Madrid - A City of Food and Art

Oh Madrid. Lovely Madrid. I only got to spend 3 short days in this beautiful city but it was a trip my husband insisted on. He really wanted me to see it for myself. He had previously visited it on two occasions and it completely enchanted him.

We began our day with a trip to Mercado de San Miguel, a covered market very near to Plaza Mayor dating back to 1916. What was once a traditional market for vegetables, meat and fish is now a glass enclosed and air-conditioned upscale collection of stalls selling everything from cappuccinos to tapas, Spanish cheeses to paella. We chose first to stop at Paella Y Ole for some squid ink paella. I must say, after seeing the place, I hastily decided that nothing would really be authentic - or good. It looked like a tourist trap. I was happily mistaken. The paella was briny and delicious with the little crunch from the socarrat (the toasted rice at the bottom of the pan). It was full of succulent seafood like squid and mussels. Delicious! 

Next we tried some local cheeses and a cone of jamon that, while expensive, we couldn't even finish. It was a lot of meat, best shared between three. Have a wander. There is something for everyone! 

From there we headed to the Royal Palace to wander around. We arrived just as the changing of the guard ceremony was underway. During this ceremony there is no entry to the palace. It takes place every 12:00 on the first Wednesday of every month. We were too late to stake out a good spot in front and I couldn't see anything so we wandered to the Jardines de Sabatini to wait it out.

This lovely neoclassical garden on the north side of the palace wasn't completed until the 1970's though it feels much older. It is named for the Italian architect who, among other things, designed the stables that once stood on this site. It was still winter when we visited but I imagine when the garden is in full bloom it is even more spectacular. 

There are no photographs inside the palace beyond the grand staircase at the entrance. But if you haven't been, let me tell you, it is absolutely stunning! Each incredible room is themed - the work intricate and beautiful. From floor to ceiling, every room is dripping with decadence. The room I found the most stunning was the dressing room. The gorgeous inlaid marble floor was spectacular. Just off this room is another completely covered in handmade ceramic tiles made in Portugal, who at the time, were the best ceramists in the world.  It's a kind of opulence you don't see often. 

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía was by far my favorite as much for the art as the space itself. The museum houses mostly 20th century Spanish art. Here you can see Picasso's stunning Guernica and other of his worksI particularly loved searching out the tiny details of Dali's work. Each square inch is like a piece in and of itself. It was fascinating to see in real life! 

For a modern art museum, I felt Reina Sofia did an exceptional job of presentation. Exploring the many aspects of modern art and its approach to modernity was simply fascinating, especially in the context of Spanish history. Of course, it isn't ____ to just Spanish take on modernity. The space is beautiful. Every room is a delight. If you are in Madrid, please don't miss this exceptional museum. 

After the museum we headed across the square to a little tapas bar for a glass of wine and some free tapas while we waited for our restaurant to open. If you've ever heard that the Spanish come alive late at night, you heard right. Asturianos features cuisine from the northern part of Spain that shares its name. It is a small and very quaint no-frills restaurant. When we arrived at 9pm the gates hadn't even been lifted and we were afraid the place wasn't going to open. Our host for the evening, Alex, assured us that they would and that opening past 9 is perfectly normal. Alex, was familiar with the menu as his parents came from Asturias. Along the north coast of Spain on the Bay of Biscay, the region is known for it's fish dishes including sardines and cockles. It's also known for  an amazing and very dry cider. Every dish we had was simple and divine. My particular favorites were the death trumpet mushrooms served braised with a poached egg and the monkfish carpaccio with sea urchin. The place is family run - the matriarch of the family runs the kitchen and the two sons run front of house. They are exceedingly friendly! They showed my husband how to "break" the cider - pouring it from a height into the glass to soften the beverage. 

Alex then took us to the Ana La Santa restaurant in the Me Madrid Reina Victoria on trendy Plaza De Santa Ana. With low sofas and large open windows, the space is perfect for a cozy night cap. 

The next day we decided on the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, a museum just adjacent to the famous Prado museum and the botanical gardens of Madrid. The Thyssen houses art of major styles between the 13th and 20th centuries. The collection, brought together privately by both Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and later by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his wife Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, for which a separate collection was introduced in 2002. 

It is an astounding collection featuring many portraits and landscapes but also gorgeous impressionist works and religious masterpieces. The museum itself, like Sofia, is absolutely gorgeous. It's salmon-pink walls seem an odd choice at first but make for an absolutely perfect background for the collection. There are stunning views from the windows and lots of light. Granted, we were not visiting during high season but I have a feeling due to its proximity to Prado, Thyssen might be the place to visit to avoid all the tourists during peak travel months. 

One of my particular favorites was Michael Andrews', Lights V: The Pier Pavillion as seen above simply framed in natural wood. As the name would suggest, it is one of a series of 7 paintings which explore the idea of the self and consciousness. The series depicts the journey of a hot air balloon representing the ego and leaves the viewer wondering about the self vs. the scenes below. In the close up, you can see that the soft paintings are created with acrylic on large stretched linen, the people on the beach barely discernible forms at all.  I hope to see the whole series someday. 

We left the museum and walked along the Paseo del Prado and wandered up Calle Lope de Vega in the beautiful Letras neighborhood. This area is named for its history of its resident authors. The area is great for wandering - plenty of shops, tapas bars, beautiful architecture and cobble stone streets. We stopped into a little tapas bar and had some pulpo Gallego, octopus over boiled potatoes, chorizo, more Spanish cheeses and gambas al ajillo, garlic shrimp. 

After some more wandering and a quick nap (I was beginning to to get the sickest I have been in years!) we went out to Casa Salvador which had been recommended by a friend.  Once again, though past 9, we were the first people to arrive! It's a quaint spot with low ceilings, checkered tablecloths and photos and paintings featuring bullfighting and the men that the sport made famous. 

The menu features very simply prepared authentic Spanish dishes. As I was feeling under the weather I ordered soups - a word of advice: this isn't particularly coeliac friendly. It seems a lot of the dishes are thickened with flour. Having said that the food was still exquisite! I started with the consommé and then had the Merluza a la Vasca, a basque style hake stew with shrimp. My husband had the cod fritters and shared my stew. We had an excellent Crianza as well which was the house red and very reasonable. 

The next morning we said goodbye to Madrid and headed back to London. It was a very brief trip but it's a perfect place for a weekend trip - there is plenty of beauty to be seen in the streets, in the museums and definitely in the food!