Santa Catalina, a Royal Hideaway Hotel, is a longstanding landmark of luxury tourism in Gran Canaria.
Hotel of choice for visitors to the island from royal families to Hollywood stars, it has recently gone under a major refresh to restate its claim as the luxury destination of choice in the Canary Islands.
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Santa Catalina was originally opened in 1890 by British architect James MacLaren, who found that Las Palmas’ warm weather offered respite from the symptoms of tuberculosis.
The hotel’s boast of being a Royal Hideaway is not unfounded - it has welcomed guests from Prince Charles to the Spanish royal family, not to mention a host of presidents and prime ministers from around the world.
Among the famous names to have stayed here is Winston Churchill, no surprise when you consider the beautiful beaches a stone’s throw away. Churchill was a huge fan of beaches, even sneaking a reference to them into one of his big, wartime speeches.
More recently, the hotel has hosted Hollywood star Brad Pitt, whose entourage took over much of the hotel while filming the Second World War drama Allied.
During our stay, the hotel welcomed the Spanish foreign minister Margarita Robles, who had fewer private pool parties than Pitt, and was in and out of breakfast before I’d made my first sleepy steps of the morning into the spacious rain shower.
Santa Catalina’s recent restoration and reimagining has seen the hotel’s original architecture and iconic artwork restored. The hotel is decorated throughout with carefully resorted artwork from renowned Canarian muralists Jesús Arencibia, Manuel Martín González and Santiago Santana.
The restoration has turned a hotel that could have been accused of fading into its past into a modern, luxurious and gleaming five-star offering.
A royal hideaway hotel
The hotel has 204 elegant guest rooms, starting at Deluxe and going up to the Royal Suite, with an integrated lounge and two bathrooms. Many rooms feature furnished balconies or terraces from which guests can enjoy the views and all-year-round sun.
One of the most impressive areas of the hotel is the rooftop, home to the Alis Bar that offers spectacular views of the city and some innovative cocktail creations.
My companions tried a variety, including the Game of Thrones inspired “Winterfell” - made with Laphroaig, lemon, sugar, mead and beer foam - and “El Diablo”, which arrived in a skull with worm-covered straws stuck through the eye socket.
I stuck to something more pedestrian - a classic espresso martini, mixed to perfection.
The rooftop infinity pool is the jewel in the rooftop’s crown, where guests can pause between leisurely lengths to lounge around on deckchairs enjoying the cocktail service.
On one side, Alis Bar overlooks the short, palm-tree lined walk to the sea. On the other is Doramas Park, an urban haven of tree-lined gardens, ponds, wildlife and waterfalls. Downstairs, doors to the hotel lead directly into the beautiful public park.
There’s even a small cardio suite tucked away on the rooftop, with a handful of treadmills, exercise bikes and cross trainers that offer a view of the sea while you workout.
Below ground level, guests can visit the hotel’s new wellness centre, featuring multiple saunas and thermal baths, a spa, treatment rooms, and a gym that is far better equipped than most five-star hotels.
Treatments on offer range from the Volcanic Stone Therapy to Ayurvedic Massage, it is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a hard day eating tapas and drinking Canarian wine.
Even I, as someone who is never going to accept it is normal to be oiled up and rubbed down by a stranger, found myself relaxed enough to start drifting off.
What to do
Santa Catalina is ideally situated in Las Palmas, a short walk to the fine sands of Las Canteras beach and the city’s main attractions. It is the perfect base from which to venture out and explore Gran Canaria’s cultural heritage.
The hotel offers “The Other Gran Canaria” experience, which takes guests on a journey to the island’s rural towns of Santa Maria, Lomo El Palo and Cuevas Caidas to enjoy the island’s impressive landscapes and cuisine.
We took a nature tour, heading for the Los Tilos de Moya in the Doramas Rural Park with our knowledgeable and affable guide, Guillermo Bernal.
The easy trail took around an hour of leisurely walking, with occasional stops to observe the native flora.
A highlight of the walk was being introduced to the Canarina canariensis, a native Canarian bellflower that, if shaken carefully, yields a single drop of clear liquid into the palm of a waiting hand. A quick flick from a trepidatious tongue reveals it to be the characteristic sweet nectar of the flower.
A trip to the painted pave, Cuevas Pintadas de Galdar, is also a must. The archaeological excavation museum, Mueso y Parque Arqueologico is set around the cave in Gáldar where prehistoric artworks can be viewed only in short bursts of soft light, in order to protect the work’s integrity.
Communal kitchens, pottery, pintaderas (native stamps used to decorate or identify a property) and even seeds were all discovered at the site, and are on display to visitors.
What to eat
Santa Catalina’s flagship restaurant is Poemas, under the leadership of brothers Juan Carlos and Jonathan Padrón, the only Michelin-starred chefs of Canarian origin.
The Padrón brothers’ menu fuses international and Canaria cuisine, coming together as creative works on the plate inspired by Canarian artist Néstor Martín-Fernández de la Torre’s artwork series ‘Poema de los Elementos’.
Pool bar and restaurant Camarote is a more relaxed affair, serving Mediterranean food in an al-fresco setting.
And traditional Spanish tapas can be found alongside local wines at Santa Catalina’s 1890 La Bodeguita.
Whatever else you order at Bodeguita, be sure to try the pork belly bao with pickled onion and hoisin sauce, and - more importantly - the Papas Arrugadas. The small, salty, wrinkled potatoes are a quintessentially Canarian dish, and are traditionally boiled in seawater.
For those who stick to the rule “breakfast like a king”, there is no better place than Santa Catalina’s Doramas restaurant, where an expansive buffet caters for every possible breakfast concoction.
Later on, if you find yourself fancying a drink but inexplicably tired of the beautiful ocean views that the rooftop bar offers up, you can find the more understated Bar Carabela adjacent to the hotel lobby.
Carabela is fitted with an English-style bar, and decorated with an impressive mural by Jesús Arencibia that spans the whole wall of the Carabela Bar.
When to go
Much of Gran Canaria’s enduring popularity comes from its warm weather which can be enjoyed all year round.
Temperatures stay at a pleasant 20ºC in the winter months, and while they often hit 30ºC in the late spring and summer, the ocean breeze prevents the climate from feeling uncomfortable.
Autumn is a great time of year to visit thanks to beautiful sunsets, warm temperatures and a sea that it is at its warmest, around 22-24ºC.
Stays at Santa Catalina, a Royal Hideaway Hotel start from €136 per night for a double room.
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