pace of Madrid
is rather laid back,
but it is a cultured and
stylish place with
a vibrant nightlife that
never seems to stop...
Stevens visited Madrid to find out how it fares as a holiday destination. And
what a surprise it turned out to be!
Lucky old Posh and Becks. They may have drawn the long straw with Madrid, but
is it their sort of city? They will discover that the Spanish capital does not
have the arrogance of the usual European capital city and that the people are
friendly and helpful except for the occasional disinterested railway
ticket office attendant or ambitious rip-off airport taxi driver.
The pace of Madrid is rather laid back the hot
weather slows most people down but it is a cultured
and stylish place with a vibrant nightlife that never seems to stop. There are
some impressive streets but not overbearingly majestic boulevards to intimidate
visitors, nor anything else of great or threatening stature to impose upon the
Although its style is different, Madrid's near provincial atmosphere bears comparison
with Norway's Oslo and Slovenia's Ljubljana
surprising, considering close neighbours France and Italy.
Once the scale of Madrid is grasped, you will find most places you
want to visit are within walking distance. The city centre quite neatly divides
into the 'old' 18th Century and the 'new' 19th Century with a little spice in
between. All the big names in shops are in Salamanca district, the heart of
the new part of the city.
There is not the pulse of London, but you will notice that final endorsement
those immaculately turned out 'Ladies Who Lunch'
enjoying café society.
Cooks will be able to track down
the elusive turron (its nearest equivalent is nougat) as recommended by our
Delia but rarely found at home. Alternatively, you can buy
some online at tienda.com
The traditional grocers and department stores have a good selection at less
than half the price of Duty Free. There are treasures to be found whatever your
penchant; galleries selling pictures and ceramics, the colourful gay area between
the two parts of the city or a new chic label in a small boutique at prices
to tempt. And
we were delighted to discover a real gem a time capsule of an art nouveau
The old town has several focal points. Plaza de la Puerta del Sol (Gateway to
the Sun) has the longest name and traffic jams, even at 1.00am, and the car-free,
classically-designed Plaza Mayor is largely the preserve of coin and stamp dealers.
Around the corner are the beautiful and delicate 19th century buildings with
the local provisions market. But even more spectacular is the Atocha railway
station, where you almost expect men to appear in top hats and frock coats in
a scene straight from a film set.
One of the most lively and social night spots is the Plaza Santa Ana, ironically
formed by demolishing a convent. If you want to shop, Calle de Serrano has more
than enough boutiques to satisfy even Posh together with shoe shops galore in
the old town area.
If you can't beat them, join them! Everything stops at midday and a three course
meal is eaten at two o'clock. Most restaurants offer a bargain fixed-price meal
with wine or beer included, some from as little as £5. If you want to push the
boat out, £10 in a smart restaurant represents genuine value for money.
Madrid used to be full of family-run, no frills restaurants and there are still
plenty of places offering traditional fare should you wish to sample paella
or other Spanish dishes. But the real finds are a new generation of gourmet
restaurants serving modern dishes in high-style surroundings. You would reasonably
expect to draw breath at the prices but, in each of the five we enjoyed, the
bill was just over five pounds each.
Complementing these restaurants is La Gloria de Montera. Inexpensive and stylish,
it is situated close to the Museo del Prado so you can rest your weary feet
after a morning of culture. None of these restaurants takes booking and getting
a table is a challenge unless you revert to nearer UK meal times. The Spanish
seem to eat lunch from 2.00pm onwards and dinner from 10.00pm. The restaurants
open half an hour earlier when tables are freely available. Arrive at 10.00
p.m. and expect to wait an hour-and-a half.
Another gem near the Prado and the Retiro park worth a visit is the smart but
relaxed La Gamella. Booking is essential as it is patronised
by politicians and top executives. We chose the menú de degustación
were served six courses, costing in the region of £25 a head including wine.
Excellent value from American owner, Dick Stephens, who has lived in Madrid
for forty years. In the process of handing over his ownership, he says his imaginative
food will go on.
To many, The Prado is Madrid. A grand dame of galleries housing a collection
of the premier division and you expect it to be the best. However, you shouldn't
miss the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia for Picasso's Guernica his
famous painting of the horrors of the Civil War
great Dalis and lots of other modern pieces. It, too, is considered one of the
major museums of the world and is situated in a former hospital with two heart-stopping
all-glass lifts outside the building providing fantastic views.
Our favourite, without doubt, was the beautiful Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Housing
one of the widest ranging private collections of European art in the world,
there is a little something for everyone
all attractively presented.
Spain's historic conquests sit alongside those of the Dutch and in the mid-18th
Century leading European royalty created, amongst others, France's Versailles
and Vienna's Schonbrunn. In the same period Madrid's Royal Palace, the 2,800
roomed Palacio Real, was built. Impressive
yes, but not quite in the same league of grandiose and sophisticated design.
Needless to say, the Spanish Royal Family prefers to live elsewhere.
No city is just the trophy sights. The botanical gardens (Real Jardín
Botánico) are quite delightful and relaxing
more attractive than the much-hyped Parque del Retiro. Alongside are the bookstalls,
reminiscent of those by the Seine in Paris and well worthwhile spending a lost
hour or two browsing.
If you enjoy bargain hunting in flea markets, a Sunday morning stroll with the
Madrilenos in the touristy and centuries-old El Rastro (open
8am-2pm Sundays and holidays) will
be well rewarded.
The countryside outside Madrid lacks interest, but for children and the young
at heart there is Warner Brother's 'Movie World' with roller-coasters and cartoon
village some fifteen miles south of the city.
If you crave European history, the historic town of Toledo is the choice for
an out of town excursion. Easily accessible by either train or bus,
it is as well to remember it is on a hill and the streets are cobbled.
The main attraction is the cathedral
a magnificent mediaeval building
that took over three hundred years to complete. However, as there is a lack
of signposts in the town it is probably advisable to take an escorted tour to
make the most of your time in Toledo.
We were constantly advised to beware of pick-pockets and bag snatchers by locals,
who clearly recognise it as a problem as everyone clutches their bags to their
bodies. Conversely, roaming the streets at night is totally unthreatening wherever
We could well take a leaf out of this book as every night there are throngs
of young people letting their hair down well into the small hours, enjoying
drinks in and outside the multitude of bars and clubs. And there was not one
drunk nor even a broken glass or bottle to be seen.
Madrid is a wonderful place to visit and we have no doubt that the Beckhams
will find their new home town has much to savour and enjoy.
flights to Madrid are available with several airlines. BMI gave us a good service
and ample legroom. We would advise you to take advantage of the hotel buses
or the metro which is cheap, quick and pleasant to use.