AC Hotels steps into spotlight By Dinah Spritzer / March 03, 2001 Share 1 -- MADRID -- AC Hotels created the most buzz at this year's recent Fitur international travel trade show here, as suppliers and wholesalers took note of the Madrid-based chain's rapid expansion and cutting-edge approach to hospitality in a market known for its reliance on tradition. Most of AC's properties cater to business travelers, but AC -- founded three years ago by Antonio Catalan Diaz, the former head of NH hotels -- is the first design chain in Spain.AC owns and manages 15 hotels with 51 under construction, according to Gonzalo Girladez Quiroga, AC's director of expansion. In 2001, the firm is slated to open 13 properties in Spain.Nigel Hack, director of Madridandbeyond.com, a hotel and tour service based here, said "AC's innovations -- free minibar and four pillows on the bed -- have been a big hit with our clients and set AC apart from some of the long-established players."Ironically, AC's most plush hotels forego the post-modern look, opting instead for an Old World ambience that Americans are fond of.The 37-room AC San Mauro, for instance, is arguably the most impressive boutique hotel in Madrid.The neoclassical villa has regal touches everywhere, from the wrought-iron staircase to the French parlor rooms hung with vibrant modern art.Especially appealing are the hotel's indoor swimming pool, library and private dining room.In a city known for larger properties such as the Ritz, Madrid's San Mauro has attracted a rich clientele seeking a more intimate setting, including former president George Bush, former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev and Sweden's King Gustav XVI. Rack rates start at $273 per night, double.Another notable property is the recently opened AC Toledo, situated high above the hills providing stunning views of the city.AC Toledo, with 49 rooms, is set in a collection of country houses with a luxurious yet rustic atmosphere. Rooms are priced from $103 per night, double.An added plus for Americans: the San Mauro and Toledo hotels offer nonsmoking rooms.AC is bookable through the CRS. The firm's Web site is at www.ac-hoteles.com.