LETTER FROM MADRID: VIVA ESPAÑA
European joie de vivre, affordable living and world-class dining seemingly on every corner – the Spanish capital holds its own
Autumn has settled on the Spanish capital of Madrid like the return of an old, familiar friend. The hellish temperatures of the summer heatwave dubbed “Lucifer” have finally abated and Madrileños who fled to the relatively cooler climes of the Mediterranean coast have now returned to their city. Restaurants and businesses that closed up shop through the oppressive heat of summer are now back up and running. On the football pitch, Cristiano Ronaldo and his colleagues at Real Madrid are looking to establish their dominance in La Liga for another season.
Madrid has the highest number of green spaces per inhabitant in Europe and in its many famous parks the leaves have begun their transition to hues of red and yellow. The famous Parque del Buen Retiro, or Park of the Pleasant Retreat, certainly lives up to its name much more in this season, when the average daytime temperatures sit at around 20 degrees, and one doesn’t need to constantly seek shady respite under the next tall tree. A stroll through the park leads to Salamanca, a luxurious enclave in the geographical heart of the city.
Built during the expansion of Madrid in the 19th century, the district takes its name from the man who oversaw its development, the Marquis de Salamanca. Along the wide, manicured streets, international brands like Versace, Hermès and Chanel nestle shoulderto-shoulder with local labels like Massimo Dutti and the ubiquitous Zara. Fall fashions are on full display in exquisitely designed retail spaces carved into historic buildings, many of which have lived former lives as galleries or playhouses. Calle de Serrano, the district’s main shopping artery, is often called the “Golden Mile.” There is a cosmopolitan vibe in the air, and its no wonder, with a number of embassies and diplomatic missions situated nearby, including those of Switzerland, France, Italy and the United States.
Peel your eyes away from the mesmerising window displays, take a step back, look up and you’ll be rewarded with a view of the ornate facades adorning the buildings. Behind those lavish exteriors lie apartment and penthouse homes that are attracting investment both locally and abroad. Salamanca has historically been a desirable area (Salvador Dalí once called it home) and in the past two years it has come to symbolise the broader economic recovery now underway in Spain following a long period of stagnation. Homes in the area now boast the highest cost per square metre in Madrid, going as high as €1,000 (HK$9,300) per square foot for a fully renovated penthouse, and have seen prices rise more than 10 per cent in the past year. Lured by its central location and sophisticated cachet, buyers from as far afield as South America are snapping up a limited supply of properties as soon as they hit the market.
Madrid is home to a total of 14 Michelinstarred restaurants, and four of them lie within Salamanca. The Homage Menu at Ramón Freixa in the Hotel Unico entices with an almost ridiculously expansive tasting menu billed as “a soft and continuous trip through our universe in 25 moments.” But to experience an even broader spectrum of flavours, all while rubbing elbows with true Madrileños, a short trip across the city is called for.
Spain’s reputation for culinary delights and tasty libations is now firmly established, and Madrid is no stranger to this gastronomic indulgence. There is a definite local proclivity for less-structured plans, where groups of companions hop from one location to the next, carried along by lively conversation and the buzz of cava or sangria flowing through their veins. For this kind of evening, dining at one of Madrid’s markets fits the bill.
Many visitors to the city will find themselves jostling for position to sample the tapas on offer at Mercado San Miguel, a hip, wrought iron and glass structure mere steps from the famous Plaza Mayor. But besides those serving the food, it would be a difficult feat to pick out a local in the place.
Mercado San Anton, located in the Chueca district, is the counterpoint to this. It is, in local parlance, “un mercado para los vecinos” or a market for the neighbours. The market received a major renovation, and reopened in its current incarnation in 2011. The stylish space, located on a discrete side street, features three levels looking into an open atrium. Patrons have a challenge selecting from the vast array of delights on offer, from local favourites like cocido madrileño to regional
delicacies from across Spain including Andalusian squid and Basque pintxos. For an all-encompassing experience, one could select fresh seafood from the first-floor market and carry it to La Cocina de San Antón, the rooftop restaurant, to be prepared by the chef. At this time of year, a warm sweater will make the outdoor terrace that much more comfortable for watching the sun set and the lights come up on the surrounding urban expanse.
Madrid is still one of Europe’s more affordable capitals, but from residences to retail to restaurants, the city is proving it deserves a place on the map. While it may be in the middle of the country, Madrid is certainly not middle of the road.
SPAIN’S REPUTATION FOR CULINARY DELIGHTS AND TASTY LIBATIONS IS NOW FIRMLY ESTABLISHED, AND MADRID IS NO STRANGER TO THIS GASTRONOMIC INDULGENCE.