Set on a quiet side street in the heart of bustling Madrid, the Hotel Orfila is a peaceful oasis in this famously fun-loving Spanish capital. It's also an excellent base for sightseeing, just a 20-minute walk (or five-minute drive) from the Prado and Thyssen museums, the sprawling Buen Retiro park, and some of the city's best shopping districts, including Salamanca, Chueca and Malasana.
Converted from a small palace built in 1886, the decor of this Relais & Chateaux accredited hotel (the only one in Madrid) retains the grandeur of its past life, with all the homeliness you'd expect from a family-owned and run hotel. The marble lobby, decorated with ornate Venetian antique furniture, chinoiserie vases and period artwork, flows through to airy dining and sitting rooms, and a terraced courtyard garden beyond. With its elegant centre-piece fresco and fountain, it's the perfect quiet spot for relaxing with a plate of jamon and a glass of cava after a morning's sightseeing. The three floors above house the Orfila's 32 guest rooms, 12 of which are suites.
Big rooms are a big deal in this city, and my standard room is large. Alongside the upholstered bedhead, plush 19th-century armchairs, heavy curtains and big windows overlooking the courtyard, are all the mod-cons – a decent-sized TV, iPod dock and a massage tub in the marble bathroom. The room lacks a little of the glamour of the common areas but it is airy and comfortable, a relief when a stomach bug leaves me stuck in bed for half a day.
With two Michelin-star chef Mario Sandoval in charge of the kitchen since April 2017, it's worth staying in for a meal at the Jardin de Orfila, with seasonal options such as lobster tartare and lamb shoulder with pancetta and chorizo crumbs. While my tight schedule doesn't leave room for this, I can vouch for the excellent breakfast. A central table heaves with tortillas, fresh pan con tomate, jamon, Spanish cheeses, pastries, fruit and yoghurt, and cava on ice. On night one, my travel companions and I take a five-minute taxi ride to one of Madrid's hottest dining spots, Bibo, where we indulge in great cocktails, tricked-up tapas and fresh seafood by acclaimed Andalusian chef Dani Garcia, in a fun space decorated with 7000 light bulbs and a small hot air balloon as the centrepiece. On night two I'm laid up in bed; the room service tomato and mozzarella salad is very good.
With all the attractions so close, you really have no excuse for missing any of them, no matter how little time you've got. Explore the famous Prado and Thyssen art museums, rent a rowboat for a paddle around the Buen Retiro park's lake, wander the laneways surrounding the 17th-century Plaza Mayor, then take a pintxos-sampling, people-watching break at the Mercado de San Miguel, one of Madrid's oldest food markets. Leave time for an afternoon siesta, because this city really comes alive after dark. There are Michelin-star restaurants to discover (Arzak and Akelare are two of the most lauded) and a flamenco show is essential ; Casa Patas in the historic Lavapies neighbourhood hosts a great one.
Discreet and tranquil, the Hotel Orfila is a comfortable, luxurious space in which to unwind in between stints exploring Madrid.
From $295 a night. See hotelorfila.com
The verdant courtyard.
If chintzy isn't your thing, you might find the decor a little over-the-top.
Nina Karnikowski travelled as a guest of Abercrombie & Kent and Cathay Pacific.