What can you see and do in a fascinating city such as Madrid in twenty-four hours? A lot actually, if you plan well. A good guide is vital and your twenty-four hours should include two evenings and a full day. During a visit in spring 2013, I aimed for, apart from an over view of Madrid, a closer look at the Bull Ring, Prado, Reina Sofia and the Royal Palace. I also wanted to eat well and drink great wine!
I took the mid-morning KLM flight from Leeds/Bradford. Transit time in Amsterdam was sensible. They give you coffee and a sandwich on the plane and get you to Madrid in mid afternoon. Skyscanner gets you the return flight for £219 if you book early. A private transfer in a mini bus from Barajas airport to the city centre took 20 minutes and cost 65 Euros for 6.
Four- star Vincci Centrum is 150 metres from Savilla metro station and a 10-minute walk from Puetra del Sol. The Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemisza, Retiro Park, Atocha train station and shops, bars and restaurants of Chueca and Gran Via are within walking distance. It is clean and comfortable, serves a great breakfast and has free wired Internet.
First Night Out
That evening I walked through buzzing sunlit streets past the Archaeological Museum and the sprawling Columbus monument to Lavinia on Calle Ortega, the biggest and best wine shop in Madrid. You pick your wines in the downstairs shop and drink in the upstairs bar and restaurant. There is no corkage. Even if you are not a wine buff, Lavinia is admissible.
Take A City Tour
I woke up to loud singing outside my window. A group of youngsters was returning home from a night out in town, laughing and singing and unsteady on their feet. It was five thirty in the morning.
Marisol picked me up at 9 am. We drove along half empty streets that Sunday morning past joggers in Retiro Park and leaning, modern tower blocks to the Las Ventas bullring, said to be the numero uno in Madrid and built in 1929 in Moorish Neo-Mudejar style. They kill six fighting bulls here every Sunday afternoon from March to October and every day for twenty days in May and June during the San Isidro festival.
Two Hours In The Prado
Marisol’s husband Luis, a retired history teacher, was waiting for us at the Prado with tickets in hand. He already knew what I wanted to see: the three Spanish Old Masters – El Greco, Velázquez and Goya. Goya’s Naked Maja headed the list. I remember being shown where Goya is supposed to have painted his one time mistress, the Duchess of Elba in the nude at the Hunting Lodge in Donana National Park in Andalucía. True? The source was impeccable! I admired Goya’s Milkmaid of Bordeaux and the 1814 Executions. Las Meninas is impressive but the Velázquez that held me spell-bound was Christ Crucified. I also had time for Murillo’s Immaculate Conception of El Escorial and Rape of Hippodamia by Rubens. Luis commented and explained eloquently.
Homage to Guernica
Marisol drove us to Reina Sofia. There was a long queue for tickets but Marisol already had mine. I wanted to see only Picasso’s Guernica. The sheer scale of the work is overwhelming. The little courtyard with flowers, orange trees and sculpture in the middle of the museum was the ideal place to escape the crowds and sit and contemplate the next important event of the day – lunch!
Pig & Rioja At Botin
Botin in the Latin Quarter, founded by Frenchman Jean Botin in 1725, is said to be the oldest working restaurant in the world! It has been a favourite haunt of artists, writers and bullfighters for generations. Ernest Hemingway ate here and his favourite table is at a back corner of the first floor dinning room. He wrote in The Sun Also Rises: “We lunched upstairs at Botín´s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.”
They still serve roast suckling pig there – and loads of it and they still wash it down with Rioja. Luis had a table reserved for us and a smiling waiter dished out gazpacho and hot garlic soup. Suckling pig came sizzling and endless glasses of Rioja were poured.
Postprandial Palacio Real
The fifty odd rooms you are allowed to see in Felipe V’s 2800 room Royal Palace, of 1764 is a tough proposition after midday pig and Rioja, even though you are unlikely to bump in to Juan Carlos. He now lives in a mansion in a forest just outside Madrid on the road to Toledo. But Calle de Bailén is a pretty part of town and an hour or so there is well worth the effort.
Most of the anti-establishment agitators who were at it all day were gone from Puetra del Sol and a folk concert was on instead. We walked to a bar across the now crowded square. A jug of sangria, bottles of wine and beer were brought to the table together with plates of Iberico ham and hot croquettes. It was hot and humid and the music got louder.
We walked down steps in a narrow alley and headed towards the La Latina, crowded, lively and packed with tapas bars. We had la Ina with olives, Tortilla and more coquettes in Mason del Boqueron, a small, dimly lit bar. The bottles on one shelve had pictures of bullfighters as labels. An old man with a sad face was singing a sad song, playing an accordion. As I left, I gave him a five Euro note. He smiled.
We walked through the refurbished Mercado de San Miguel, stopping at some of smart, brightly lit bars, to the end of Calle Cava Baja where El Tempranillo, one of the great tapas bars of Madrid is located. It was crowded and noisy and the atmosphere was electric. Bottles of Manzanilla, Gran Reserva Cava, Godello and Mencia were ordered with more Hamon Iberico, grilled squid and salads. Glasses were filled and refilled, conversation got louder and louder and faces began to glow. Then the waiter opened a bottle of sweet Sauvignon Blanc. “It is on the house,” he said with a grin. El Tempranillo made its mark!
As we walked back to the hotel through Puetra del Sol, the singers and dancers were gone and there was nobody on Kilometre Zero. It was very late and very hot but nobody really cared.