Madrid: Sophisticated & Authentic

Madrid has always been one of my favorite European capitals, and no, not because of the name! 🙂 Madrid is elegant, sophisticated, understated, and authentic. It does not get as much fanfare as Barcelona, which is perhaps one reason it has been able to maintain its poise and grace despite the pressures of over-tourism in much of the world. It is a city that often gets added on for a night at the beginning or end of a Spanish itinerary. But trust me, for anyone that wants to spend time with the Spanish in a lively, fashionable, and food-forward city – I suggest carving out some time to spend in Madrid and you will be immensely rewarded!

It is true that this ancient capital originally lacked any top 5 star hotels, but that has all changed this year with the opening of Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, and Rosewood! There is no shortage of first-class lodging options to complement the many boutique charmers that have been hosting Resort to Laura Madrid for years.

A contemporary design with seven historical buildings that make up Four Seasons Hotel Madrid has transformed the bustling neighborhood and this dynamic European capital. With rooftop dining by Spanish celebrity chef Dani GarcĂ­a, a four-level spa, and a sun-splashed pool terrace, the Four Seasons brings a new level of luxury and service to Madrid.

From the lobby to the rooftop, Four Seasons guests and the city’s fashionable elite have found a new place to socialize.

What separates Four Seasons from any other luxury hotel brand truly is the people. Every single employee is incredibly proud to be taking care of the guests at Four Seasons Hotel Madrid which is evident from the engaging, genuine smiles, and confident hospitality displayed from the front door onward. As a former Four Seasons employee I am a bit biased, but having stayed at 70 of the brand’s hotels around the globe, I can honestly say that Four Seasons Hotel Madrid has positioned itself to be one of the best in the company! Superb!

Views from the rooftop dazzle guests from breakfast until after dinner cocktails.

The Presidential suite is exceptionally grand! I fell in love with the master bath!

Spain is known for its outstanding food and wine, thus Madrid is an absolute must for foodies. The restaurant scene is incredibly vibrant and our best meals of the trip were without doubt in Madrid. The Spanish live in the “streets”. Girlfriends meet up for coffee or wine, men sip sherries, multi-generational families enjoy long lunches, and festive dinners are typical any day of the week. What I really love about the Spanish culture is the tradition of stopping for an aperitif and a tapa before lunch, and before dinner, and before heading to the next stop for a multi-course meal.

Our first meal in the city was at Taberna Pedraza. We arrived at 1pm and the restaurant was empty except for us, but by 1:30pm it was packed – and rightfully so. We started with the traditional tapas – sardines, Iberico ham, Spanish tortilla.

The wines in Spain are as exciting as the food! Later in the trip, we spent a week in Priorat, Ribera del Duero, and Rioja with some of the best winemakers in the country. Each restaurant wine list was so much fun to read and we never could seem to go wrong. Our first wine was a Syrah-Grenache blend from Cuenca in Southeastern Spain.

Madrid is one of the world’s most vibrant and seductive cities. It is a city with a charming and infectious atmosphere that the visitor can immediately sense, feel a part of, and enjoy. A city that takes unabashed pleasure in its traditions, it is proud to display a wealth of cultural treasures and architectural glories.

Each neighborhood has a flavor all of its own and the city wonderfully juxtaposes its grandeur – elegant marble statues, spectacular fountains, the awe-inspiring Royal Palace.

Madrid is practically bursting at the seams with museums and galleries where you can get your fix of some of the greatest works of art from Veláquez, Goya, Picasso, El Greco, Dalí and co. The Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen are the heavyweights and highly recommended. However for those that just love wondering around and exploring fantastic neighborhoods, Madrid undoubtedly delivers.

We met up with German, a local influencer and what I like to call my “friend in the city”. With him we checked out some of the city’s most lively neighborhoods. We were introduced to some fascinating local experts from the worlds of fashion, design, art, and gastronomy, and enjoyed behind the scenes access to their galleries, ateliers, showrooms, and kitchens. This is exactly what we can arrange for our clients too!

Our host for the day is a lifestyle insider. His studies and work have opened many doors for him working with brand development with famous designers such as Agatha Ruiz de la Prada and Lupo. He contributes to Spain’s most important fashion and lifestyle magazines, TV and radio stations. His features are always linked to trends in lifestyle, fashion and grooming. The articles in GQ, Elle & Cosmopolitan tend to be syndicated for their international editions in Brazil, Mexico and Australia. He is incredibly well-connected and ideally positioned to enable you to enjoy Madrid in a unique way.

Madrid has more bars per capita than any other city in Europe. But, what if you had to choose to visit just one? If you love history, ambience, and sherry wine, the answer is La Venencia, a decades-old watering hole and local favorite, a short walk from Four Seasons Hotel Madrid. This may have been my favorite night and it was our first!

The food and drink are as unassuming as the decor. Printed delicately on a faded sheet of paper, the bar’s menu offers Manzanilla, Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado and Palo Cortado, five Spanish sherries. The modestly priced sherries each have a unique quality, ranging from crisp to nutty to rich. There’s nothing else to drink. Just sherry (jerez) and tap water, but with wines as good as these, from selected bodegas in the south of Spain, that isn’t a problem.

Then comes the tapas: crisp, emerald green olives in herb-scented oil, that arrive with your first drink; slices of pale Manchego cheese; preserved meats and chorizo sausage marbled with ivory-colored fat; and leathery mojama, cured tuna the color of red wine.

After taking your order, the bartender scribbles it all out in chalk on the bar’s surface, which is a good enough excuse to try everything on the menu. No tipping and no photographs allowed (whoops), and don’t expect a smile (but we did get one!)

Tonight, we experienced Madrid with a dash of classic charm, as we rolled through the city in a 1989 Mini Cooper.

The car was adorable and our chauffeur let me take a hand at the wheel which was hilarious!

A’Barra: This evening’s meal was absolutely incredible!! We sat at a table because the food bar was not open due to COVID, however when it does open I definitely suggest booking your seats at the bar – quite an experience!! The wine cellar is exceptional as is the sommelier, Valerio. This is an amazing experience for food and wine lovers and the tasting menu is not to be missed.

Aperitivo: A social ritual across the continent, it’s also something of a science. The ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates found that bitter-tasting drinks stimulate the appetite. Vermouth remains a vital element of the aperitivo in cities across Spain, observing a noonday tradition known as “La Hora del Vermut”. So when in Madrid, do as the Madrielenos do and we even got into having a bit of vermouth before lunch and dinner.

The aperitifo is a time to enjoy some light bites and sips in an attempt to wake up the taste buds and begin the digestive process, the ideal selection being a mix of sour, salty, and sweet flavors by way of pickles, chips, canned seafood, cheeses, cured meats, and olives. Visitors to Spain and consumers from outside the Iberian Peninsula are still discovering that tinned seafood can be a very different proposition from the supermarket tuna they are used to. Some of the finest mussels, razor clams and octopus to be found in Spanish waters are canned as luxury products by brands like Espinaler and La Riviere, and eaten straight from the tin in tapas bars.

We loved being introduced to this fabulous old “vermuteria” in the bohemian Chueca neighborhood….

But, the best part was meeting up with Nigel and his lovely wife Piya. Just like I have in every country around the globe, Nigel is my friend and business partner who takes exceptional care of my clients when they are in Spain! PRICELESS!

Lunch is taken seriously in Spain and Madrid is no exception – whether you are at the office or on vacation, downtime for a delicious meal and glass of wine is essential. Madrid has a dizzying number of restaurants, that even with a month here, you would not be able to try them all. The weather is spectacular and as long as you have some shade, you can dine outside for at least half the year. Lunch at Coqueto Cafe was simple yet exceptional – grilled prawns, fresh white asparagus, and a beautiful bottle of Albillo from Madrid – pure bliss as you can see on Gil’s face.

Toledo and Segovia are both historic cities that can be easily reached as a day trip from Madrid by high-speed train.

Toledo is a thousand-year-old masterpiece created by various cultures including the Romans, Moors, Jews, and Christians. Its heyday was in the 16th century when it became the capital of the mighty Spanish empire. The beautifully preserved buildings of this ancient town provide striking testimony of Toledo’s rich and colorful past. The city of Toledo, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, is located on a rocky headland, bordered by the river Tajo in the very heart of Spain, just 70 kilometers (42 miles) from the capital, Madrid. Although now completely overshadowed by Madrid, Toledo’s stone churches, brick houses, and winding streets embody Spain’s past. 

For centuries, Toledo has been able to preserve an unrivaled, thousand-year-old urban, architectural, and artistic heritage. Churches, synagogues, mosques, convents, city walls, bridges, towers and an endless amount of cultural and artistic possibilities make the city of Toledo an open-air museum waiting to be discovered.

At the center of Toledo, you will find the soaring Gothic Cathedral, the finest example of the Gothic style in Spain. Its Sacristy contains many paintings El Greco, Caravaggio, Titian and Goya amongst others. An impressive collection of medieval garments and textiles can also be admired. Stop at the parish church of Santo TomĂ©, and marvel at El Greco’s famed Burial of the Count of Orgaz, considered to be El Greco’s finest work and one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. 

Our last meal in Madrid was at Charrua which is the place to go for excellent grilled meats. The restaurant is romantic and cozy, and I think the perfect recommendation for my clients visiting in the wintertime as there are fur wraps and warm fireplaces throughout making it just the place to settle into for a comforting meal! We enjoyed the steak with a powerful Tempranillo from Toro!

I just got home, yet I am already dreaming of my next visit to Madrid as there is so much more to discover! My advice to you is don’t miss it! And of course, I have the inside scoop to help you experience it like a “Madrileño“!

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