Barcelona is Spain’s epicentre of culture, nightlife and cool, right? Well, after seeing what Madrid has to offer, I beg to differ. The Spanish capital is the perfect minibreak – easily manageable on foot, very friendly, and a foodie’s dream. And a warm, clear spring weekend is a great time to visit.
Words: Natasha Tomalin
We stayed at the majestic ME Madrid hotel, which dominates picturesque Plaza de Santa Ana. It’s an early 19th-century building, but the interiors ooze modern sophistication from every wooden panel and leather sofa, and the bedrooms are sleek and up to date. The hotel’s Midnight Rose bar is the perfect starting point for an evening of bar hopping. An easy feat to pull off with it’s central location, just a stone’s throw from some of the best tapas joints around (there are over 20,000 of them in the city).
Why it's hot
Most visitors head for the historic Prado museum, or the shopping boulevards of upmarket Salamanca, but it’s areas TriBall, Chueca and Malasaña (Penélope Cruz owns an apartment there) that are really buzzing. A hive of designers, musicians and artists, you could stroll around all day, people watching and checking out the indie boutiques and cafes. Among the best in Malasaña is Lolina’s (lolinacafe.com), which makes great coffee and sells one-off retro furniture and cute cupcake bakery Happy Day (happydaybakery.es) next door. Lotta in Chueca (lottavintage.com) is the perfect place to pick up exquisite clothing from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, while around the corner must-try modern tapas bar Olé Lola (olelola.com), serves Croquetas Jamón Jamón (the Almodóvar pun is deliberate).
Eating and drinking
If you’re a foodie, head straight to San Miguel market. In an art deco building, the best suppliers in Spain serve wine, beer and every form of tapas imaginable. For an afternoon treat, sample them Spanish speciality of churros (long, thin doughnuts) with chocolate at Chocolateria San Gines. For dinner, head to the Gastro Bar Le Cabrera (lecabrera.com). We sat at the bar and watched the chefs prepare fusion-style tapas including passionfruit sardines, scallop tartar served in a gem lettuce leaf and bombones de carnes (mini hamburgers). If you prefer more traditional tapas but are too scared to approach the bar and ask for pinchos (bread with everything from jamon to cheese) then take a tour with Adventurous Appetites (adventurousappetites.com), where you’ll be led around a selection of the best places to sample the specialties.
One tip: the dirtier the floor, the better the bar – it’s traditional to throw anything you can’t eat (prawn shells, olive stones, napkins and toothpicks) at your feet. If you want to go it alone, the kitsch Los Gatos on Calle de Jesús has the best Boquerones en vinagre (anchovies) in the city. While sherry bar La Venecia, just off Plaza Santa Ana, has a welcoming ambience, which is relatively unchanged since the Fifties.
Head to a spot right in between the Cathedral de la Almudena and the Royal Palace and you will find the most breathtaking panoramic views over the west outskirts of the city, but if you don’t fancy the walk and want a cocktail to accompany your view, then the rooftop bar at ME Madrid provides the perfect solution. There’s nothing more relaxing than watching the sun go down over the city withthe speciality black mojito in hand.
Doubles at ME Madrid start at £220 (memadrid.com). Easyjet flies to Madrid International Airport Barajas