"Casa" means house, doesn't it? Yes it does, and this hotel began life in 1908 as the most expensive house in Barcelona, the first in the Spanish city to be faced in marble, commanding a position at the top of a new and extremely elegant avenue called Passeig de Gracia. A landmark of Barcelona's industrial-boom days, when the city expanded greatly, Casa Fuster was a prominent example of modernisme.
It doesn't look modernist. Well spotted; it's certainly not. Confusingly, " modernisme" is the Catalan word for art nouveau and has nothing to do with modernism. Barcelona was one of the leading sites of the art nouveau movement, its great name being Antoni Gaudi. Ring a few bells? Casa Fuster was built by another leading Catalan architect, Lluis Domènech i Montaner, who was renowned for an art nouveau style far more restrained than that of the extraordinary Gaudi, who was in a class of his own.
What's the Fuster bit? The building was commissioned by a wealthy Majorcan named Mariano Fuster i Fuster as a gift for his wife, Consuelo Fabra i Puig, and called Casa Fuster. Here the couple lived in five storeys of designer luxury and held grand society receptions in the ornate ground-floor salon. Unfortunately, all this cost a fat packet of pesetas to run, and the Fusters had to sell their home in the 1920s.
So when did it become a hotel? In 2004, after many intervening adventures, including playing host to a fashionable cafe in the 40s and a dance hall in the 50s before falling into disrepair. Bought by Spain's Hoteles Center group, it underwent a lavish conversion and reinvention, emerging as one of Barcelona's premier luxury hotels.
What's its style? Eclectic. Modern design elements and retro touches have been integrated into the original structure. The lobby's art nouveau shell of black mosaic floor and fluted pillars (above) has been updated with post-modern flourishes, the upgrade having been taken to Almodovar-esque extremes in the adjacent lounge, while dark colours and subtle modern design help create tranquil guest rooms.
Tell me about the supping and sipping. The sumptuous Café Vienés (below), the lobby bar that, in its mid-20th-century incarnation, was a society hub, hosts weekly jazz gigs - Woody Allen's New Orleans band have played here, and the American filmmaker used the venue in his 2008 movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The Galaxó restaurant, on the first floor, offers modern Mediterranean cuisine and the Roof Bar is a fine eyrie from which to survey the city skyline and peer all the way down Passeig de Gracia, perhaps having taken a dip in its modest pool.
What's in the neighbourhood? Stroll for five minutes down Passeig de Gracia and you come to two of Gaudi's major works, the Casa Mila apartment block and the Casa Batllo town house, which grab your attention with their undulating forms and dazzling ceramics. Preserved as museums, both give rich insights into a remarkable design period. The boulevard is graced with many more architectural gems, such as the neo-Gothic Casa Pascual i Pons and the modernista Casa Lleó Morera, the ground floors of which are inhabited by swanky shops. This is where the well-heeled of Barcelona come to do their shopping, with just about every designer label having a presence here. At the bottom of the boulevard is the vast Plaça Catalunya, the city square and transport hub.
Anything more edgy in the area? Absolutely. Go east from Casa Fuster, down the narrow side streets, and you are soon in the bohemian Gracia neighbourhood, filled with funky little bars, offbeat designer shops and quirky restaurants. Plaça de la Virreina, a beautiful square frequented by the locals as well as hipsters, and Carrer de Torrijos, a narrow pedestrianised street, are particularly enjoyable.
What's the bottom line? Casa Fuster has 75 rooms and 21 suites, with the Grand Suite ( €2,025/HK$17,865 a night) accommodating up to six people. Standard rooms begin at €270 a night, suites from €369.
For more details, visit www.lhw.com/casafuster