It’s been 20 years since I’ve last set foot in Madrid. When you hold super dear memories of a place, it’s often hard to revisit it. As if that little corner in my heart – the Madrid of my twenties, when I was an exchange student – should not be altered by any grown-up judgement. On the other hand, it’s a good feeling to find places as we remember them, in a world where everything is getting hipsterised. Madrid today is full of visual reminders of its old-school charm: 1950’s typos above old shop windows, dark-wood panels, grey-hair ladies dressed head to toe in black. This is a summary of 3 days in Madrid last December, no kids, two girlfriends chatting, giggling and hitting the pavement morning til late evenings. Lots of good food and great art. Madrid is a perfect city & culture destination all year long.
We arrive with a late flight and settle in the neighbourhood of Chueca. It used to be famous for its gay nightlife and a lively bar scene but has now turned into a chilled bohemian area, with artisan shops and cute little cafes. Some call it the Notting Hill of Madrid. We check in at the strangely called but wonderfully designed Only You Hotel which, booked via booking.com turns out to be a real deal. The only place still serving food late at night in the area is La Carmencita which, even if it was earlier in the day, I would still want to check out: organic iberico ham and croquetas shout at us Bienvenidas en Madrid.
The breakfast at the hotel is appealing but we prefer to step out and start the day with the locals at Olivia te Cuida. Homemade pastries, prettily presented omelet, fruit salads and organic granolas. A communal table with fresh flowers, and a couple kissing in the corner, her wearing very high heels, ready for work, savouring a few last loving moments with him. I am already imagining the scenario of the next Almodovar movie.
Madrid is a very walkable city. Going through the neighbourhood of Las Salsas, we put on our sunglasses and head to the Reina Sofia museum, keen to see how I will react to Picasso’s Guernica twenty years later. It had marked me so much when I studied it in high school, in my Spanish classes. I didn’t remember the Reina Sofia so imposing, so large and so rich in art. A modern extension by architect Jean Nouvel was added in 2005. The courtyard must be a delight on a hot summer day, seating on a bench near all the Miro suspensions. The Guernica is a bit hidden away, on a high floor, as powerful as ever, depicting war scenes that were dramatic then and are still so relevant today. We then catch a romantic exhibition of 1950’s images of Barcelona by artist Francesc Catala-Roca.
Keen to recognise my old apartment on Plaza Puerta de Los Moros, we head to the old neighbourhood of La Latina, by foot, in the center of the city. We find ourselves at lunchtime (think 2pm+!) at Mercado San Miguel. This place is heaven! Tons of different food stalls serving the best of Spanish dishes, from tapas to marinated fish, grilled octopus, cod croquetas, sangria by the glass. It’s hard to choose. We find two stools at a counter, and go back and forth between the vendors to taste a bit of everything.
These are some favorite shops (Madrid is a treat in terms of quality & prices compared to other big cities). Big up for Madrid-based Malababa, which has a shop in London. Spanish fashion is having a moment in the last 10 years (no, I am not thinking Zara and Mango!). Fuen Carral street and Calle del Barquillo, with the shop Mott, are worth a stop. Of course also, the flagship store of everybody’s favorite Spanish fashion brand Masscob. The multi-brand concept store Pez hidden in a little pedestrian street in Chueca, not too far from another great restaurant Celso y Manolo.
A day in Madrid wouldn’t really be one without a stop at Chocolateria San Gines for chocolate con churros. Have you ever tasted those dough sticks rolled in sugar, that you then dip in an extra thick hot chocolate? So so good. Normally to be had around 6am when coming out of a club .. but when you’re no longer a student partying all night, having them for snack will do too.
We end the day with a dinner together with Madrilene friends at Verdejo Taverna Artesian, an easy going restaurant with a tasty menu and full of chatty locals until past Midnight (on a Monday night!), right in the old part of the city center.
Start the day again with a museum: we head to The Museo del Prado. It is turning 200 years old this year and when we visit late in 2018, some scaffoldings are still covering its beautiful façades. Inside, it’s as grand as ever. After making a selection of the masterpieces that we want to see (there are so many!), we follow our map diligently to stay focused and not get lost. I am mesmerised by the paintings but also the fascinating stories behind the painters: Goya, Rubens, Velazquez, El Greco..
For a drastic change of mood, we hop in a taxi for a late lunch at Sala de Despiece, in a converted butcher’s cutting room. They don’t take reservations, you eat on stools along a bar, and they don’t take too many clients at once, but it’s worth the wait. Experimental recipes, crazy presentations with very conventional Spanish ingredients.
We hop in the metro heading south to the working class neighbourhood of Lavapies, where we check out La Tabacalera. It’s a community-run exhibition space that has taken over an old tobacco factory. The choice of artists is eclectic. It gives us a chance to walk around this up and coming part of town. I want to head further south to Matadero in Legazpi, south of the river, in a former slaughterhouse, but we’re running out of time – and steam! With more time, we would also have checked out La Casa Encendida and Galeria Travesia Cuatro. Instead, we head to the rooftop of Mercado San Anton for an aperitivo, back in Chueca.
There’s no better way to finish our Madrid escapade than at Corral de la Moreria, a traditional flamenco tablao, the best in the city, I am told. Its restaurant was recently awarded a michelin star, so we are lucky to find a table last minute, and we are mesmerised by the performance of the artist that night, Eduardo Guerrero, a prodigy of the new flamenco scene. You heard it on BozAround first 🙂 This is a good source of information for flamenco happenings in the city.
down memory lane in La Latina, Madrid