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Stay with masterpieces

Surekha Kadapa Bose | Updated on March 31, 2011 Published on March 31, 2011

Hotel Estela in Stiges, Spain. - Photo: Surekha Kadapa-bose   -  Business Line

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Globally famous for its film festival and carnival, and considered one of the most gay-friendly places in the world, Sitges — a beach town in Spain's Catalonia region — had a delightful surprise in store for us.

The surprise unfolded when we checked into our rooms at the exclusive Hotel Estela, overlooking the sea and the hills. For, where else could you sleep with a Puigmarti painting watching over you, or dine in the company of a Dali sculpture adorning your table, or greet a giant Subirachs marble figure as you step out for a stroll on the beach.

The entrance hall has a magnificent jumble of waterfalls, flying steps, spheres and a pool — all designed by Catalonia's enfant terrible sculptor Subirachs.

Sitges' association with art in general, and the Modernism movement in particular, mainly owes to Santiago Russiñol, an artist from end-19th century. The town was the setting for some of the early works in modernist art and theatre.

Estela became an art hotel, as the locals fondly call it, thanks to an act of protest by a guest who happened to be an artist. In 1993, when the hotel was celebrating the centennial of Modernism in Sitges, the artist, Xaus, checked into the hotel at room 105. The young painter was greatly distressed by what he saw as a lack of sensitivity in contemporary art.

In an attempt to give expression to his feelings and revive the spirit of Modernism in European art, he did the unthinkable — he painted the walls and ceiling of his room, of course, unknown to the hotel authorities. Closeted in his room for a couple of days, he also wrote a “ manifiesto” on the mirror explaining the reasons for his action. Without mentioning anything to the hotel authorities, he left after clearing his bills.

The room service later found everything in the room marked by wet paint; Xaus had painted even the sheets and towels. Initially the hotel was enraged by the “damage” to its property, but soon saw the artistic side of it. “We asked Xaus if he minded that we keep the room the same way he left it. We also asked if we could use his idea of painting the room with other artists too. And as Xaus answered ‘yes', we understood that what had happened was the beginning of a new concept of hotel: The Art Hotel,” said a spokesperson of the hotel.

Over the years, the hotel's twelve “artist rooms” became its most important feature. Here the walls and ceilings have been turned into canvases by leading Spanish painters to express their feelings and emotions.

Art objects adorn the rest of the hotel too, from the corridors to the lift, the dining room, the garden and other spaces. Besides the Spanish artists, many artists from Chile, Argentina and Uruguay among other places have contributed to the Estela's rich collection of 2,500-odd paintings, sculptures, wall hangings, graphics and so on. These include works of leading artists such as Josep Puigmarti, Ricardo Moraga, Lorenzo Quinn, Josep Subirachs, Mercedes Lasarte, Grau-Garriga, Ramon Moscardo, Antoni Tapies, Pablo Atchugarry and Joan Abello.

If you're lucky you could even bump into Josep Puigmarti, the artist in residence at the hotel since 1993, with his trademark white cap and kohl-lined eyes, sipping tea in the hotel's Iris restaurant. The hotel manages Puigmarti's exhibitions and has taken his works to China, Denmark, France and other countries through the Foundation Puigmarti.

Turning into an art hub, the hotel has established contacts with art companies, as well as private and public museums. Besides merchandising its art collection in the form of tiepins, earrings and necklaces it has also released multiple editions of sculptures by artists such as Lorenzo Quinn, Josep Subirachs, Carlos Mata and Fili Plaza. For the Barcelona cognoscenti, the hotel is a favourite setting for art shows that are classy wine-and-cheese affairs. In fact, on the evening of our visit, it was an exhibition of figurines by Lorenzo Quinn, the son of Hollywood actor Anthony Quinn.

Interestingly, despite housing a vast collection of art, Estela doesn't resemble a fortress when it comes to its security. Asked about the worth of its collection, the hotel spokesperson replied: “It's difficult to calculate the value, but we can say it's worth several millions of euros.”

Getting there

Estela is located in the Aiguadolç Port area of Sitges, which is less than 45 minutes from Barcelona on the suburban train network, Cercanias Renfe. Trains leave every half hour from the Passeig de Gracia subterranean train station and the ticket costs about €4 each way.

Published on March 31, 2011
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