It's April, the official start of Wedding Season. But as we know, a wedding is virtually redundant without a hen beforehand. My sister, Ailsa, is getting married 'at some point'. No dress, date or pre-nups for her, sparking a new trend in Hen-Chillas - the opposite of Hen-Zillas like Poppy Delevingne who is currently holdng a giant penis somewhere hot and balmly. This is what happened when I went on the ultimate Hen-Chilla Hen Do....
As wild as it got - 10.30pm on Friday night after two drinks
My sister (above left) doesn’t like fuss. She doesn’t like ceremony, pomp or drama. She doesn’t celebrate her birthday or others, really. So how to react to news that she was engaged? A text seemed fine. When? No idea. Where? Anywhere, dunno, I'll let you know when I know xoxo.
According to a hen party site, Barcelona is in the top five hen destinations in the world. The company on our Easyjet flight was consistent with this. We count: one gay stag do, one straight stag do and one small hen do. It’s a morning flight but they drink cans of Stella, laughing as the plane buckles under strong coastal winds. My sister and I sit quietly at the back thinking about whether we remembered to buy cotton buds in Boots.
Despite being a ‘Bridechilla’ – you know, chilled about being a bride - there needed to be a hen party. After some coaxing, we agreed on Barcelona and because she’s classy, the equally classy Arts Hotel. It needed to be something low-key for someone distinctly laissez faire about weddings, likes art and drinks in moderation. Someone’s whose engagement ring is very thin and silver with no precious stone.
Hotel Arts, Barcelona. Pretty damn classy
For the uninitiated, Barcelona is a city and a beach with interesting food and small, unmapped student pockets so you can spend little and almost blend in. It’s 90 minutes away, but serves coffee with UHT milk so you still feel like you’re on holiday.
From the outside, the hotel arts Barcelona is anything but low key. I panic. This tall, macho tower of glass and artistic scaffold just off the beachfront screams DECADENCE. It genuinely does. Flanked by a couple of other similar blocks, this is one of the twin towers of 1992's Vila Olímpica and one of the few towers in Barcelona’s beautiful, tumbling Gaudi’d grid of buildings. This year it is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It doesn’t look 20 years old due, for the most part, to the constant refurbishment of each floor. By the time we leave, an entire floor has been recarpeted. The modernist white chandelier in the reception is brand new. The yellow décor of the first floor, a new addition presumably to mark spring. This is far and away the slickest, most 5 star of city’s 5 star hotels. We know this from our suite which is so vast and lavish it takes a good 20 seconds to walk the length of the room.
About a third of our tiny, tiny room
Hospitality here is pandemic which suits us hens down to a tee. They fall over themselves here to be at our disposal. One actually did fall, over our suitcase, between the 31st and 33rd floor, which is the posh, rarefied, neutrally coloured part of the hotel. You need a special key to get up here. Wealthy guests look with suspicion when we enter.
There are four suites, two with seaviews and two with cityviews, on each corner. It takes about a minute to get from your bed to the second loo (there are two) and less to get to the complimentary bar. Yes, complimentary. A graphite coloured room which has about 38 ice buckets and an array of tapas which changes every few hours but always includes honey, cheese, salmon and jamon iberico, the posh stuff with acorn-fed good fat.
This is perfect for a low-key hen. We can’t possibly exploit the free booze to the extent that other might. We drink two glasses of champagne and fall asleep at 10pm. We’re also more interested in Manchego. There is even a sauna in the gym so we can do the all-crucial pampering bit. You know, where you can sweat out it all out again.
The hotel is designed not to be left. With two otherworldly two-Michelin-starred restaurants at your disposal - Sergi Arola's tapas postmodern tapas restaurant and Paco Pérez's Michelin-starred Enoteca, a coup for the hotel and which affords a steady dtream of clientele – it manages to be contained yet diverse. We have a drink, on evening, in Frank’s private bar. It’s located at the back of the modernist lobby, through a slick and bustling regular bar, overlooking the Gehry fish. With it’s bold leaf wallpaper, velveteern banquettes and thick pile, it feels (as my sister suggests) very I Love Lucy, very kitsch. We plant ourselves here for the rest of the evening.
The uber-kitsch Frank's Bar
We spend the next morning looking at the slew of fine art, including actual Susana Solano sculptures. We spend our mornings in the sauna, sweating, our mid-mornings drinking coffee on the terrace overlooking the vast fish, designed by Frank Gehry, and our days wandering from gaudi to Tapas to coffee to before returning to the Club, where the charming "Cava concierge" doles out complimentary champagne every afternoon. We have long baths in the evening amid the toiletries - Acqua di Parma – which are entirely nickable. Sadly we’re not there long enough to make use of the butler service or private kitchen, where the hotel's chefs will come in and prepare your meals – actually en suite.
When we explain to the staff that it’s a hen, they are thrilled if surprised that we not leathered every night, in fact in bed at 11pm, playing with the magic, rolling blinds which reveal the entire city stretching right back to Mount Tibidabo, rolled out at our feet. It couldn’t be more chilled and for my sister, to all extents a bride-chilla, it all feels entirely apt.
Rates start from £245 per room per night bed and breakfast. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Barcelona
The happy hen, a bit pissed, on the last night
5 signs you're a Hen-Chilla:
1. You don't want to go on a Hen. Not even secretly, a bit. You'd rather go to the pub for one drink, with one mate, on a schoolnight to ensure you're in bed by 11pm.
2. You care more about the food than the booze. This is true of our weekend. We had six plates of calamari, four of smoked salmon, eight egg-white omelettes and alods of croquettes. We sort of had a hangover on the third day but were able to sauna it off by breakfast.
3. You eat three meals a day. Why is that odd? Because you're up in time for the hotel breakfast (8am thanks very much).
4. You do your hen in winter. Because boozing on the beach is not on the agenda. Wandering about museums and galleries and possibly, on a whim, foreign Zara.
5. You only take your sister. Because she's younger than you so you can dictate what you do (see above) and make her do what you want. Like flush her bit-of-fun penis badge down the loo. For example.