Madrid: A Cure for the Winter Blues
Madrid is the grand dame of Spain. Whereas Barcelona feels bold and creative — think Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Jean Nouvel’s masculine Agbar Tower and Frank Ghery’s sculptural Fish — Madrid is resolutely aristocratic and regal, while at the same time modern and vibrant.
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit. Sunny Madrid is an effective cure for a deflated winter spirit. You know the feeling: You expect spring to be around the corner at the beginning of April but the tenacious wind and rain just won’t give in. Elevate your mood a quick long-weekend trip to Madrid, where you can soak up the sun, enjoy the lively atmosphere and indulge in first-class cuisine. Big bonuses: The city provides a dose of art and culture and plenty of outdoor space for children.
WHERE TO STAY?
With children, the best bet is to stay by the Retiro Park. Find a hotel to the west of the park so you can easily explore the main attractions of the city. Here are three of the best:
Westin Palace: This elegant and opulent hotel in a perfect location has hosted many famous figures including Salvador Dali since it was commissioned and created by King Alfonso XIII in 1912.
NH Collection Madrid Paseo del Prado: Just as conveniently located as Westin Palace but more reasonably priced, it also houses a great tapas restaurant, Estado Puro, on the ground floor. The restaurant is owned by Paco Ronchero, who also runs a Michelin-starred restaurant in Madrid.
Hotel Ritz by Belmond: this most luxurious hotel in Madrid is situated next to the Prado Museum and close to Retiro Park but in a quieter — and slightly less central — location than the two hotels listed above. The loveliest thing about this place is its terrace and gardens. Even if you don’t stay there, it’s worth visiting for an afternoon hot chocolate with churros in the garden.
WHAT TO DO:
1. PALACIO and LA LATINA areas
Savour old Madrid by walking from to the Royal Palace. Take Cava Baja, the most lively street in La Latina. The street is filled with good tapas restaurants. Pop into one of those restaurants or go to Almendro 13, hugely popular classic tapas place favoured by Madrileños. Get there before it opens at 1 pm or be prepared to stand in line.
After lunch and a visit to the Royal Palace, cross Bailén street and let the children run loose at the playground at ‘Jardines Lepanto’. A minute away, visit the beautiful Plaza de Oriente, which is adorned with 20 imposing statues — 5 Visigoth Kings and 15 kings from the period of the ‘Reconquista’.
Once playtime is over, you can either sit at Cafe de Oriente and enjoy the view of the Royal Palace or, better still, go past Teatro Real on Plaza Isabel II and walk down Calle del Arenal to taste the best churros in Madrid at Chocolatería San Ginés. The chocolateria, with indoor and outdoor seating, has been serving only hot chocolate (extra-thick Spanish style) and churros since 1894. Try the well-known thin crunchy churro and as well as the thick doughy porra.
2. Easter Processions and Santiago Bernabéau Stadium
The parades during the ‘Semana Santa (Holy Week)’ are among the largest celebrations in Spain. Albeit sombre in character, the processions are still fascinating for children. The parade floats feature lavishly ornamental statues of Jesus and Virgin Mary, and marching with the floats are scores of hooded men — some with chains on their feet — re-enacting the passion of Christ.
If you have a little football fan in the house, the stadium of the Real Madrid football team is a fun outing. Have a quick tour and enjoy the stadium from the restaurant Puerta 57 accessed the gate 57, obviously, where you can dine with a view of the entire pitch in front of you.
3. Retiro and Salamanca
The area of the Prado Museum and Retiro Park is the place to enjoy outdoor space with grandeur. Spend the morning at outdoor spaces, then head to the upscale ‘bourgeois’ Salamanca for excellent meals and shopping in the afternoon.
From the Prado Museum, cross Alfonso XII street to access Retiro Park.
Once out of the park, have lunch at the hip, lively and super popular Arzábal, where adults and children alike hang around by the bar picking at tapas. Better yet, grab a table by the window and enjoy the afternoon meal like stylish Madrileños do.
To those who like seafood, El Pesacador is a must-go place with the freshest fish in town. Alternatively, try La Trainera for excellent traditional dishes.
If you want to have the best al fresco lunch in the most upscale part of Madrid, head to El Paraguas, which offers excellent food with impeccable service in a sophisticated atmosphere.