Tuesday, August 14, 2012

wanderlust: Madrid

Summer in Madrid
by Stephanie Dosch

Having recently moved to New York after more than six years living in Madrid, it’s not hard to fantasize about heading back to my old stomping grounds. Don’t get me wrong, New York in the summer is lots of fun, but it’s hard to beat Madrid’s loooong, sangria-soaked* evenings on an outdoor terraza. (*NB: Almost no-one in Madrid actually drinks sangria. Instead, order a “tinto de verano:” red wine, plain or lemon soda, and sometimes a splash of vermouth.) If I could go back right this minute, here’s what I would do:

The centrally located Room Mate hotels are a good pick for the design- (and budget-) conscious. If you want a rooftop pool, an über-trendy feel and party proximity, go for the Oscar (Plaza de Vázquez de Mella 12). My taste, however, runs more toward the Alicia’s softer colors, plus it has a great location on the Plaza Santa Ana, and it’s easy walk to the major museums (C/ Prado 2).

Photo of Room Mate Alicia courtesy of Room Mate Alicia

Madrid is best known for its “Big 3” museums and its royal palace, and they’re all fabulous. But if you find the Prado overwhelming or if all that royal finery is a bit too fancy for your taste, hit up one of Madrid’s smaller, quieter house-museums. Both the Museo del Romanticismo (C/ San Mateo 13) and the Museo Cerralbo (C/ Ventura Rodriguez 17) focus on late 19th century decorative arts, both have recently re-opened after major renovations, and both are a delight. 

If museums just aren’t your thing, period, don’t fret. In fact, the best way to truly appreciate Madrid is to lounge in its parks, wander its streets, and explore its neighborhoods. I love  Malasaña for its bohemian vibe and La Latina for its history—and its tapas bars. After all that walking, pull up a patch of grass in Retiro park, Madrid’s green lung, for some shady people-watching.

You really shouldn’t leave Spain without trying tortilla, the ubiquitous potato omelet. Fortunately, you can sample one of the best in the country at La Ardosa, in Malasaña (C/ Colon 13). For more old-school eats, also hit up Casa Labra for bacalao (salt cod), either battered and fried or in a béchamel-y croquette (C/ Tetuan 12). My mouth is watering just thinking about them…

What you drink matters less in Madrid than where you drink it, and pretty much anywhere outdoors will do. In the summer, I like the roof terraces for that extra bit of breeze. A new one on the scene last year was Chueca’s Mercado San Anton, with its cooling misters and cooler crowd (C/ Augusto Figueroa 24). The fact that it sits atop two floors of gourmet food doesn’t hurt either.

Salamanca has the corner on the chi-chi boutiques and Lavapies is home to the Sunday El Rastro flea market. But for Madrid’s most interesting shopping, head to Malasaña. Start by walking up Calle Fuencarral for better-known brands like Hoss Intropia and Desigual. Then hang a left to get deep into the barrio for bespoke shoes and accessories at Ioli (C/ Espiritu Santo 1), music at Upbeat (C/Espirituo Santo 6), gifts at Femisa Objetos Perdidos (Corredera Baja de San Pablo 8) and vintage threads throughout, but especially along C/ Velarde.

Photo of Femisa Objetos Perdidos courtesy of Femisa Objetos Perdidos

If you have time to get out of the city, Segovia and Toledo are each only a quick train ride away. But even Cordoba can be done as a day trip thanks to the high-speed AVE train. Wander through the Jewish quarter before losing yourself in the forest of columns inside the Great Mosque. You’ll be back in plenty of time for a tapas crawl along Cava Baja.

Photo of the Great Mosque in Cordoba courtesy of Wikipedia

For a visit to Madrid, cool comfort is a must. Flat sandals will help you navigate those cobblestone back streets, a canvas cross-body bag will hold your souvenirs, and a sleeveless top and patterned shorts will look great while you’re sipping that tinto de verano on a terraza.

All images courtesy Stephanie Dosch. Be sure to visit www.theviatrix.com for more locals' only tips and tricks for Madrid, Spain, and beyond.

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