Casa Camper, Barcelona
Those who are not well acquainted with the charms of El Raval, a gritty neighbourhood in the heart of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, will accompany any mention of it with words of warning. But despite the pickpocketing and shady characters that, in truth, exist in every city, El Raval is home to some of the Barcelona’s greatest gems. One such gem is Casa Camper – a 25-room boutique eco-hotel nestled in an unassuming 19th-century building and the first foray into accommodation for the famed Spanish footwear company. Embodying the philosophy that has found the Camper brand so much success, Casa Camper is an eco-luxe exemplar of social conscience combined with impeccable design.
The early morning light caresses the streets of Barcelona as I wheel my suitcase over the cobblestones, weaving through the gauntlet of tourists obstructing my path as they debate map locations and stare aimlessly at the Art Nouveau architecture. Familiarity envelops me. The chaotic soundtrack of horns beeping, street salesmen bartering and scores of foreign languages darting in and out of earshot. The pungent scent that comes with the gothic quarter of an old city composed mostly of concrete and stone. The energy pulsating through every inch of the city, forcing its way into the consciousness and injecting the brain with so much stimulus that it’s an effort to find a moment of clarity. I pause to get my bearings. I have walked this path many times before, during my time living in Barcelona as a student, but a few years’ absence has hindered my ability to distinguish between the numerous cobbled arteries that stem from the tourist strip of Las Ramblas into the barrio known as El Raval.
My destination is eco hotel Casa Camper, which, during my time as a poor student, had seemed an unattainable paragon of luxury. I would often gaze wistfully through its glass doors, wondering about exactly who might occupy its rooms. As I arrive once more in front of those doors, the wistfulness returns – only this time the glass doors slide open in welcome.
A calm washes over me the minute I step through the doors. The aural cacophony is replaced with muted jazz; the urban stench erased by a pleasant botanical aroma. A striking young woman at the counter smiles in greeting, as if she has been anticipating my arrival: ‘Bienvenidos Señora Brammer’. Surprised by the formality, I almost search for an older Spanish woman behind me. She introduces me to Javier, an equally as striking young Spaniard, who is to be my guide.
After a tour of the dining room and Tentempié (24-hour snack bar), Javier shows me to my rooms – both of them. On one side of the hall is my dormitorio, consisting of a king-sized bed, open wardrove and a spacious bathroom. Rather than the usual expansive mirror, the view over the bathroom’s hand-basin looks out over the hotel’s ‘vertical garden’ – a wall comprising a verdant bookcase of 117 lush aspidistra plants (the urban version of the private garden) intended to provide natural light for morning grooming rituals. I discover that the usual hotel disposable goodies (shampoos, soaps, toothbrushes, etc.) are forgone for the sake of the environment, and instead my bathroom has a row of immaculately designed dispensers of luxurious organic soaps and moisturisers for me to indulge in as I please. I look forward to my evening’s shower with great delight.
On the other side of the hall is my salita de estar (mini lounge), accessed with the press of a button inside my dormitorio. Adorned with a striking red sofa, a small dining table, a plasma screen and a Brazilian hammock strung across in front of a set of French doors, the salita is a wonderful surprise, offering a relaxing space separate from my sleeping quarters. I nudge open the French doors, and the turbid babel from outside infiltrates the calm. I lean out over the Juliet balcony to take in the streetscape below, feeling cocooned from the chaos, in my own private designer refuge.
Having settled into my rooms, I set out to explore the rest of the hotel. Created with the help of Catalan design veteran, Vinçon, Casa Camper exudes the discerning hand of design, evident in every understated detail. Everything has a well-considered purpose, from the Konstantin Grcic chairs that sit commandingly in the foyer, to the positive messages found around the hotel embodying the founding company’s core philosophy of wellness, for people and the environment. ‘Take the stairs; it’s healthier,’ reads a sign by the lift. ‘Play more,’ instructs a poster on the bathroom wall. It’s clear that eco-sensitivity is a constant focus for Casa Camper, making it feel all the more luxurious. The hotel is solar-powered, water is recycled, guests are playfully encouraged to conserve energy by switching off lights and, in a rarity for European hotels, Casa Camper is entirely smoke-free.
My stomach begins to rumble and I wander down the stairs to test out the Tentempié. Created in place of the traditional mini-bar, Tentempié is Casa Camper’s exclusive service that offers guests a room full of organic snacks and beverages, available for free, 24 hours a day. I peruse the selection of soup, sandwiches, pastries and salads, and settle on steaming-hot tomato soup with a side of fresh crusty bread. It becomes a case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach, and I vow to return to the Tentempié as many times as possible during my stay at Casa Camper in order to sample all of the delicacies on offer.
That’s the conundrum of Casa Camper. The hotel is just a stone’s throw from Barcelona’s biggest fresh produce market, La Boqueria, and is within walking distance of the city’s best shopping precincts, galleries, restaurants and bars. But with free lightning-fast WiFi, daily newspapers from around the world and delicious food constantly on offer, I’m tempted to spend my entire stay in Barcelona within the walls of this relaxing designer sanctuary. That said, with a dynamic city outside my door just waiting to be explored, it’s a temptation I manage to resist. Renting one of Camper’s wooden ‘wabi’ bikes that hang from the foyer ceiling, I set off on a day of adventure, taking comfort in the beautiful eco-haven that awaits to welcome me on my return home.