Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Some photos courtesy of the companies depicted.
After meandering around a landscape dotted with sleepy villages and fragrant orange, lemon and bergamot orchards, almond and olive-tree groves and vineyards that produce some of Europe’s best wines, we finally returned to Madrid.
Madrid is perhaps one of the liveliest cities in Europe but lives entirely in its own tempo and terms. The streets are lined with bars, restaurants and sidewalk cafés where you can enjoy a few tapas or full gastronomic extravaganzas, day or night… There are shops and boutiques where the latest fashions or traditional crafts can be purchased… there are leafy parks and boulevards… but most important are the Madrileños you meet; friendly, hospitable, urbane, wonderful people that open their hearts to visitors in a welcome that few others extend to persons they just met.
There is a French saying: The more things change, the more they remain the same. Madrid, like all big cities, is in constant evolution. But, it also attempts to retain and revive its grand past, a historic and artistic heritage seen mostly at the center. There is continuous rehabilitation of gorgeous Neo-Classical, Baroque, Belle Époque and Deco buildings lining the boulevards, streets and squares throughout the old part of town, while at the same time creating a modern infrastructure. Madrileños also try to retain their quality of life. The pavements and streets are so clean, it is absolutely incredible. The pace is much more relaxed than in other capital cities. Siesta is still observed, though not as vigorously as it used to be. And people, at all socioeconomic levels, are still very interested in culture and the arts.
The main cultural axis of the city is the avenue of art, the Paseo del Prado (also continuing north as the Paseo de Recoletos and the Paseo de la Catellana), a tree-lined boulevard along which the main art museums (The Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and the Reina Sofia Art Center) are located as well as the Archaeological Museum and the National Library. Nearby is the Museum of Decorative Arts, an incredible collection of decorative objects including over 4,000 ceramic pieces, 15th to 17th century carpets, jewelry and furniture. Such monumental landmarks as the Fuente de Neptuno (Fountain of Neptune) and La Cibeles Fountain are located along this avenue as well.
The Paseo del Prado, starts in front of the Estación de Atocha, Madrid’s main rail station. The station’s coffee shops and bars are crowded with travelers having coffee or a tapa and a beer while waiting for their train to depart; there are many commuters milling about.
The Barrio de Salamanka, the district east of the Paseo de la Catellana, symbolizes like no other the transformation that took place in Madrid at the end of the 19th century. It was where the politicians and intelligencia lived at the time and was the center of a technical (first automobiles, first trolley buses) and architectural revolution (apartment buildings replacing palaces). Today, it is the high-end commercial center of Madrid and the location where most luxury firms, both Spanish and international, are situated. In stores, like Delitto & Castigo, one can find fashions from such names as Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, André Courrèges, Franco Ferrari, Gaetano Navarra, Jean Paul Gaultier and Agnès B, to name just a fraction of the designers carried in those stores. At espacio Diedro one can get from jewelry, to men’s furnishings, to table settings, in a gallery-like environment. Fariña & Almuzara create their own jewelry designs; unique precious stone pieces that are outstanding examples of elegance and luxury. And Lurueña as well as Yanko, have men’s and women’s shoes from the best Spanish producers with the most original designs.
One of Madrid’s attractions is the food. Gourmets and gourmands gravitate to Madrid from the rest of Europe and the Americas for the diversity and variety of its eating and drinking establishments, from tascas to temples of haute cuisine. Sobrino de Botín, for example, around the corner from Plaza Mayor, is one of the oldest Castillian restaurants in the world and their roasted suckling pig and baby eels in garlic sauce have not changed since 1725 (the owners think there is no reason to meddle with success)! Zalacaín, in Salamanca, at Álvarez de Baena 4, is a much newer world-class restaurant with a classic haute cuisine kitchen and a superb setting. There is also The Goya, at the Hotel Ritz, famous for impeccable, old fashioned service. This is a romantic setting in a sybaritic environment. The pricing is not for the faint of heart but the outstanding kitchen still follows in Escoffier’s footsteps.
For probably the best Galician seafood in the city, marisquería Combarro -- named after a fishing village -- serves superb traditional dishes such as salt encrusted bass. The restaurant also serves wine from its own winery. But one should not discount such stalwarts as the Museo de Jamón, which I first discovered 40 years ago and has now grown into a chain of tascas/pork-product-stores with a number of locations around town.
Another day, we went for a late lunch to Cervecería Alemana, famous for being Ernest Hemingway's daily haunt; It does not seem to have changed one iota since my last visit there; we again had fino and raciónes of albóndigas, boiled and thinly sliced octopus in an olive oil and parsley dressing, jamón Serrano and tortilla española. Plaza de Santa Ana is now home to more than a half-dozen other bars, tascas, restaurants and ice cream parlors; they all seemed to be packed with local patrons -- and it was a Tuesday afternoon. At Plaza de Santa Ana there is also another famous watering hole Viva Madrid; it used to be a historic, inexpensive student tavern but has changed into a cocktail bar offering classic cocktails. Another day, we also tried the prix-fix lunch at the Café de Oriente’s outdoor tables; they offered their Menú del Día, i.e. a starter, a main course, coffee and dessert, a very, very, decent lunch for the price. The indoor dining room is a classic belle époque charmer. It was long a bastion of French cuisine though it is now serving definitely Spanish dishes but the food is still quite traditional. We usually end our Madrid peregrinations at Chocolatería San Ginés with thick hot chocolate and churros at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.
Madrid has a large number of 5-star hotels. Foremost amongst these is the Hotel Ritz, Madrid, now a Mandarin-Oriental managed property. Located just yards from Retiro Park and the northern entrance of the Prado Museum, on the east side of the Paseo del Prado, the Ritz is one of European hospitality’s best regarded Grand Dames. Nearby, on Plaza de las Cortes 10, is the less formal Hotel Villa Real a member of the Derby Hotels Collection group.
Also, almost across the street on the west side of the Paseo del Prado is another Grand Dame hotel, the Westin Palace. In 1912 when the hotel first opened, it was the largest hotel in the world with 800 rooms and exquisite public spaces.
We spent time exploring Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square, a great quadrilateral with nine gates that has been the stage upon which some of Madrid’s most important events still take place. We went to a Flamenco performance at Tablao Las Carboneras, Calle del Conde de Miranda 1, a nice restaurant with an exceptional flamenco show.
We enjoyed Madrid tremendously. We walked from our hotels along the Carreta de San Jerónimo and the Arenal to the Plaza de Oriente visiting on the way monasteries, churches, gardens, the Opera (Teatro Real) and any other place that our tired feet would take us. I wish we had a month at our disposal to fully explore this wonderful city.
© May 2019 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.