful markets in a prominent family that has been devoted to Catalan culture for generations. The 12th sibling in a family of 14 children, Guardans remembers a childhood overflowing with cultural activities and intellectual exchange. When his family traveled–which was often–they turned each trip into a contest, where the kids would collect souvenirs, menus, postcards, stamps, receipts, everything they could get their hands on, and present their findings to their parents upon their return.
Hotels, says Guardans, should function as “engines of local communities”, a principle that governed his second and third properties: the Miró, across from Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao and which he took over in 2009, and the Único, in Madrid, which opened in 2011. Just being state-of-the-art wasn’t enough; both hotels aim to connect guests with the rich local cultures at their doorsteps.
“Every location has its own distinct personality,” says Guardans, who adds that this personality can be found in many aspects of a city’s cultural life. “It’s museums, architecture, gastronomy, local artisans, cooking, local manufacturing. I think this is the keystone of our idea of sustainability. It’s the idea that being in a city should be about touching the culture.”