Madrid – Do it the Spanish Way
Madrid sits on a plateau with the Palacio Real perched regally on its edge overlooking the river valley to the west and the mountains to the north. The historical part of the city runs in a broad band from the Palace and its gardens eastwards to the impressive Parque del Buen Retiro, making it a very compact city to discover. Located right in the very centre is the Puerta del Sol, an elongated plaza that you will come back to time and time again as you criss-cross the city. It is from here that all road distances are measured in Spain and therefore the perfect place to start exploring.
To make the best use of your time the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing buses – Madrid Vision – are well worth their money at €13.60 for a two day ticket. They offer three different tours – Red (Historical), Green (Monuments) and Blue (Modern) and all stop in Puerta del Sol. Even if you never listen to the commentary, the Red and Green routes provide an efficient way to get around the city centre. From the vantage point of the upper deck you can admire the wide streets such as the city’s main thorough way – Gran Via – with its mix match of architectural styles from the 1920’s and ’30’s and even boasts a New York-style skyscraper.
You will also realise how green Madrid is as you sweep round large roundabouts boasting dramatic gateways and monuments that easily compete with Rome and Paris, and along boulevards like the Paseo de Recoletos, catching glimpses of palaces and museums such as the Museo del Prado, the famous art gallery. Ladies can also take note of where to find the luxury shopping district of Salamanca – that is, if you can resist the temptation not to get off.
|Outdoors in Madrid|
Unlike other European cities, Madrid is very laid back and no matter what time you go into a tapas bar it will be busy, as locals pop in for a quick snack, half pint of beer or a glass of vermouth. A good place to get into this groove is to spend an hour or two sitting in the 17th century Plaza Mayor, a large cobbled courtyard entered through archways and overlooked by balconied apartments and painted frescos. Which bar to frequent really depends on what time of day you find yourself here and whose tables are basking in sunshine.
Being in Madrid is a bit like having jet lag, as your sleep and eating habits become totally out of sync. Lunch starts at 2.00 pm and is a long affair, taking up to three hours. Posado de la Villa, a typical Madrid-style restaurant, is well worth a visit and their speciality dish Cordero Asado (roast lamb) – a sharing dish for two – is delicious. You will find the restaurant on the narrow street of Cava Baja, a short walk downhill from Plaza Mayor. This street is full of restaurants and towards the end some good bars one of them being El Viajero. If you don’t have a reservation for lunch it’s worth arriving half an hour early so as not to be disappointed.
The same applies to dinner and the locals normally eat at 10.00 p.m., although if you have had a large lunch you might prefer a supper of tapas instead. On Cava de San Miguel, you will find a good selection of bars serving food in a very unique setting. Running down between Plaza Mayor and the Mercado San Miguel (old fruit and veg market) you will find a row of stone doorways overhung with rot iron signs and lanterns that lead into cellar bars.
Meson Rincon de la Cava felt like a cosy dungeon made up of small alcoves, but once you find a seat you might not want to leave and apart from ordering too much, the food was delicious. For a couple, three plates of tapas will be more than enough – you can always order more if you are still hungry. As an alternative to tapas, there is a very good Italian in Cava Baja called Emma y Julia, but again portions are generous and sharing a starter is a good idea.
With the evening officially starting at 10.00 p.m., a few hours sleep is highly recommended if you are going to last the night. Going to bed at 7.00 p.m. isn’t difficult especially if you have had a big lunch and walked lots. Getting up at 9.30 p.m. is another matter, but you wouldn’t want to miss seeing Madrid at its best! HH Campomanes is a small boutique hotel named after a little street that runs off from the Plaza de Isabel II home to the Teatro Real opera house, and you couldn’t wish for a more central base. It is also extremely good value at €99 a room bed-and-breakfast and has exceptionally friendly staff.
Bars in Madrid can be a bit of a hit or miss to find, so it helps to locate them during the day whilst you are out exploring. Another good bar on the street directly behind Chicote was Le Cock, however, unless someone entered or left this bar the moment you arrived, you would think it was closed. Hidden behind the door and thick velvet curtain is an upmarket establishment comprising of a large square room with old stone fireplace and high ceilings. Again, if you don’t want to be standing all night go slightly before midnight to get a seat.
We were told that there is a party on every night in Madrid – the only question is where will it be tonight? It seemed the norm to move from bar to bar and eventually to a club at 4 or 5 a.m. but there were two bars we would never have discovered without the help of some friendly locals. Kingston’s had a very Jamaican feel and was jumping at 3 a.m. and shaking your booty on the stage or bar seemed par for the course. At the other end of the scale – Gabana 1800 – was somewhere the Beckhams must have frequented as everyone looked like they were either a professional footballer or model. Surprisingly, nobody dressed up and you could even get into clubs like Gabana with jeans on.
The club closed at 7.30 a.m. but didn’t mark the end of the evening as everyone poured into a nearby a coffee shop for a refreshing cup of tea before heading home for some well earned sleep. If you have been out all night and missed breakfast then head to Museo del Jamon – a chain of ham delicatessens dotted around the city and highly recommended to cure that morning-after feeling is the Mixto con Heuvo. The best way to describe it is a ham, cheese and fried egg toastie and at a very reasonable €2.50 it hit the spot – or was it the cold beer?!
A perfect place for tired eyes to hide behind sunglasses is in the Parque del Buen Retiro. Jump on one of the Madrid Vision buses and you will be there in 10 minutes. The park is enormous with a large boating lake, Crystal Palace and numerous bars and coffee shops with outdoor seating where you can sit and watch the world go by. Puppet shows and musicians entertain both the children and adults and it seemed to be “the” place to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.
How to get there
Many airlines fly to Madrid including BA
Posada de la Villa, Cava Baja 9, Tel: 91 366 18 60
Emma y Julia, Pizzeria, Cava Baja 19, Tel: 91 366 10 23
Note: A wide selection of restaurants can be found in Cava Baja
Meson Rincon de la Cava, Cava de San Miguel 17, Tel: 91 366 58 30
Taberna Real, Plaza Isabel II 8, Tel: 91 559 69 22
Museo del Jamon, Calle Mayor 7, Tel: 91 531 45 50
Others recommended but not tried
La Taverna al Almendro, Almendro 13, Tel: 91 365 42 52
La Trucha, Manuel Gernandez y Gonzales 3, Plaza de Santa Ana Tel: 91 429 5833
HH Campomanes, Campomanes 4, just of Plaza Isabel II (Teatro Real) Tel: 91 548 85 48
The hotel can also organise tickets to see Real Madrid)
Museo-Chicote, Gran Via 12, el: 91 532 67 37
Le Cock, Reina 16, Tel: 91 532 28 26
El Viajero, Direccion Plaza de la Cebada 11, (at end of Cava Baja turn left and the bar is on the angled corner of Cava Alta and the main road that heads towards Plaza Cebada – opposite a market).
Viva Madrid, Manuel Fernandez y Gonzalez 7, Tel: 91 429 36 40 (Not on most maps but if you go to the top right hand corner of Plaza de Santa Ana (as you look at the Plaza on the map) the street leading down into Plaza is called Principe. From there take first street on your right and the bar is half way down.)
Two bars recommended but not tried in Plaza de Santa Ana are Cerveceria Alemana (frequented by Ernest Hemingway) and Cerveceria Santa Ana.
Kingston’s, Calle del Barquillo (at end of Gran Via where it joins Alcala; but before Plaza de Cibeles). Next to No.29 on corner of Calle del Piamonte but if you reach Fernando VI street you’ve gone too far.
Gabana 1800, Velazquez 6, 28001 Tel: 91 576 06 86