I love to travel the world, but sometimes there is nothing better than being a visitor in your home town. For me, Madrid is home base. Every time I come back with some time to spare, I buy myself a 10-trip metro ticket and travel the city from top to bottom so as not to forget the magic tiny details hidden all around us which make even the everyday places in the background so special. Familiarity can make us blind to the good things in life, so I force myself to grab my bag, go for a walk and rediscover my dear old Madrid.
I always start with a visit to the Plaza de la Independencia for a rich, nutritious, homemade breakfast on the white terrace of Harina, overlooking the Puerta de Alcalá and the beautiful Retiro Park.
Then, winding through Cibeles and the Paseo del Prado, buying an old second-hand book or two on the Cuesta de Moyano, I keep on wandering, in a bit of a trance while I listen to the bells of the building next to the Hotel Palace and enjoy watching the cute little dolls in traditional dresses that pop out to announce the time.
With a big smile on my face and a quick look at the bronze lions at the Congress building, I head past the Church of Scientology to my left and stroll up towards the Huertas neighbourhood. I stop off for a quick aperitif in La Dolores, where they have served the best beers and Cantabrian anchovies in tomato since 1908. A must in anyone’s book.
If I’m still feeling a little peckish, I stop for another beer, this time with portion of Jamón Ibérico in Los Gatos, the next beautiful little bar to appear on the way.
I slowly climb the hill in Huertas and have a glass of wine in Matute, picking out a few familiar faces of Spanish A-listers in the crowd. I then meet up with my friend Dani in La Fídula, a music venue where my father often goes to sing. I turn the corner and find a seat next to the statue of Federico Garcia Lorca and look up at the beautiful Royal Theatre building. I then find my favourite olive tree in the garden near the Plaza del Angel and the jazz café ‘Central’.
This has been a favourite little route of mine for years and I was pleasantly surprised to find it among the pages of the classic novel ‘The sonata of silence’, set in the 1940s.
Heading uptown now, I realise Madrid is a city that you often walk around looking up at the sky and the amazing cityscape of the rooftops and the architecture. I arrive at Plaza Jacinto Benavente, where I find the bronze street sweeper and the screens outside the Cinema Ideal. I love taking refuge here from time to time, or at the Doré Cinemas, especially if they are showing old black and white films with live piano accompaniment. Whenever I’m at the Doré, I always end up eating sushi at YokaLoka in the Anton Martin Market, which is always packed with people drinking Asahi.
From here, there are two options:
- The first is to go down the street to Mallorquina in the Plaza del Sol, which opened in 1894 and, for me at least, has the best chocolate palmera pastries in the world. After this, I’ll go through to Las Descalzas square to snack on a few cod fish croquets at Casa Labra, a wooden tavern where the Socialist Party was born in the times of the dictatorship, hidden among the bustling commercial streets of the city centre behind the Plaza.
After this, I feel like getting away from the masses of tourists on Gran Vía and I escape to Malasaña, where I visit the Church of San Antonio, the most modern I’ve ever seen, with a dining room for the needy, a mobile phone charger and even water for dogs. Then it’s a toss-up between having a milkshake at the window of Vacaciones Cocktail Bar or at one of the communal tables of La Bicicleta while scoping out the new places that have opened up in the area since I was last here: cake shops, tattoos parlours, vintage clothing stores…
- The other option is to continue walking through Tirso de Molina, with a mandatory stop at El Imparcial to check out the international magazines, and then a stroll through Lavapiés, all the while savouring the aromas of the world brought together in a single street. Then I continue down to the La Latina area to check out the Mercado de la Cebada and the things happening outside and I go up to the terrace at El Viajero to enjoy a wine and the stunning view of the city at sunset.
Now, I have seen sunsets all around the world, but I’ll always maintain that the most beautiful are found in Madrid. For another beautiful view, head towards the Debod Temple where, in one direction, you can savour every last colour of sunset until you then turn around and see the stunning lights cast on the surrounding buildings.
Of course, in Madrid, this kind of beautiful contrast is your daily bread. When you’re ready for dinner, go back up to the Royal Palace, cross Opera square and the Plaza del Sol, make your way through the hustle and bustle of the street shows, the tourists, the various hawkers and the lottery sellers until you find Bacoa, an eco-organic hamburger bar where even the glasses and cutlery are made of recycled corn. You’ve earned it.
To finish the day off, I always go back down to Cibeles Square and the Puerta de Alcalá in the Plaza de la Independencia, enjoying the strange calm that takes radiates out of the Retiro Park and takes hold of the city.
Sitting there, swinging my feet while I wait at the bus stop, with these images from the day in my head and the warm breeze of early summer on my face, I once again fall in love with my dear old Madrid.