My second stop in Spain was the stunningly beautiful city of Madrid. The nation’s capital is surrounded by mountains and natural parks, and is the perfect city to walk around and take in the historic sights.
It had been 20 years since my last adventure in España, and this sun-kissed nation celebrated for its fine wine, paella and tapas, flamenco and football and forward-thinking architecture was calling my name and I couldn’t resist! After spending a few days in Barcelona, as illustrated in my first installment, it was time to travel from the coast to Spain’s interior to its historic capital city of Madrid.
I had forgotten how stunningly beautiful Madrid was, but coming back after two decades, I quickly remembered. The buildings, fountains, monuments and grand plazas are architecturally decadent and rich in detail. Home to the Spanish royal family and government, Madrid is the largest and most populated city in Spain with 3.5 million people. This modern metropolitan city is surrounded by mountains and natural parks, and is the perfect city to walk around and take in the historic sights.
Sights to See in Madrid
Madrid is home to a plethora of museums and galleries, but if you can only add one to your to-do list, visit the renowned Museo del Prado. Celebrating its 200th year anniversary in 2019, the Prado describes itself as a “museum of painters, not paintings.” The Prado’s permanent collection offers multiple styles, time periods and artists. Famed works include paintings from Bosch to Velazquez and Goya.
Take a few hours to visit the sprawling Royal Palace of Madrid and its manicured, surrounding gardens and parks; the beautiful Cathedral of the Almudena, dedicated to the Virgin Mary; the grandiose arcaded Plaza Mayor, located in the heart of the old city, is home to cultural buildings, restaurants and the famed bronze statue of King Philip III atop his horse; and Puerta del Sol, the Times Square of Madrid, is home to famous buildings and landmarks like its clock tower. An interesting fact, Puerta del Sol is at the very heart of Madrid at Kilometre Zero – the official starting point for Spain’s six national roads.
Madrid is known for its churros and calamari sandwiches, and a great place to visit is the wrought-iron-and-glass Mercado de San Miguel. This lively, bustling market featuring 33 stalls offers a smorgasbord of culinary delights from Spain’s traditional foods like paella and tapas to delicacies like caviar and stuffed sea urchins.
One of my favourite places in Madrid is Plaza de Santa Ana, a perfect blend of elegant architecture, electrifying energy and diverse restaurants and cafes with outdoor patios within the plaza’s square. As you sip on a specialty cocktail made with fresh ingredients at Lateral restaurant, you can admire Teatro Español and statues of writers Calderón de la Barca and Federíco García Lorca.
Finally, if you’re a football fan, Madrid is home to two world-class football clubs – Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. These clubs have some of the best and brightest players from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa. It would be exciting to watch a match at either Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (Real Madrid) or Wanda Metropolitano stadium (Atlético Madrid).
ME Madrid Reina Victoria
Walking through Plaza de Santa Ana towards ME Madrid Reina Victoria, you stop and pause to admire its presence – this iconic, luxury hotel is an architectural masterpiece built by modernist architect Jesús Carrasco y Encina reflecting gorgeous Spanish details alongside its signature tower.
“ME Madrid is a lifestyle hotel with personality, which merges an innovative style with Spanish artistry captivating both guests and locals alike,” says Chiara Visconti, Director of Sales. “Our hotel showcases contemporary art and design, an international restaurant ‘Ana la Santa’ and musical offerings from around the world.”
After a total renovation, ME Madrid re-opened in April 2017. This stylish, artistic hotel is not only warm and inviting, but it’s all about the service and experience. In fact, the ME Madrid staff and its Aura team, a personal concierge service, go above and beyond to ensure their guests’ needs and expectations are met in a seamless fashion and
most importantly, their stay is unforgettable!
A home away from home, ME Madrid is a sought-after destination for guests from all around the world, including politicians, footballers and celebrities. While staying at the hotel, you’ll want to check out its rooftop terrace, home to the award-winning RADIO ME Madrid Rooftop Bar – voted the best hotel club in Spain for 2017. Located on the 7th floor, this Madrid hot spot showcases an exotic and elegant design with incredible panoramic views of historic buildings and Plaza de Santa Ana.
Barcelona’s Arts & Cultural Scene
After spending time in Madrid, we headed back to Barcelona for the last portion of our Spanish adventure. Barcelona has a thriving arts and cultural scene, a few highlights to add to your to-do list are:
“Give me a museum and I’ll fill it,” said Pablo Picasso. As an admirer of Picasso, I couldn’t go to Barcelona and not visit the magnificent Museu Picasso, which houses one of the most extensive collections of Picasso’s art in the world. Showcasing more than 4,300 works from paintings and ceramics to a photographic archive, the museum takes you on a journey of Picasso’s formative years and provides a glimpse into the life of this artistic genius.
Tablao Flamenco Cordobes
A visit to Spain would be incomplete without experiencing the brilliance of flamenco. When I was in Barcelona 20 years ago, I experienced an incredible flamenco performance at Tablao Flamenco Cordobes. And on this recent trip, I definitely had to re-visit this establishment, founded in 1970 and run by a family of artists. “We are the best kept secret in Barcelona,” says María Rosa Pérez Casares, CEO and daughter of the founder. “We welcome you to join us and experience all that flamenco has to offer.”
This time, I chose to do the Gastronomic Tour – a dining and dance experience. Before the performance, you are treated to a delectable gourmet dinner offering 44 specialties of Spanish and Catalan cuisine. After this, you enter the vaulted tablao – a dramatic, yet perfect setting for flamenco – that can seat up to 180 guests.
Flamenco is a Spanish art form that combines dance, song and guitar playing. Tablao’s flamenco dancers, both male and female, exude strength, vulnerability and beauty. As you sit and watch, you are captivated by the singers and guitar players and truly mesmerized by the brilliant dancers – an unforgettable evening!
Club Jamboree, Harlem Jazz Club & Sidecar Factory Club
Club Jamboree has been a “part of Barcelona’s cultural heritage since 1960” and its stage has been graced by national and international musicians alike. We experienced an amazing jazz concert in Jamboree’s intimate setting featuring renowned Catalan musician Joan Chamorro and his promising musical prodigies – a night to remember!
Harlem Jazz Club, a musical hot spot in Barcelona for the last 30 years, showcases both up-and-coming and established musicians. This quaint club offers smooth sounds to upbeat, foot-tapping music in a sultry setting. On the night that we visited, we were in for a real treat – a musical extravaganza featuring Ray Cuza and Septeto Sazonando (a Cuban singer and band) – who had you moving and dancing to their soulful music.
Dance the night away to electro/funk/disco beats at Sidecar Factory Club, a Barcelona staple since 1982. A fun experience with people of all ages, a refreshing change to North American clubs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Renu is a Vancouver-based journalist with 13 years experience, who has conducted high-profile interviews with individuals from all walks of life, including politicians, celebrities and athletes. She was DARPAN's former editor-in-chief and enjoys writing for the publication. This foodie loves to travel around the world and share insightful, interesting features with readers.