Traveler's USA Notebook

Your guide to travel news,  discoveries and  pleasuresYour guide to travel news,  discoveries and  pleasures




Quick  Contacts

El Rastro
La Galette
El Vergel
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
Reina Sofia
Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
Sorolla Museum
Casa Patas
Radisson Blu Madrid Prado
Madrid Tourism Center





 Magnificent Madrid

Text by Debra Griboff  Photos by Eli Siegel

Retiro Park, Madrid 

Spain has gone through extraordinary political and cultural changes in the last four decades. When General Franco’s regime ended in 1975, a wave of political reforms ensued. Since then, Madrid has transformed itself into a hip cosmopolitan capital that is one of the most exciting destinations in Europe.

For openers, it’s visually striking. Spain had both Hapsburg and Plaza Major, MadridBourbon rulers -- and their legacy lives in the city’s architecture.
Plaza Mayor (left), one of the most impressive squares, represents Hapsburg Madrid. Stroll through this massive plaza at night, when artists sell their work. Nearby are the Royal Palace and Teatro Real Opera House; in this part of the city, there are stunning views of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range.

The city has several beautiful parks, including El Retiro (see picture above), which houses the Crystal Palace and a boating lake, and the beautiful Casa de Campo, a former royal hunting estate, that includes a zoo.

But this exciting capital is also a diverse urban wonderland, evidenced by its distinct neighborhoods. La Latina, which boasts a bohemian Almodóvar feel, is home to El Rastro, an amazing flea market. Some 1,000 stalls are open every Sunday, 11-2, but it’s best to arrive early. Here, you can browse for arts, jewelry, crafts, leather goods or clothes. For designer labels, head to the exclusive shops in Salamanca. The trendy set stake out Calle de las Huertas, a street devoted to clubs, to party the night away.

Equally popular is

the city’s gastronomic delights.

True, Spanish cuisine is meat-heavy, but there are several high-quality vegetarian restaurants, including the romantic La Galette, Conde de Aranda, 11, which is decorated with Escher paintings; Artemis, Tres Cruces, 4, where the house specialty is the Persian cake; and El Vergel, Paseo de la Florida, 53, known for its mushroom and spinach croquettes, offers astrology and tarot readings during meals. El Granero de Lavapies, Argumosa 10 (near the Reina Sofia Museum) is a small vegan-friendly restaurant that carries “del dia,” the menu of the day. Remember, the American concept of service doesn’t exist here. Waiters are not overly attentive.

This year is also the centenary of the Gran Via, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. Various exhibitions will highlight the area’s artistry and a big city party is scheduled for April 11 at Plaza del Callao, with a large cake decorated with 100 candles, followed by a special celebration. The Madrid Tourist Board has added the itinerary Gran Vía Centenary Year to its guided tours program to showcase significant buildings and architectural history. 

The Art Triangle

For many travelers, however, a tour of Madrid means visiting its legendary museums. The area known as the Art Triangle houses three: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum the Reina Sofia, a bastion of modern art and Cubism, and the renowned Prado. One of the great museums of the world, the Prado has an extensive collection, but is best known for its Spanish painters. The greats -- El Greco, Velázquez and Goya – are here. Through March 25, the Prado will showcase “The Hermitage in the Prado” – 170 treasures from the esteemed Russian museum.

If your tastes run in a more modern direction, visit Reina Sofia. Dada, surrealism works are showcased here, so is Salvador Dali and Picasso. Of special note, Picasso’s “Guernica,” his emotional reaction to the cruelties of the Spanish Civil War, is housed in a room of its own. It makes a potent statement and should not be missed.

The Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando has a permanent collection of Spanish, Italian and Flemish masterpieces. There is also a great sculpture collection, ranging from the 17th century to the present. Some of the most notable pieces are Cabeza de mujer (Head of a Woman) by Picasso, San Bruno by Manuel Pereira and La Dolorosa by Pedro de Mena.

While thousands visit the big three each year, explore the smaller museums -- especially the intimate Sorolla Museum. The Art Nouveau home of the esteemed Luminist painter doubles as a gallery, complimented by exquisite gardens.

One caveat: don’t leave Madrid without seeing flamenco.

Casa Patas

 Calle Canizares, 10 , claims to promote the finest dancers in the city. It is open Monday-Saturday, and the performances are exhilarating.
Wherever you go, the metro system is terrific, and day passes are available. But the best way to see Madrid is to walk it. Whether traversing the grounds of the luxurious Royal Palace or discovering the quaint shops tucked away in narrow, cobblestone streets, Madrid is memorable.

When You Go

Radisson Blu Madrid Prado is a signature boutique hotel: chic design, free high-speed Internet access in all rooms and unparalleled personal service. It also boasts the best location in the city: across from the Prado Museum, and a few minutes walk to many important cultural centers. It’s just a 10-minute stroll to the Gran Via, city center. The indoor pool is beautiful, as is the hotel’s intimate dining rooms. Calle Moratin 52 - Plaza de Platerias Martinex - 28014 Madrid, Spain

Madrid Tourism Center

The tourist board is extremely helpful. Maps, metro cards and the valuable Madrid Card are available for purchase. Buy one for 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 days and gain entry to more than 50 museums, including the Reina Sofia and Prado, as well as terrific discounts on shops, restaurants and hot spots. In addition, the tourist board’s Web site is a great help in planning a trip. It’s lively and loaded with important information -- arts, entertainment, sports.  Plaza Mayor, 27 Madrid/ Open 365 days a year.