Memos from Madrid
SURVEYING SPAIN’S CAPITAL CITY
written by PEGGY SIJSWERDA | photos courtesy of HAMMAM AL ANDALUS; PEGGY SIJSWERDA; CAFÉ CENTRAL; WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Madrid is an easy city to love.
It’s clean, the people are friendly and the climate is mild and sunny. Best of all, this world capital doesn’t feel crowded. During our spring visit, my husband, Peter, and I never felt overwhelmed by armies of camera-wielding sightseers. Sure, tour groups congregated in Plaza Major, one of the main squares, and plenty of folks streamed into Museum El Prado, the city’s iconic institution for art, but we found it easy to feel at home in Madrid’s colorful neighborhoods.
From smiling waiters to the accordion player on the street corner, friendly Madrileños welcomed us. We saw random acts of kindness on the city’s modern metro system: a young man offered to switch seats so I could sit next to Peter, and three middle-aged men jumped up to advise someone looking at a map which train to take.
Over the course of four days, we explored a few tourist attractions — El Prado, the Royal Palace and Botanical Gardens — but our favorite moments were spent walking along cozy streets, sitting on sunny terraces and eating tasty tapas in local cafés. Though we could have filled our itinerary with main attractions, we veered off the beaten path to discover local treasures worth adding to your must-see list.
- HAMMAM AL ANDALUS
This underground network of baths invites you to immerse yourself in history. Situated on a centuries-old cistern built by Moors during their occupation of Spain, these coed, pool-sized baths offer a peaceful escape from the city streets. Tiled walls, stonework and vaulted ceilings transport you to another time and place. Guests follow the route of a warm bath followed by a hot one, then a splash in ice-cold water before the Turkish (steam) bath, after which you do the circuit in reverse. Add-ons include a bubbly scrub and massage. TIP: Bathing suits required. hammamalandalus.com/en
- CAFÉ CENTRAL
The friendly attendant at Hammam al Andalus suggested this cozy café when I told her we liked jazz. Located on the Plaza of the Angel, Café Central features a shady, outdoor terrace, where we enjoyed an afternoon glass of wine and complimentary tapas. Later, we returned for a lively jazz performance inside, featuring the Maureen Choi Quartet. A violinist from the States, Choi performs Latino-inspired, mostly high-energy tunes (think Jean Luc Ponty). Peter and I sat with a couple from Nantes, France, sharing wine and travel stories between sets. TIP: Reservations recommended for shows. cafecentralmadrid.com
- TAPAS AND WINE TOUR
Taking a food tour is a perfect introduction to Spanish cuisine. As oenophiles, we chose one that featured Spanish wines as well. The three-hour tour included three restaurants and was led by Andres Jarabo, a local “wine detective” who scouts the best places to go. At each stop, we sampled amazing cuisine from Spanish tortillas (potato omelet) dripping in olive oil to tender, grilled octopus (my favorite) to medium-rare pork loin (a common way to serve pork in Spain). At each establishment, we tasted di erent wines — red vermouth on tap, oloroso sherry, raisin wine from Malaga, and varietals from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. TIP: Wear comfortable walking shoes. walksofspain.com
- MERCADO SAN ANTON
More than the average market selling meat, fish and produce, this market in the chic Chueca shopping district aspires to be a destination and it did not disappoint. Spend time roaming the main floor past tidy displays of vegetables and fruit, glistening fish on ice, and mouthwatering cheeses, then head upstairs to dine at communal tables on oysters, champagne, tapas, salads and jamón. We sat at a large table next to a couple whose delicious tomato salad prompted me to tell the waiter, “I’ll have what they’re having.” We added an order of calamari for the perfect-sized lunch and chatted with the British gentleman and his Spanish-born wife while we ate. TIP: Don’t miss changing art exhibits on the third floor. mercadosananton.com
- CRYSTAL PALACE IN PARQUE DE EL RETIRO
Take a break from the city and head to Buen Retiro Park, perfect for walking, hiking or cycling along shady lanes. We rented bikes near the park from a friendly fellow, who kept apologizing for his English (which was way better than my Spanish). Stop by the Crystal Palace—originally a glass greenhouse built in 1887 and now managed by the Reina Sofi a Museum .The regal building hosts contemporary art exhibits in its sunlit interior. TIP: Bring a blanket and a picnic and join the Madrileños sunbathing in the park. museoreinasofia.es
FOR MORE INFORMATION