Madrid is a beguiling metropolis; as the capital of the country it is bursting with activity as life courses relentlessly through its networks of streets that excites all visitors. Madrid is an incredibly open city in terms of its thinking and thus the vibrancy of its inhabitants is inevitably seductive as well as the nightlife, Madrileños love to cachinnate, stomp their feet and enthusiastically swig fiery tequila or chupitos until the light of dawn. The hub of the city would be the grand El Retiro royal park (pictured left), sometimes referred to as the green lungs of the city as it is home to more than fifteen thousand leafy trees and is a tranquil haven from the commotion of the Gran Vía.
Madrid also boasts a variety of culinary surprises, ranging from quaint tapas bars in the colourful gay district Chueca offering tasty fried calamari sandwiches , bodegas gallegas (Galician restaurants) near the Plaza Mayor serving up mouth-watering Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician octopus), juicy succulent prawns or razor clams and the more refined restaurants in the affluent Chamberí area. Also just a short bus journey away from the capital, are the enchanting historic cities of Segovia and Toledo which are undoubtedly worth a visit.
El Retiro is a beautiful expansive park filled with leafy trees, parakeets and is particularly enchanting in Autumn when the park’s beauty is enhanced by the burnished amber and gold hues of the bounteous leaves. The park belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the late 19th century when it was bestowed upon the people of the city.
A beloved little corner of this huge park to those who know where to find it is La Rosaleda, a charming rose garden. Possibly the most romantic spot in el Retiro, la Rosaleda is a world away from the masses reclining beside the artificial pond or splashing exuberantly on pedalos and roaring with excitable laughter. Among the abundance of well-tended rose bushes peeps the fountain of the fallen angel, its graceful figure among the sweet-swelling blossoms. On entering this little refuge find yourself a perch like the elderly gentleman here, a stimulating novel in hand or grasp your partners hand and arch your neck and bask in the sunshine like a content cat.
The museum is dedicated to the life of the painter Joaquín Sorolla and is an utter delight, although not as grand, high-brow or widely visited as the three giants – the Museo del Prado, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, in my opinion this spot is an enchanting way to spend a relaxed afternoon.
Known famously as the painter of light and for his love for family life Sorolla's most loved works are the intimate and attractive portraits of his children on summer holidays at the beach in Valencia, his home town. This shrine is a breath of sunshine compared to the melancholy and madness of the works of Picasso displayed in the Reina Sofia.
The museum is housed in the painter's modest former home which amazingly remains untouched and preserved among the backdrop of the concrete developments that surround it. The outside courtyard (pictured) with its detailed tiled floors and gorgeous fountains is charming to explore and inside, the house is littered with trinkets and lovely little memoirs of this man's life, his paintbrushes are proudly displayed reminding us of the artist's presence.
La Tabacalera which is located in the in the artsy Lavapiés area, is an absolute marvel (only really known by locals) in the form of a converted tobacco factory now housing thought-provoking and intimate photography exhibitions as well as occasionally craft markets. . The interior architecture of the place is both spooky and beguiling, the perfect backdrop for innovative art spaces fostering workshops, exhibitions, events and even performances.
A similar spot would have to be the Cuartel de Conde Duque cultural centre offering free exhibitions (in both English and Spanish) and lovely vintage markets selling old wooden trunks; glass bottles, flirty polka dot cocktail dresses and vibrant costume jewelry.
I visited a harrowing but wonderful exhibition on the harsh reality of the lives of Afghan women as well as the gradual progress in their empowerment. My friend and I once ventured to a swing night there which was just fabulous, full of enthusiastic professionals and intrigued others hopping about to electro-swing, a band playing on stage and young well dressed couples linked at the waist smiling, onlookers like myself sit smiling sipping a gin and tonic and enjoying the beautiful evening ambience.
Malasaña Is a district encompassing an eclectic mix of traditional old bars and shops that Madrileños have frequented for decades as well as a bunch of trendy, hipster new comers. Over the years to the disgruntlement of its long-standing inhabitants this barrio has transformed from an area suited to the older generation to a fashionable area buzzing with quirky cafes, vintage shops enticing younger persons and happening squares such as el Balcón de dos de Mayo perfect for quenching your thirst on a caña or licking a grapefruit mojito ice lolly (like my friend pictured) in the roasting summer sunshine. Malasaña also boasts a lively nightlife scene, if you're looking for a really edgy establishment why not try the popular Tupperware bar and experience the quite eccentric decor and cheap cocktails on offer.
Segovia is situated a short distance away from the capital in the region Castille y Leon (about a 1.5hr coach journey). It's must see sight include the historic Alcazar and Roman Aqueduct regional delicacy is commonly served as a whole pig, displayed spread out on the diners table...snout and all!( one of the most preserved structures of its type in the world). Make sure to taste the traditional dish Cochenillo, this succulent suckling pig is definitely for those with more carnivorous appetites out there. At a delightful old-fashioned restaurant we were presented with a lovely piece still with it's trotter. We all enthusiastically dug into the salty crispy skin and tender meat that practically melted off the bone; all washed down with a refreshing cold beer of course.
Toledo is located in La Ciudad Real (approximately an hour bus journey away) and is known as the imperial city, truly magical with its remnants of Jewish, Muslim and Christian occupation and inhabitance of the city, was a place of refuge for the persecuted Jews, known for its amazing sword and armour crafting. Take the time to admire the stunning thirteenth century Gothic Cathedral (pictured below) and it's decorative facade or unabashedly delight in the views of the River Tagus at the Puente de San Martín, or perhaps investigate the quaint stalls dotted about, particularly those selling traditional ceramics.
BITE TO EAT
Mama Framboise- a delightful café offering beautifully formed French cakes and serving quality coffee, be prepared to queue at peak time to grab a seat in this buzzing Parisienne establishment.
Muy. Placer en conserva - A charming tiny bodega with black and white tiled floors and an amazing display of colourful tins of preserved delicacies; mussels, sardines, artichokes as well as bottles of wine. I would recommend the chargrilled artichokes in olive oil served with slices of chorizo ahumado or the spicy flavoursome Moroccan houmous served with flatbread. The beer on offer is pretty spectacular, Alhambra beer on draft. Although this may be a slightly biased opinion as Alhambra is my all-time favourite.
LA TASQUERIA DE JAVI ESTEVEZ
Located in Madrid's upscale Chamberí area, La Tasqueria de Javi Estevez- is an innovative restaurant with a tapas concept but with the name of a Tasqueria, meaning a traditional shop selling locally sourced offal. This restaurant works it's magic by serving dishes that have been forgotten for decades with some clever tweaks of course.
I know the less adventurous perhaps or squeamish of us may be put off by the unusual USP of this restaurant however Javi's modern take on food rooted in tradition and sensational flavours will persuade you. The highlights of my visit were the delightful pate pots to share, partridge, apple and Jerez sherry was my favourite combination
as well as the cow's tongue stuffed with minature pippets with which you squeeze and inject your dish with a delectable sauce. Javi's menu is especially creative and a little on the brave side as it only displays the main ingredient of each dish, meaning every plate presented is an exceptional surprise.