Madrid is a leading European capital with very good reason. Just over two hours by air from most UK airports, it is easily accessible for short weekends away, or longer for those with time enough to hurl themselves, full force, into Madrileno culture. It is, without a doubt, a 24 hour city. Bars never close, restaurants serve everything from tapas to Thai food till late into the night, and there is a bar for every type and taste imaginable.
Alongside this incessant hedonism also lies a city of great culture. The gorgeous tree-lined avenue of Paseo del Prado is home to the Museo Reina Sophia,the Prado gallery, [a firm Madrileno institution] and the Thyssen gallery, a delectable but large personal collection housed within a public gallery. Madrilenos, as a rule, are extremely friendly, the food is consistently wonderful, and the size of the city, totally manageable. If you’re there for only a short time and want to cram in as much as possible, we recommend the following without reservation…
The ME Melia Hotel, www.memadrid.com, 0808 234 1953. Located along the edge of stunning Placa Santa Ana, the ME Melia, once the GrandReina Victoria, with its white columns and imposing roof top sculptures has become a signature part of Madrid’s skyline. The rooftop bar is a place to see and be seen for locals and hotel guests alike. Mojitos and endless Rioja flow till dawn in this fabulous bar that seems to vibe Miami Beach rather than a European city. Low-lying, comfortable lounge seats are adorned with gigantic candles and set to music.
The views down onto the square and across the Retiro park are unrivalled and we recommend you stop in for a drink even if you choose your accommodation elsewhere.
Every room at the ME Melia comes complete with WiFi, a 32 inch Plasma screen television, and the bathrooms are loaded with delicious Aveda products. Slick and modern but oh-so comfortable.
Madrid, like so many Spanish destinations, has a lot of wonderful food but, sadly, the tourist hot spots serve a lot of not-so-great food as well. Greasy tortillas at extortionate prices are not uncommon and the finer food is off the main tourist streets.
The New Kid on the Block which recently received its first Michelin star is Diverxo (www.diverxo.com.) Fusing Chinese and Spanish flavours to create innovative dishes such as Rabbit Dim Sum, for example, there can be no finer Ferran Adria-inspired food in the Spanish capital.
La Latina is a buzzing district which really comes alive on a Sunday afternoon, but all week long, it has some excellent little Spanish, family-run eateries that are sure to satiate any Tapas craving you might have. Pimientos Padrones are not to be missed they are fiery little peppers flame-cooked in rock salt.
Salamanca is the district for designer threads – unsurprisingly, it’s where Posh and Becks resided during his stint at Real Madrid — but whether you’re after Louis Vuitton or Chanel, Prada or Max Mara, you’ll find every haven of couture in this small, tree-lined district in the centre of the city.
If you aren’t quite so keen to blow your budget but want to indulge in some retail therapy nonetheless, the endless paving of GranVia and the district of Sol are fantastic for well-known brands such as Zara and H&M, as well as, Spanish-only, boutique-sized shops. Those wanting to get stuck into the flea market scene of the city will adore the well-loved Sunday morning flea market of El Rastro located between La Latina and Tirso de Molina.
Drinking is a national sport in Spain where families gather with friends for wonderful Tinto de Verano con Limon (a Sangria-esque thirst quencher made with red wine), Albarinos and good Spanish beers. There are some wonderful bars in Madrid, many of them once Hemingway’s favourite haunts, that are relics of history and wonderful spots for watching the world go by.
Meson del Champinones on Calle Cuchilleros is one of the oldest tavern’s in the city, all set amongst a series of cave bars. It is great for drinks but if you’re after food be warned that all it serves is mushrooms. The gorgeous Place Santa Ana is a hub of activity and has lots of shaded seating which you’ll want in the summer months. Our recommendation there is Naturbier which brews its own beer on the premises and serves lots of good little Pintchos (bite-sized snacks) to keep you going till dinner.
For something a little more historical, Taberna Las Gabrieles on Calle Echegaray is right in the middle of the city and was the spot where bullfighters used to stop for shelter and good Cerveca. Its live Flamenco shows on Tuesdays are not to be missed if you’re after a good show.