Barceló Cabo de Gata
last update: 20 April 2022
Most of this review was written on the 20 Nov. 2019, or pre-COVID. At the end of this webpage we have added a short review of our latest stay in this hotel, Easter 2022.
The hotel appears to manage reasonably well COVID. Lot's of hand-sanitisers everywhere. People appeared quite disciplined, but the same utensils were used by everyone at the buffets, and no one-time plastic gloves on offer. There were a few clients not wearing masks, but the staff ignored them. The rooms were well cleaned. And on Wednesday 20th April, the Spanish government allowed people to not wear masks inside, and almost everyone immediately stopped wearing them. We continued to use a mask for the meals.
This is a 4-star beach-side resort hotel of the Spanish chain Barceló on a site called El Toyo. This is near a place called Cabo de Gata in Spain. We have stayed in the hotel several times, using it as a way to have a very relaxing holiday 'away from it all'. This report was written during our fourth visit in June 2019.
At the time of our visit Booking scored the hotel a 'superb' with an 8.8 (1,261 reviews), and on Trip Advisor it scored a 'excellent' 4.5/5 (3,420 reviews). I saw that it's Booking score had dropped to a 'fabuloso' 8.6 (1,822 reviews), which in my opinion is still a bit too high.
Let's look first at the location, Cabo de Gata. According to Wikipedia the name may have originated from the Phoenician name Cabo de las Ágatas, due to the abundance of agate found in the region ('cabo' is probably best translated as cape).
So Cabo de Gata is in the autonomous community of Andalucia, in the province of Almería. We can just see the reflecting white patches that are the famous plastic greenhouses so characteristic of the intensive farming in Almería.
I suppose the most useful way to describe the region is to describe the Cabo de Gata-Níjar National Park. This park has an arid desert climate, the same as Baghdad, Cairo, Dubai, etc., and is the only place in mainland Europe with rainfall below 16 cm annually. The park consists of a rocky mountainous range (Sierra del Cabo de Gata), an impressive coastline of cliffs, gullies and beaches, tiny rocky islands, and extensive coral reefs. In 1997 it was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
For those attentive observers, the very large and odd looking circuit is the Centro de Experimentación de Neumáticos (Michelín).
The below map comes from an online National Geographic article which highlighted four different aspects of the national park:-
1 - La Almadraba de Monteleva is a small town sitting between the Almadraba beach and the 7 km long Salinas beach (which took its name for the adjacent wetlands)
2 - The lighthouse of Cabo de Gata is built on the ruins of an ancient defensive castle. And today marks the dangerous reef about 2 km of the coast
3 - Mónsul is a small inlet with a fine sand beach, surrounded by rocks that were once tongues of lava reaching down to the sea
4 - La Isleta del Moro is a small fishing village named after a small rock island just slightly separate from land.
Retamar and El Toyo
According to Wikipedia Retamar is a small urban area near Almería. It was started in the 1960's and runs parallel to the Rambla del Agua, ending in Mediterranean Sea.
Retamar is now joined with El Toyo, which started out as a village built for the XVth Mediterranean Games held in Almería in 2005. It runs alongside Retamar centre and is a kind of organised extension of the original Retamar urban grid. The site has evolved into a low population density leisure area with large desert gardens, an 18-hole golf course and several 4-star hotels overlooking the beach.
The down side of such an organised and, in some ways, remote location is that there is not much to keep a family amused during a holiday. This places a particular emphasis on the hotels to offer plenty of animation and entertainment options.
It is worth noting that during an earlier stay in March 2019 the Barcelo was the only hotel open in El Toyo, and that it was not offering entertainment options for children. The kid's club was closed, and two of the three pools were closed.
The Barcelo Cabo de Gata
The 230-room Barcelo hotel is probably the premium hotel in El Toyo, and is one of three hotels frontline to the beach (in addition to the Barcelo there is the CaboGata Jardín and the CaboGata Beach). As far as I can see they are all family-friendly hotels, and all offer half-board, full-board and all-inclusive options. The three frontline hotels have direct access to the public beach across a promenade and desert garden area. In addition, and set back a little from the beach, there are two additional hotels, i.e. Hotel Cabo Gata and Ohtels CaboGata.
One of the key features of the hotel is the underground parking, we always look for this option even it is costs an extra.
Reception and check-in
On all our visits check-in was friendly and looked well prepared. However in our June visit I did see longish waiting lines for check-in. This must have been package tour groups, but there were only two people on the desk. And in our June visit the hotel was running at full capacity.
During our visit in June 2019 we asked to change our room for one with more sun on the balcony. The staff were very helpful. We have always found the staff very friendly and helpful on the reception, in the restaurant, and during the room servicing. You can also pick up pool towels from the reception (they put a deposit on the bill which is removed when the towels are returned).
During our four visits we have had a variety of rooms, all superior or better. The rooms and en-suite bathrooms are all a good size. All the rooms we have had included a sitting area with divan, and a writing desk, etc. There was also adequate storage space, a simple minibar and a wall safe that was nice and big and could take my portable computer, documents, etc. It is possible that some of the simplest rooms overlook a side parking and don't have balconies, but all the rooms we have had (superior, premium, and suites) all had useful balconies or better.
Another nice feature was the large flat-screen TV, but the selection of programs on offer was a disappointment. The free in-room wi-fi worked, but there were occasional outings. There have been some comments in the past concerning the rather drab decor and tired furnishings. The room we see above is the refreshed and refurbished version, and I must admit to finding it light and fresh. The balconies and terraces would merit some work on the wooden railings and screens.
I am not a fan of the bedroom and bathroom tiles, but that should not detract from the spacious bathroom with a separate bath and walk-in shower (and bidet). In the bathroom you find good quality towels, the usual sundries, and white bathrobes and bedroom slippers.
All the rooms we had either overlooked the central pool area or had a view of the sea. Some people claim that the pool area can be a bit noisy. The reality is that this is a family hotel and in the summer and on weekends there will always be some kids, and thus some noise. During the off-season months we found a substantial difference between in-week and weekend. During the week we had elderly co-guests who were relaxed and quiet. During the weekend we had a variety of Spanish co-guests, some with children. For me this livened up the atmosphere, and forced the kitchen staff to make more of an effort in the evening.
I personally found the king-sized beds very comfortable, and furnished with three alternative pillow options. My wife found the mattress a little soft for her.
Arriving in the room we found bottled water, some small chocolates, and coffee and tea machines.
The cleaning of the room was quick and professional, I could find no faults.
The essential of the outside space on the grounds of the hotel are the three pools. In addition there is a kid's club, and a spa.
The hotel was full for our fourth visit, yet it was not difficult to find a place around the pool. The first or front pool is particularly adapted to children, and they tend to leave the other pools to the older adults.
The spa is promoted by the hotel, but the reality is that it is little more than a small hydro-massage pool with a very small sauna and a hamam. Adequate, but limited to small number of clients per session.
We had a buffet breakfast and a buffet dinner in the Mare Nostrum restaurant. This is a light and modern cafeteria environment.
We thought the breakfast buffet was good with lots of options, including freshly pressed orange juice, etc. There is a central dinning room, and a covered terrace.
Frankly, the dinner buffet was a weak point. Firstly it varies a lot depending upon the time of year, and between weekdays and weekends. Off season it looks as if they made more of an effort for the weekends. In the summer there was a more extensive choice of salads, etc. For me, the key weakness is the grill area where the quality-preparation for the grilled meat and fish is less than perfect. Also what might be called the main meal options are often not that attractive. I always found something to eat, but often what I picked was less that perfect. What I want is to be challenged to try different tasty options, but rarely did I find more than one meat or fish to try. The salads, cold meats, cheeses, etc. are a better option. Also we are in Spain, and tapas never appears on the menu (although I suppose you could try to build your own from the basic ingredients). Once there was a BBQ which was an excellent option.
During an extended stay at the hotel you end up seeing the same food and eating the same meats and fish. When you enter the choice looks extensive, but it does not change much from one day to another.
Surprisingly even when the hotel was full, everything worked pretty well. This may be because Europeans tend to dine between 20:00-21:00, and the Spanish between 21:00-22:00.
Naturally on the evening after I wrote this report (a Sunday) we found a wider selection of food options, and a very busy restaurant with people waiting to find a table. But this was just one day and did not change my overall opinion. If anything it made it look more like a canteen.
The hotel is frontline to the beach but to get to the beach you need to walk through the desert gardens and across the promenade.
You leave by the back entrance, and cross the first part of the planted desert garden.
Then you cross the part of the garden dedicated to the natural dry dune environment.
Finally you arrive on the beach. In the summer the beach is cleaned, serviced, and there is a surveillance and life guards. The beach is composed of sand and small stones, so it is not perfect. Also there are no services on the beach area, e.g. seating, umbrellas, drinks, etc., and the hotel does not maintain a presence on the beach.
A short walk along the sea front takes you to a small shopping-restaurant area, where you can find newspapers and stuff like bottled water.
This is a family-oriented hotel that is quite different dependent upon the time of the year, and even between the weekday and the weekend. Off season the hotel can be very quiet, but in the summer it can be noisy. The renovated rooms are comfortable, the staff helpful and pleasant, the breakfast is good, and the overall 'package' quite competitive.
The general location of the hotel is excellent, but the visitor should have a good idea as to what to expect when visiting Retamar-El Toyo, and Cabo de Gata more generally. During our stay in June 2019 foreign visitors noted that the focus was clearly on Spanish families with small children. Also some visitors did not appear to be aware about how isolated the site is, or about what was on offer for those having a rental car.
The rooms are being well renovated, but those that have not yet been renovated are bit 'old-fashioned' and show some wear and tear. In general I would also suggest that maintenance is not perfect. For example, during our visit in June 2019 the room door was stiff and you had to slam it to close it. The central light on the ceiling ventilator had lost its cover, and the draws on the bedside table kept falling out. However, we liked the big bed, the big-screen TV, the separate walk-in shower, and the big wall safe.
During our visit in June 2019 we change rooms to find a balcony with more morning sun, and staff at the reception were really very helpful. But that did mean moving from a refurbished room to a yet to be refurbished room.
Whilst breakfast is very good, the buffet dinner could be improved, after some days it became repetitive and boring. You ate, but there were no culinary surprises and no gustative pleasures. The hotel website tells us that "we should not forget …. The exquisite Almerian cuisine, based upon quality natural produce that includes fish and seafood, meats and vegetables. Guests should try the variety of tapas, the red meats and fish and the famous 'Olla Fresca' dish. Every town in Almería has a traditional dish that stands out from the others". Shame the hotel does not read its own publicity.
New visit at Easter 2022
As compared to the above review, what has changed?
Firstly, we booked a "Double Premium Sea View with Solarium" for a week just following Easter 2022. The hotel had just opened after a winter break, and we were certainly the first occupants of the year. The only noticeable thing was that the wall safe was still closed and the batteries needed changing.
Upon arrival the biggest difference was being informed that underground parking was now €15 daily. Otherwise the check-in etc. was fine, even if I did not use the check-in app.
The room had some noticeable upgrades, namely:-
The bathroom had been complete renovated
Some additional coloured cushions and a decorative bed throw
Some changes in furnishings, and a different standing lamp
An improved offer of tea/coffee
New terrace furniture
And a new(ish) wood-style laminate flooring.
Because of the renovated decor the older parts remaining from the past stick out more, certainly the wardrobe doors could do with a refitting and respray. In addition the nice sized desk and seat have gone.
Both my wife and I found the bed excellent, and the bathroom towels were also of an excellent quality and size.
The laminate floor is quite smooth and slippery, and could be a problem for some people or some types of shoes. The same laminate is used in the bathroom, and when wet could become slippery.
I'm not sure that the addition of new fabrics, etc. was a good idea during COVID (but the addition of some colour was appreciated).
The suitcase support is not wide enough. Anyone with a large suitcase will find it totally useless.
As usual, I was disappointed that the TV just had the usually package of free Spanish programs.
The coffee machine in the room did not work properly (did not heat up the water).
The shower ran tepid to hot, and could not be controlled to provide a constant temperature.
The shower door could hit the bathroom door when opened.
Given the scratch marks on the basin of the WC, it blocks frequently (but not for us).
The food at breakfast was good, and you could normally find everything you wanted. However, the coffee machines were totally under-dimensioned for what was still a small number of guests (they added a machine during the week). Everyone was queuing all the time for coffee and using the toaster. A good point was the fresh orange juice, the variety of omelettes, cut fruit, etc. For those who like their bacon, its gone from undercooked to burnt (I like burnt bacon)!
Actually there did appear to be a few improvements at dinner, but it remained very hit-and-miss, e.g. we were 'only' very disappointed 3 night in the week. The variety of salads was better and the main course looked a bit more varied, but not the finest cuts, fish, etc. It is a shame that the Spanish Jamon had disappeared and manchego only made a rare appearance. The desserts were better and more varied, but the ice creams had no taste.
This time, mid-April, we were surprised to have several days with very strong, and quite cold winds. If the weather is not nice, and you can't sit on the terrace or by the pool, then there is not much to do there.
Whilst a convenient stopover, I think it's time to look at alternatives.