Welcome to Urban Paradise
Story/Photography by Tony Pupatello
Anthony Bourdain once said that “there are very few negatives to say, if any, about this beautiful country.” After spending 10 days in Madrid this past September on a Spanish language course, I absolutely agree. In fact, if I had to pick just one place to live, it would be Spain. This Southern Euro gem, which sits on the Mediterranean, has a diverse economy and a growing tourist base. It tops many other EU nations in originality, beauty and fun – it’s impossible not to love this place.
“Madrilenos” embrace a sense of humility and calmness amidst a flow of foreigners that continuously flock to their city. It’s a laid-back society with a rich history of culture. Madrid is genuinely a fun city to spend time in, thanks to its well-executed culinary, shopping and social scenes. This urban landscape is also alive and well with clean, manicured passages for all to get around. Walking up to 8 kilometers or more per day seems average to locals, with tourists likely doubling that on a good day. The city’s core is easy to navigate by foot, taxi or subway. Weather conditions range from high 80’s to low 90’s, with little to no rain in the summer. Fall and winter tend to be very mild. Madrid is definitely urban paradise.
Food & Drink
Given the fact that Spain is one of the best places to eat on the planet, it’s also a gnarly place to drink! Regional wines are excellent and pair extremely well with the local food selection. While widely known for their full-bodied and robust reds, such as Tempranillos, Merlots, Cab Sauvs and Riojas. There are just as many tasty white wines. Some of my favourites include the very dry Verdejo and Airen, that pair well with most seafood and shellfish. There are also many good varieties of local craft beers and house-made sangria to choose from. Alcohol is usually served anywhere, and at virtually any time of day or night. Vermouths and sherries are also among local staple beverages too. It was very appeasing to the trip’s budge of how well priced food and drinks are, in comparison to long-time archrival—Barcelona (or any other major European city, for that matter). Drinks are typically served with tapas, which are small, appetizer sharing plates.
While cafes are not as prevalent as in France or Italy, before 10am rolls around, it’s daily ritual to have your coffee of choice at a nearby bar with sweets, and maybe if you’re really hungry… a bocaddillo (fresh jamon/prosciutto on a fresh baguette bun). Iberian Jamon is world famous here—it is a delicacy of cured pork prosciutto-style meat from the finest Portuguese and Spanish pigs and boar.
The world famous markets of San Miguel and San Antonio stand out as favourites. If you like to eat good, clean food, I highly recommend these spots. Although small in size, they wow crowds with fresh produce, seafood, meats and other delicious typical staple items Madrid has to offer. Common foods include artichokes, potatoes, piqual olives and olive oils, Manchego cheese, octopus, prawns, squid, and my new favourite, jackknife razor clams! Good local restaurants typically open around 8pm, with expansive patios. Dinner scenes usually quiet down around midnight.
Botin Restaurant, the world’s oldest restaurant, is an unforgettable dining experience. It has a rich culture of service and history, with some menu items still present today s it did when it opened in 1791. We spent on night here and shared the suckling pig, lamb and an artichoke antipasti dish, paired with a fine local wine, of course. I hope it’s around for another 300 years or more.
Madrid is fashion. From high fashion to street fashion and everything in between. The vibe is easy and relaxed. It is urban comfort at it’s finest.
Vintage goods, leather apparel and of course, men’s and women’s shoes are for sale practically everywhere you turn. Excellent fashion districts such as: Calle de Serrano, Malasana, Salamanca, Chueca and Gran Via offer great selection and are easy to navigate.
City Layout & Districts
Mapping the downtown core is easy navigating. Places typically open from 10am-2pm, followed by a re-opening from 5pm-8:30pm. Timeframes are loosey goosey here. Whilst Spain in general has the latest dinner serving time on record, Madrid’s dining scene generally gets going around 8 or 9pm.
Madrid has the second most street storefronts in the world. Commercial retail and gastronomical places are among the plethora of selection that fill every streen, avenue and boulevard within the downtown radius.
Museums & Parks
The Prado Museum houses many Spanish Goya and other renaissance pieces from France and Italy. The Reina Sofia contained some Dali and Picasso pieces. If you like Navy and Armada history, the Naval Museum is something to visit. Retrio Park is a magnificently designed large urban park with a beautiful center lake where we enjoyed some rowboat time, then walked to the Crystal Palace and Botanical Gardens. A walk to and through these parks and museums can take days and are best to be thoroughly enjoyed over a day or more.
On top of all the sites and activities in Madrid, there are also many day trips outside of the city to enjoy. All in all, this was a very impressive city to visit and is a place to admire the beauty of an urban landscape and enjoy simple pleasures with good company!