Mesmerizing Madrid

Author’s Notes: Spain is so diverse and one of the most visually spectacular countries in Europe and I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the fascinating culture for two weeks in February.

With a flair for style and design, Spain’s architecture is a unique mix of historical and modern buildings. The Spanish lifestyle is known for nightlife and flamenco and the delicious regional food is of the highest quality at many tapas bars, sidewalk cafes and taverns.

Think about visiting Spain on your next trip, the climate is ideal year round and whether it’s music in Andalusia, food in Barcelona or art in Madrid, you will come back home with incredible memories.

Given Madrid is the capital and largest city in Spain, the city possesses a modern infrastructure but has preserved the look and feel of many of its historic neighborhoods and streets.

I stayed at the beautiful and spacious Villa Magna hotel, located on the six kilometer Paseo de la Castellana which is lined with elegant palaces. The hotel underwent an extensive renovation in 2007 with a two year closure. The result is a luxury hotel with modern appointments and an exquisite staff.

If you love art, Madrid is the place to visit. Best known is the “Golden Triangle of Art,” located along the Paseo del Prado and comprising three museums; the most famous one is the Prado Museum with a rich collection of Goya’s and Velazquez’s followed by the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, established from a mixture of private collections and the Reina Sofía Museum, where Pablo Picasso’s Guernica hangs.

One of the two hotels within walking distance of the art museums is the Hotel Ritz by Belmond, a baroque palace built in 1910 according to the wishes of King Alfonso XIII and still a gathering place for Spanish high society. The outdoor terrace is especially popular for Sunday brunch and is adjacent to Retiro Park, a magnificent space with distinctive charm, with its romantic spots such as the Crystal Palace and interesting temporary exhibits. The park is open every day of the year.

The second hotel is the Westin Palace Madrid, a spectacular property built in 1912 and a wonderful blend of Spanish history and contemporary amenities. I especially enjoyed the restaurant variety at the Westin; the Las Rotunda is the heart of the hotel and the perfect place to dine and unwind. The hotel´s vibrant 1912 Museo Bar is the ideal location to enjoy a selection of wines by the glass and the Chinese Asia Gallery  restaurant wowed me with their delicious Cantonese food and excellent service.

My trip was organized by one of our trusted operators, Made for Spain, and I experienced a private photo walking tour that might interest “amateur” photographers. Not only do you see unique sights beyond the more visited in Madrid, but along the way you are given recommendations and advice on shooting from unique perspectives.

Given Madrid has many hotels to select from. I conducted many visits to a various array of hotels, from small boutiques to the larger luxury properties. For those looking for “old world” charming accommodations, you might want to consider the Orfilia, a Relais & Chateaux property. The hotel has 32 rooms of which 12 are suites. Every room is different with regards to its architecture and decoration and all the furnishings are from the 19th century.

Many travelers’ itineraries include a day trip to Segovia or Toledo from Madrid; but few consider Alcala de Henares, the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote.

The city center remains essentially medieval with winding cobbled streets and historic buildings. Uniquely, the city includes a Moorish, Jewish and Christian quarter and these three distinct neighborhoods have given Alcala the reputation of the “city of three cultures.”

The other unique aspect of this charming town is the population of white storks. I observed their large nests atop almost every church and historic building. I was fortunate enough to be in Alcala on the opening day of Carnivale and was able to see all the children in their costumes parading down the main pedestrian street.

I would definitely recommend Alcala as a day trip from Madrid or as an attractive alternative to staying at a Madrid airport hotel, which is twenty minutes away, for your early morning flight back home. There are several hotels available including the Parador de Alcala de Henares that would make a lovely end to your Spain trip.