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Choosing a Hotel

The largest concentrations of hotels can be found around Atocha Railway Station and the Gran Vía, and though bargain seekers will find great pickings there, I downplay these two popular, but noisy, districts in my search for the most outstanding places to stay. The central areas near Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, which provide a comprehensive cross-section of accommodations, also tend to be on the boisterous side, as you would expect in such busy central locations. However, you can't get more central and you won't find a wider variety of day and night amenities right on your doorstep. It's also not far to stumble home to after raiding the department stores or painting the town red!

The smart Plaza de las Cortes, just above the Paseo del Prado, offers select and slightly quieter hotels, as does the Argüelles area just west of the Plaza España. A number of newer hotels sit away from the center, especially on the streets just off the Paseo de la Castellana -- a particularly popular choice for business travelers, thanks to the proximity of the AZCA center's international offices and easy metro access to Barajas airport (15 min.) from expanded and modernized Nuevos Ministerios station.

The cosmopolitan Chamberí and Salamanca districts, above the Malasaña district and Parque del Retiro, respectively, offer some of the most exclusive hotels in the city, while the residential zone of Chamartín, home of Madrid's other main railway station and great hub of Plaza Castilla, features a variety of leisure- and business-oriented hotels, within a 15-minute metro ride of Puerta del Sol.

Madrid also has a small number of apartotels. These combine the best of hotel and apartment facilities, designed for more self-sufficient visitors looking for the freedom to cook. Units come equipped with basic kitchen facilities and maid service is usually provided. The hotels typically have a restaurant on-site. The minimum stay is a week, though if time is no object, monthly or even longer stays are available. Puerta del Sol, Chamberí, and Argüelles (in Plaza España) all offer apartotel accommodations.

Booking a Room

Travelers with Disabilities -- In recent years, newer hotels have taken more care to cater to travelers with disabilities by incorporating ramps, installing wider elevators, and even adapting certain rooms (mainly in higher category hotels). Check with the hotel in advance about specific needs and facilities available. The FAMMA Association, Calle Galileo 69 (tel. 91-593-35-50; www.famma.org; Spanish only) provides a useful guide to wheelchair accessibility in Madrid.

Amenities & Extras -- Note: In the hotel amenity details, mention of private bathrooms is made only if all the rooms in the hotel in question do not come with a bathroom. In some hotel bathrooms in Madrid, you may encounter a European phenomenon known as a hip bath. This bathtub is about half the length of a standard tub, large enough to sit in but not long enough to lie in. Think of it as a half-size or sit-down tub. In the reviews that follow, I note those hotels containing bathrooms with hip baths. Breakfast is not included in the quoted rates unless specified. A 7% government room tax is added to all rates. If you require a nonsmoking room, be sure to ask when you make your reservation. Not all hotels have them.

If You Have an Early Flight -- Unless it's absolutely necessary for you to stay at the bland outer suburb of Barajas where the airport is located, it's worth making the journey into Madrid. But if you find that, for business or other reasons, you have to stay there, one of the best options is Meliá Barajas, Av. de Logroño 35, 28042 (tel. 91-747-77-00; www.solmelia.com), a government-rated four-star hotel standing in spacious grounds. With a classic modern decor, it is comfortable and inviting, offering midsize to spacious units, costing 140€ for a double or 360€ for a suite. The 270-unit, three-floor hotel also has a restaurant, bar, pool, room service, and babysitting. Each air-conditioned room comes with TV, hair dryer, minibar, and safe.

Another member of the Tryp chain, the 80-unit Tryp Alameda Aeropuerto, Av. de Logroño 100, 28042 (tel. 91-747-48-00; fax 91-747-89-28; www.solmelia.com; AE, DC, MC, V; Metro: Barajas; bus: 115), is a case of two peas in a pod. When one hotel overflows, the other fills in the gap. Rooms are fairly bland, but comfortable, each with a tub/shower combo. The only difference is that this hotel has a small gym. On-site are a restaurant and bar, and amenities include pool, sauna, room service, babysitting, and laundry. In the room are air-conditioning, TV, hair dryer, minibar, and safe. Rates range from 165€ to 250€ for a double, and 350€ for a suite. Both chain members have free 24-hour shuttle service to the airport.

A final possibility is Hotel Best Western Villa de Barajas, Av. de Logroño 331, 28042 (tel. 91-329-28-18; www.hotelvilladebarajas.com), a government-rated three-star member of the Best Western chain. Simpler than the two choices above, it charges only 120€ for a double room. Each midsize unit comes with a TV and phone as well as air-conditioning, and on-site are a restaurant and bar. It also offers free shuttle service to the airport.

Government Ratings -- Spain officially rates its hotels by one to five stars. Five stars is the highest rating in Spain, signaling a deluxe establishment complete with all the amenities and the high tariffs associated with such accommodations. Top of the range come gran lujo (deluxe) hotels such as the Ritz and Hesperia, while standard five-star residences are beaten by the likes of Westin Palace and Orfila. Most of the establishments recommended in this guide tend to be three- and four-star hotels, as epitomized by solid midrange recommendations like the Claridge. Hotels granted one and two stars -- like the Santander and Persal -- are less comfortable, with limited plumbing and other physical facilities, although they may be perfectly clean and decent places. Similarly endowed pensiones (guesthouses), like the Armesto and Riesco, land at the bottom of the range aimed at dedicated budget travelers.

Reservations -- Most hotels require at least a day's deposit before they will reserve a room for you. Preferably, this can be accomplished with an international money order or, if agreed to in advance, with a personal check or credit card number. You can usually cancel a room reservation 1 week ahead of time and get a full refund. A few hotel keepers will return your money up to 3 days before the reservation date, but some will take your deposit and never return it, even if you cancel far in advance. Many budget hotel owners operate on such a narrow margin of profit that they find just buying stamps for airmail replies too expensive by their standards. Therefore, it's important that you enclose a prepaid International Reply Coupon with your payment, especially if you're writing to a budget hotel. Better yet, call and speak directly to the hotel of your choice or send a fax.

If you arrive without a reservation, begin your search for a room as early in the day as possible. If you arrive late at night, you have to take what you can get, often for a much higher price than you'd like to pay.

Booking Agencies -- Check out Madrid & Beyond (tel. 91-758-00-63; www.madridandbeyond.com), an Anglo-American travel company based in Madrid. Staffed by an enthusiastic, English-speaking team of U.K. and U.S. expats, they provide an in-depth knowledge of Spain, plus recommend and reserve quality hotels in Madrid and throughout the country (useful if you're thinking of doing some wider traveling). Their aim is to match each customer's taste and budget with a particular property, and arrange a variety of activities, including walking and cycling tours.

Travel agency Viajes Aira (tel. 91-305-42-24; fax 91-305-84-19) takes hotel bookings at their Terminal 1 and 2 desks at Barajas airport's arrival area. They don't charge a booking fee and focus mainly on hotels in the moderate or midrange category (around 120€-180€ for a double). They're open 7am to midnight.

The privately run Brújula agency has booking desks at each of Madrid's two main railway stations (Atocha: tel. 91-539-11-73; Chamartín: tel. 91-315-78-94). They charge a booking fee of 3.50€ and cover every category of hotel, from inexpensive to five-star. They're open 7:15am to 9:30pm.

Parking -- This is a serious problem. Few hotels have garages because many buildings turned into hotels were constructed before the invention of the automobile. Street parking is rarely available, and even if it is, you run the risk of having your car broken into. If you're driving into Madrid, most hotels (and most police) will allow you to park in front of the hotel long enough to unload your luggage. Someone on the staff can usually pinpoint the location of the nearest garage in the neighborhood, often giving you a map showing the way -- be prepared to walk 2 or 3 blocks to your car. Parking is noted in the hotel listings where it is available and with the corresponding neighborhood garage fees; where no parking information is listed, no parking is available.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.