Nib­ble your way around Madrid

Spain’s cap­i­tal known for art, ar­chi­tec­ture and great food

Calgary Sun - - TRAVEL - JEN COLENUTT

Whether you’re stop­ping over for a few days or it’s your hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion, Madrid will tan­ta­lize your taste­buds, and se­duce you with cul­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture.

Here are some sug­ges­tions for a visit:

Hit the streets

Ever wanted to walk in the foot­steps of great writ­ers? Take a stroll through Bar­rio de las Le­tras (the Lit­er­ary Quar­ter) and dis­cover the or­nate homes of the lit­er­ary greats of the Span­ish Golden Age. Many of the nar­row al­leys are named for writ­ers, and snip­pets of their fa­mous words are etched into the cob­ble­stones. This area is also renowned for its tav­erns and ter­races, en­ter­tain­ment, shop­ping and of course — the food.

Tapas time

Din­ner time in Spain typ­i­cally starts around 9 p.m. or later, so sam­pling tapas is a great choice for a late after­noon nosh. Patatas bravas (pota­toes with a spicy sauce), Span­ish omelette, sar­dines, chorizo and cheese are among the most pop­u­lar tapas on most menus but each restau­rant also has its own unique com­bi­na­tion of spe­cial­ties. Tapas should be in­cluded with the pur­chase of a drink, so if it isn’t, wan­der away from touristy ar­eas.

Old­est restau­rant

Founded in 1725, Botin Restau­rant is the old­est in the world ac­cord­ing to Guinness World Records.

This place is very pop­u­lar and it’s very hard to just pop in and get a ta­ble, so be sure to call ahead for a reser­va­tion.

The at­mos­phere — three din­ing rooms, in­clud­ing one in a an­cient wine cel­lar — makes din­ing here an ex­pe­ri­ence for all the senses.

The most fa­mous dishes are roasted suck­ling pig and roasted lamb. If meat isn’t your first choice, try the hake, clams or the best gaz­pa­cho I had in all of Spain. Our waiter Alfonso, a Botin em­ployee for 47 years, rec­om­mended the white choco­late cheese­cake for dessert — the yum­mi­est ad­vice I’ve ever taken.

Walk it all off with a stroll around the busker­filled Plaza Mayor, which is nearby, or take one of the his­tory-rich walk­ing tours of­fered by Madrid tourism for only $12. Their of­fice is right on the plaza.

Cul­ture, nightlife

Some­times called the “Span­ish Broad­way,” Gran Via is the street that never sleeps.

Lined with beau­ti­ful build­ings — shops, ho­tels, restau­rants and the­atres — the or­nate ar­chi­tec­ture alone is im­pres­sive enough. But you can also take in an opera, see a fla­menco show or dance un­til the sun comes up — lit­er­ally. (Spa­niards love their nightlife.)

A lit­tle off Gran Via on Calle San Ma­teo, Mac­era makes killer cock­tails. Each hand-crafted con­coc­tion is given the ut­most at­ten­tion and mixed to per­fec­tion us­ing Mac­era’s own liquor, fresh in­gre­di­ents and Ibizan herbs. I en­joyed both my gin-grapefruit bev­er­age and the club-like at­mos­phere.

Af­ter your gin fix, head around the cor­ner to Bogui bar — a small hip hop club, where we danced un­til morn­ing. The cover was 9 eu­ros (about $13.50) but that in­cluded a free drink.

The renowned Thyssen-Borne­misza Mu­seum is also in the area. Orig­i­nally a pri­vate art col­lec­tion, it has a com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of art from the 13th to 20th cen­turies. In one stop, you can jour­ney from the Re­nais­sance, Baroque and Ro­man­tic eras right through to the sur­re­al­ists and pop artists of the 1900s.

Home away from home

Cana­di­ans who travel to the Caribbean may as­so­ci­ate Iberostar with re­sorts in the is­lands and Mex­ico. But the Span­ish ho­tel com­pany has ho­tels in ur­ban ar­eas, too.

The Iberostar Las Le­tras at 11 Gran Via is near Madrid’s lit­er­ary dis­trict. From the ho­tel you can walk — or take short metro ride — to top at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the tri­fecta of na­tional mu­se­ums (the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Borne­misza), the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol and more.

Each com­fort­able room is dec­o­rated with a dif­fer­ent quote from a fa­mous writer in­scribed on the wall.

Break­fast is a grand spread of meats, cheeses, fruits, breads and eggs made to or­der, along with chur­ros and pas­tries. The ho­tel has two spec­tac­u­lar restau­rants for evening meals.

Atico 11 fea­tures night­time din­ing on the rooftop ter­race — tasty Sangria, char­cu­terie, tartare, and more. It has great views of the city at night, and blan­kets if there’s a chill in the air.

The main­floor Al Trapo of­fers fine din­ing. Their mushroom-crois­sant ap­pe­tizer was one of the most de­lec­ta­ble morsels I had in Madrid. The menu cov­ers all bases from de­li­cious sword­fish to steak, but be sure to leave to leave room for a lit­tle in­dul­gence — a deca­dent trio of choco­late in dif­fer­ent shapes and tex­tures.

See iberostar.com.

ROBIN ROBIN­SON phO­TOS/PoSt­media

Topped by a statue of winged god­dess Vic­to­ria, the Me­trop­o­lis Build­ing at Alcala St. and Gran Via is one of Madrid’s most fa­mous ed­i­fices. The area has a wealth of beau­ti­ful early 20th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture. Sar­dines are a pop­u­lar tapas item in Spain, in­set top. Restau­rants there usu­ally serve a small dish of tapas, in­set, when pa­trons or­der wine or other al­co­holic bev­er­ages

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