“ Address: Bidebarrieta, 2 Bilbao (Biscay) 48005, Spain „
Our second Bilbao hotel was the Petit Palace Arana, located in the old town. We arrived about 1pm as we were already in town and were fully expecting to simply drop off our bags and come back later, so it was a pleasant surprise to find our room ready and waiting for us. After a slight hiccup checking in (they said we were room only...I had a receipt that proved otherwise) we were given instructions on how to get to our room. Housed in a beautiful converted old building, you have to make allowances for things like lifts that don't serve all floors. In this case, there is one to take you from ground to first, and another, a little way along the corridor, which will take you up to all other floors. Similarly there are two staircases, one through the centre of the building which only goes down as far as the first floor landing, and another that will take you from there down to reception.
Our room was on the 3rd floor. It seemed a little smaller than the one we'd just left but good use was made of the space and nothing seemed missing. The twin beds were pushed together which helped save on floor space, and each had a bedside table and a lamp though one of these didn't work. For a 'High Tech Hotel' (it's part of the chain of the same name) it looked like it might be stumbling at the first hurdle. Luckily, this was the only issue we had and everything else functioned beautifully. We didn't really need the lights, anyway, because in place of windows our room had balconies - yes, balconies, plural. We had two off the bedroom, and another off the bathroom (for a little al fresco air drying, perhaps?) This was a real treat as the hotel has an excellent location in the old town and from our various balcónes we could gaze down into the bustling narrow streets, or look left onto the river curving through the city towards the Guggenheim. Not really balcony weather in March? Not a problem, as one of the balconies was glassed in and got nicely warm like a greenhouse in the sun.
Back in the room, and we also had a flat screen TV which was out of necessity as much as design: a deeper one wouldn't really have fitted unless they'd carved a hole in the wall to embed it in. The channel selection was a little better than at our previous hotel, a sort of Cable Plus if you will. We still didn't have pay per view movies or porn, but there were a few more international channels for those wanting to practice their French or Russian.
We had a desk/table with two chairs - one more than in the previous hotel. Sitting both the room occupants at once was another design win, as there wasn't much room to manoeuvre around this table when the seats were occupied, unless you wanted to roll across the beds ninja style. We had a faux-wardrobe and shelving to one side which included a fully mirrored door (another space saving technique that helped make the room look bigger too). The wardrobe included a safe that you open and shut with a credit card rather than a silly code, and was big enough for a laptop. It was the sort of room that was fine when neat and tidy but felt cramped as soon as you came back from a day's shopping and dumped all your finds on the bed, or kicked off your shoes, threw your coat to one side and had a sprawl.
The bathroom wasn't really a room, and was cordoned off from the bedroom by a floor to ceiling opaque glass wall meaning it wasn't completely sound proof and was a wee bit see through too. For the girl who regularly runs to her downstairs bathroom to pee when hosting overnight guests, this was just delightful (not). But we coped. The bathroom had fancy toiletries and a hairdryer. It didn't have a bidet like our previous place but since the only thing I've ever used a bidet for in the last 29 years is to wash my My Little Ponies' hair in, this was no great loss. What we DID have, however, was greatly exciting: a funky shower with both a fixed head and a removable head, and dozens of massage jets coming out of the walls. It wasn't that easy to use but it was super fun even if it was a bit over enthusiastic with its spraying (the reason these things are best suited to hotel rooms where someone else is doing the cleaning up).
The room was comfortable (especially the beds) and even with its street facing balconies we weren't troubled by noise. We only spent 2 nights here but I could have stretched to another couple I'm sure before I'd have begun to feel a bit like I wanted space to spread out and do my conditioning.
The hotel has no real facilities on offer, but there's a computer in reception for guests to use if they're willing to stand, and there's excellent, high speed wifi throughout. You have to get a code from reception and this is one code for each device you have (so one for the laptop and one for the phone for us), but you only need to log in once and it will then grant you access for the duration of your stay.
On the first floor near the stairs there is a cheap hot drinks machine offering coffee, hot chocolate and so on, I suppose their nod at accommodating British guests who miss having tea and coffee making facilities in the room. There's also a vending machine selling chocolate, snacks and dubious looking sandwiches. On the 6th floor is the breakfast room which opens very precisely at 7.30am - we went up early one morning and the door was very firmly shut, and not unlocked until it was time though all the food was then waiting for us. We waited in the bar area across the landing, which had nice comfy seats and sofas, and a big screen TV, but no menu or price list up showing what was on offer. Loos were also through here, useful if you were at breakfast and didn't want to go all the way back down to your room. Said breakfast was definitely worth waiting for, it has to be said. I was concerned it might be less impressive than the spread at the Barcelo as the Arana has far fewer rooms, but it was excellent. I started each day with cheese and fabulous fresh tomatoes on bread, either a still warm rustic baguette or crispy rolls. They had a brilliant selection of yogurts in a mini fridge, and various cereals. There was lots of fresh fruit, cold meats and cheeses, and warm dishes like eggs and bacon but my favourite area had to be the corner by the window. Bursting with croissants and pastries, it had baskets full of individually wrapped biscuits and cake slices (and no signs saying not to remove food from the breakfast room) and, the pièce de résistance, a featured cake of the day proudly aloft on an elegant stand. On the first morning this was a massive chocolate torte and while I know there are those (odd) people who say they cannot stomach chocolate at that time of the morning, one bite of that crumbly, buttery pastry and thick, rich ganache, and I was hooked. I had 3 slices and even then had to drag myself away. The next morning a fruity strudel stood in its place which was probably a good thing for my waistline. Hot and cold drinks completed the buffet which was by far the best selection I've ever seen in a small hotel such as this.
The staff we came across here were efficient even if, like in our previous base, they far preferred speaking Spanish to showing off their English. That said, we heard them breaking out the Ingles with some other guests so it wasn't entirely out of the question. We didn't have much to do with the front desk team, besides checking in, asking for wifi codes and requesting a taxi as we left, but had no cause for complaint. The woman in the breakfast room was nice and quickly told off a guest who brought in his massive dog - pets are allowed in the hotel but not, as she firmly told them, in the dining area.
This hotel has a fabulous location close to shops and restaurants and the sights of the city. On the edge of the old town that's closest to the Guggenheim, it was still maybe a 15 - 20 minute walk away, though this compares to 30 minutes+ for hotels on the far side. The hotel looks nice enough from the outside - you can see photos on the website below - but inside it was truly special with great exposed brick walls contrasting with newer shiny polished wooden floors. They had really made the most of original features while updating the rooms to ensure they were comfortable and everything was well maintained and clean. This was not the kind of hotel where I cringed while walking barefoot on their bedroom floors. It also was far from an identikit could-be-anywhere motel style set up, and felt nicely European to boot.
Ignoring the Quidco cashback, I paid £57.99 per night including breakfast for two people for our stay here. This was one of the cheapest hotels I could find for our dates but I really didn't feel like I'd scrimped on quality to save money as we found the hotel well located, clean, comfortable and well equipped and would highly recommend.