Top Boutique Hotels |London Paris Madrid Barcelona

Dear Clients & Friends,

This is Part Two of my European update for information helpful in your European vacation planning for 2016. It’s brought to us by a top hotel and local agency rep of mine.

This blog includes some of the best suggestions for small hotels, luxury estates and manor homes.  See our other blog for special events happening through 2016 in England, Scotland, Wales, France, Spain & More.

For customized luxury vacation planning, including stays at these hotels and more, contact Josh Friedman Luxury Travel.
CAMERON HOUSE on Loch Lomond (Scotland)

Cameron House stands in a stunning position on the shores of Loch Lomond just 45-minutes’ drive north of the city of Glasgow. This is a charming Scottish country house that has developed into an important Scottish golf resort, spa and sailing and yachting center. The house has maintained its Scottish-manor feel, with a cozy restaurant and bar and lots of tartan. The spa is state-of-the-art and has glorious views of the Loch. The 18-hole Carrick golf course has views of the Loch throughout, from the “high road” to the “low road.” Peppered with bunkers, the course incorporates one of the greatest water hazards in golfing experience—the great Loch itself! Rooms are very spacious, some with four-poster beds. Many bathrooms have walk-in showers, and most have views of Loch Lomond. This is a perfect place to start or end a tour of the Highlands; Inveraray Castle and Glencoe are just to the north.



The Principal in Madrid has the air of a private English club, and the location, at the lower end of the Gran Via just a short walk from the Prada Museum and many restaurants, is one of the best in Madrid. The hotel’s public spaces are located on the sixth and seventh floor. Reception is on the sixth floor, and is the “private club” part of the hotel. It is very tastefully decorated, with comfortable corners and bars and private terraces for lunch looking onto the Gran Via and Madrid. In the summer, the seventh floor terrace comes into its own, with different areas for dining and enjoying a drink or having lunch under colorful umbrellas. This floor is open to the public and locals come up here to enjoy a drink after work. There is also an area reserved exclusively for guests of the hotel, with sun beds, a cooling fountain and showers. Bedrooms are on floors two through five, and are well thought out and very quiet, with triple sound insulation on the windows. Some bathrooms have walk-in showers, and many of the rooms, including junior suites and suites, provide unique panoramic views down the Gran Via. This hotel is a sister hotel to the Grand Hotel Central in Barcelona and the Hotel Unico in Madrid and is overseen by the same management.



CHARLOTTE STREET – a Firmdale hotel on a lovely street full of restaurants.
COVENT GARDEN HOTEL – Firmdale’s most popular, with 65% repeat business.
DORSET SQUARE – Firmdale – great value and good for single ladies.
HAM YARD HOTEL – The newest Firmdale hotel in London. Amazing buzz!
HAYMARKET HOTEL – Firmdale – great for families. A fabulous pool.
THE KNIGHTSBRIDGE HOTEL – Firmdale -around the corner from Harrods.
NUMBER SIXTEEN – Firmdale in South Kensington with a gorgeous garden.
THE SOHO HOTEL – Firmdale – where the stars stay in the heart of Soho.
THE CAPITAL HOTEL – Next door to Harrods with a Michelin star restaurant.
THE LEVIN HOTEL – Sister to The Capital and a great bargain next to Harrods.
THE STAFFORD HOTEL – Stuart Procter is back in charge!

English countryside:
HAMBLETON HALL, Rutland Water – English country elegance on a beautiful lake.
LUCKNAM PARK, Bath – grand country-house style, cooking school, spa and horses.

CULLODEN HOUSE, Inverness – Highlands, battlefields, cashmere and Outlander!
KILLIECRANKIE, Pitlochry – Henrietta Fergusson hosts at this private hotel gem.
RUFFLETS COUTRY HOUSE, St. Andrews – the place for golf!

PAVILLON DE LA REINE – Elegance in the Place des Vosges/heart of the Marais.
HOTEL PONT ROYAL, 7th – the hotel has undergone soft refurbishment in 2015.
HOTEL SAN REGIS, Right Bank – beautifully refurbished family-run hotel.
RENAISSANCE LE PARC, Right Bank – gorgeous garden and quiet location.
RENAISSANCE VENDOME, Right Bank – great location near the Louvre Museum.
VICTORIA PALACE HOTEL, 6th – comfortable, friendly hotel – good for families.

ABAC RESTAURANT & HOTEL, Barcelona – Two-Michelin star restaurant – star chef.
GRAND HOTEL CENTRAL, Barcelona – Pool on roof – central and great for families.
HOTEL NERI, Barcelona – in the heart of the Gothic Quarter – attractive and unique.
HOTEL ORFILA, Madrid – classic European-style family-run hotel with great service.
HOTEL UNICO, Madrid – in fancy neighborhood with a two-Michelin star restaurant.
CORRAL DEL REY, Seville – chic four-star hotel in the old quarter.
HACIENDA DE SAN RAFAEL, near Seville – Attractive Spanish country house.

josh friedman luxury travel
in san francisco
415.987.0372 |
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Josh Friedman is an old-fashioned travel agent offering highly personalized 24/7 service. Specialties include high-end and bespoke luxury travel for small groups and individuals.  His areas of expertise include ultra-luxury cruises, customized vacations & luxury hotel stays.  He also plans spectacular honeymoons, anniversary and birthday celebrations and completes trips that clients have started and just can’t quite figure out how to finish.

His relationships built over twenty years with the world’s top hotels, cruise lines and local agencies will ensure your successful vacation. As a client you get exclusive and complimentary perks that you can’t get on your own — from VIP introduction to the hotel’s management to upgrades, scrumptious breakfasts and hotel spending credits.

Call Josh for details, excellent pricing, the ultimate in service & exclusive hotel amenities with Virtuoso.


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Josh Friedman Luxury Travel | San Francisco




Report from Spain | Madrid Valencia Alicante

The Giotto Report | de Espana

A very happy new year to you! I truly hope it’s a good one for you, your family and friends.

Thought I’d start off the year by sending out a report on my trip to Spain last month.  I was invited by a group of Spanish government entities and one of our top travel partners in Madrid to a week long fact finding trip to the Iberian peninsula.  Yet another tough assignment that I was coerced into taking.

reina sofia madrid

Where in Spain | What about Spain?

The Costa Blanca  extends south along the Mediterranean from Valencia (which is about 4 hours south of Barcelona), in the eastern part of the country.  It’s north of Granada and the beach resorts of MarbellaAlicant, as it’s known in the Catalan language, is about 90 minutes south of Valencia.  And it really is pronounced Valen-thia and I now know that the lisp is genuine, which was hard for me to say growing up where I learned Mexican and Cuban Spanish.  Cuenca is half way to Madrid from Valencia, in the region of La Mancha.  Madrid is in the geographical center of the country so that’s easy.

As you probably know I lived in Italy and  have toured around a fair amount.  I’ve seen some of France, and was in Barcelona for 2 days in 1984 when I worked for Royal Viking Line.  I haven’t been back since. So I was expecting the Spain that I saw to be like “Italy 2” or “France, the Sequel.” But it wasn’t.  The people were more ‘northern’ in temperament and very friendly.  A little less jaded than others and  they were excited to see American tourists, who are in much shorter supply than in Italy or France.  And that was a huge plus.  For example, we were in a church and one of the priests showed us 500 year old vestments that were just sitting in a drawer. You wouldn’t see that in Italy’s third largest city.  Because the parts of Spain I saw were built of granite and came off quite severe, the charm factor was less than I was expecting.  And one must avoid the beaches where I was because they’re horrendously overbuilt. Benidorm is probably one of the ugliest places I’ve ever seen – at least from the highway.


The old town is beautiful. Charming small streets, cafes, boutiques, churches. Just like one would hope to see in Spain. The Hospes Amerigo  hotel is straight out of Metropolitan Home which appealed to my design sense, but the lack of attentive service didn’t appeal to my 5 star sensibility. The food in the hotel, however, was fantastic and worthy of my snobbish San Francisco foodie palate – especially the mushroom soup. Just another reminder to my clients – looks aren’t everything and you need to know the whole story before deciding on a hotel based solely on photos.   Outside of the charming historical center, and the very sixties mosaic promenade along the harbor (I loved it), the town is overbuilt with buildings better suited for the Eastern Bloc.  I’d probably recommend Sicily instead.



Did you know that Lladro is made here? It’s true and we went to the factory to check it out. OK, Lladro really isn’t my style but how they make it was very interesting and I think worth a visit. Valencia also hosts the Americas Cup and a Formula One racing venue.  I’m an Urban guy and Valencia, Spain’s 3rd largest city, has a very nice mix of old and new, northern African and European. We had 2 of our most memorable dinners here, too. We ate at arrop richard camarena, a super chic 1 star Michelin restaurant. I’d kill for a house that looked like this place. But the food was a little strange. Our other dinner was at a small tapas restaurant apparently not in the best part of town – and that was the best meal we had in Spain. Go there – it’s called Casa Montana.

Cuenca | La Mancha

This is the cool part of Spain I got to see – the small towns that I love going to Europe for. After slugging through the modern ugly part of the city (which was weird), you’re transported back about 1000 years to this charming hillside village which is now a center for contemporary art. Ever been to Jerome, Arizona? It’s a little like that.  The only hotel in this part of town is a centuries old parador – a very cool place to stay. The paradores were old convents that were turned into hotels by the government about a 100 years ago. The government wanted to generate tourism, the country was short on hotels and there was a glut of unoccupied convents! To this day, they’re still run by the government. Most are 4 star but a couple are very high end. The one in Cuenca is about a 4 star, I’d say.


Everybody has been to Madrid, right? I’ll add that my favorite things were the Royal Palace, the Reina Sofia Museum and El Escorial. The Palacio Real is a truly opulent old palace. Everything from the wallpaper to the chandeliers to the drapes are dazzling. It’s unique in Europe.  The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofiais a modern museum which houses the newer stuff, after the Prado. Picasso’s Guernica is now here (I hadn’t seen it since it was at MOMA in New York) and it’s breathtaking. And the ante-room has a huge collection of studies which were fascinating – many in color! Who would of thought that once of the most famous b&w works in the world would have such a history!. In the next rooms were a documentary of the Spanish Civil War with photos by Robert Capa and others – a very sobering display. San Lorenzo de El Escorial was compared (as an opposite) to Versailles in my UCSD art history classes. It’s severe. It’s cold. It’s really cold. And, true to Spain versus other countries, it’s very much in its original condition without too much restoration. You can actually see the (now) dilapidated chairs that Phillip II sat on.

Hotels in Spain

The memorable hotels on this trip were the Westin Valencia (remember, Westin in Europe is better than it is in the USA), the Ritz Madrid (old world wonderful), the Villa Magna (new world wonderful in Madrid), the AC Santo Mauro and it’s sister hotel the AC Retiro (both in Madrid, ultra chic but historical). Of course, we have the contacts at these hotels to add much value to the room rate.

For More Information on Spain & Europe

No matter if you’d just like to be put on my newsletter list, if you’d like to throw vacation ideas around, or if you’re ready for some concrete information please feel free to contact us either via phone or the quick form to your left. Or email.

Photos of Spain & Around the World

Please visit my Flickr page for photos from this and all my trips.

reina sofia museum madrid