Madrid's hotel capacity has mushroomed from virtually nothing to around 80,000 in little more than a century. The boom started modestly at the very end of the 1800s with the building of three hostelries: the Paris in Puerta del Sol, the Embajadores in Calle Victoria, and the Madrid in the Calle Mayor. (Before then -- amazingly for a European capital -- visitors could choose only from a motley selection of very basic rooms in coaching inns and boarding houses.)
But 1906, when King Alfonso XIII married Victoria Eugenia de Battenberg, marked the real turning point. The wedding kicked off a renaissance of top hostelries, starting with the building of the city's first world-class hotel, the Hotel Ritz Madrid in 1910. A gradual revision and expansion of the capital's lesser hostelries followed.
Today, Madrid's hotels, thanks to increasingly strict laws and well-planned renovations, include some of the finest in the world, ranging from grand luxe bedchambers fit for a prince to bunker-style beds in the hundreds of neighborhood hostales and pensiones (low-cost boardinghouses). In inexpensive hotels, by the way, be warned that you'll have to carry your bags to and from your room. Don't expect bellboys or doormen to be around to do it for you.
A large number of my recommendations are modern (at least inside), with an increased emphasis on innovative and creative character rather than the bland mass corporate style of many late-20th-century creations.
Best of the new arrivals (both first opened their doors in 2009) are the gleaming steel and glass Eurostars Madrid Tower -- now the capital's tallest hotel -- and the ultrachic Selenza, which nestles in an art-gallery-filled street in the elegant confines of the Salamanca district.
Smoking footnote: All hotels may soon be required to have at least 70% non-smoking rooms. A parliamentary decision on private and public area smoking -- proposing that Spain adheres to the tougher laws of most other European countries -- is due in January 2011. The signs are that it will go ahead -- in spite of inevitable protests by the hard-line 33% of the population who smoke full-time -- and even the hoteliers themselves who fear losing money.
Frommer's Star-Rating System -- The ratings reflect our personal evaluation of a hotel, based on a variety of overall factors ranging from atmosphere and character to facilities and standard of service. Those in the Very Expensive and Expensive categories are on a scale of one (highly recommended) to three stars (exceptional). Those in the Moderate and Inexpensive categories rate from zero (recommended) to two stars (very highly recommended). If, after a stay in one of the hotels listed in this guide, you have any views on the level of recommendation -- or lack of it -- please let me know.
House-swapping is becoming a more popular and viable means of travel; you stay in their place, they stay in yours, and you both get an authentic and personal view of the area, the opposite of the escapist retreat that many hotels offer. Try HomeLink International Home Exchange (Homelink.org), the largest and oldest home-swapping organization, founded in 1952, with over 11,000 listings worldwide ($80 for a yearly membership). It has a number of apartments available for exchange in Madrid. You can also check the corresponding Spanish website www.spainlink.net.
Meliá Castilla -- Children can spend hours and all their extra energy in the hotel's swimming pool and gymnasium. On the grounds is a showroom exhibiting the latest European automobiles. Hotel services include babysitting, providing fun for kids and parents too. Double rooms run 250€ to 295€. Capitán Haya 43; tel. 91-567-50-00; www.meliacastilla.com.
Hotel T3 Tirol -- This centrally located government-rated three-star hotel is a favorite of families seeking good comfort at a moderate price. It has a cafeteria. Doubles run 150€ to 195€. Marqués de Urquijo 4; tel. 91-548-19-00; www.t3tirol.com.
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.