This capital city in the Iberian peninsula is turning into a short break hotspot
25 August 2010
Barcelona may bristle with pride over its architectural charms, but Spain’s capital does have a bundle of cultural accolades that have been turning the Iberian peninsula into a bit of a short break hotspot recently.
Madrilenos, the city’s dwellers, are certainly not coy when they say, “desde Madrid al Cielo” - from Madrid the only place left to go is heaven. Although this may seem a tad bold, as the highest capital in Europe (646 metres above sea level), it is at least theoretically the nearest European city to the pearly gates.
Perhaps of more interest to the European traveller looking for some sunshine, is that Madrid is also the sunniest (average annual temperatures in the shade hover at 13) capital in Europe.
For art lovers, there are a staggering 73 museums dotted around its labyrinthine streets. The mix includes the Paseo del Arte, Spain’s three greatest museums, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, home to Renaissance painter Domenico Ghirlandaio's exquisite "Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni", the Prado famed for its El Greco, Titian, Velazquez and Rubens masterpieces and the Reina Sofia where Picasso’s Guernica and other contemporary artworks can be seen.
Its most famous street, Gran Via is lined with typically extravagant 20th century architecture and there’s never been a better time visit because this year it celebrates its centenary. If you stay at the 4 star Emperado Hotel on Gran Via, check out the view over architectural bling of the nearby 18th century Royal Palace and the Aludena Cathedral from its 10th floor roof top swimming pool.
Nightlife, which generally starts to buzz after 10pm, comprises clubs, bars, restaurants and an excellent range of tapas bars.
Two tapas bars to try are The Casa Lucio tapas bar in the nearby La Latina area, and Casa Labra at Calle Tetuan 12. The former is famous for its celebrity and royal diners as well as for its traditional Madrileño dishes. The latter is probably one of the oldest in the city and is where the Socialist party was founded in 1860. Enjoy a cañas (small glass of beer) with cod croquettes and fried morsels of cod.
First time visitors should visit the world’s oldest restaurant and one Hemingway called his favourite. This is the Botin Restaurant in Calle Cuchilleros. It dates back to 1725 and is where Goya is supposed to have worked before becoming an artist. Four rickety staircases lead the way to wood-beamed rooms, where diners tuck into their speciality dishes of cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) and cordero asada (roast lamb) cooked in antique cast-iron ovens.
Bullfighting is the world’s oldest sport and it takes place during Spain’s National Fiesta at La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas del Espíritu Santo during May and June. If you can stomach it join a million or so Spaniards as they watch a bullfight and cheer on the matadors.
It is impossible to talk of former Moorish stronghold without mentioning their illustrious, and world-famous football club, Real Madrid. Their 80,354 seat stadium Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is at South Paseo de la Castellana. A hefty 14 euros buys you a guided tour but it does takes in the trophy cabinet.
Let’s not forget that this is the city where Victoria Beckham flashed her credit cards for the best part of four years when David was playing for Real Madrid. And you can do the same (that’s shopping, not playing for Real Madrid) at Plaza Mayor, which is bulging with a range of shops. The famous El Corte Ingles department store is at Puerta Del Sol but for high fashion it has to be the Salamanca area.
This year the cape made mad a come-back as a fashion item and Victoria Beckham designed one too. Did she get her inspiration at Capas Seseña At Calle de la Cruz 23, the only shop in the world that sells capes and only capes?
Fashionable shopping, sporting and a night life to stay up for, Madrid offers a fine city break that should make Barcelona sit up and take note.