Its gastronomic flair and vibrant nightlife means a work trip to Madrid may result in you postponing that report-writing task until you’re home
Where to stay
Spain’s NH Hotel group has 31 hotels in Madrid, ranging from those which harbour Michelin-starred restaurants to grandiose buildings near Museo del Prado. Director stayed in NH Madrid Ventas in non-touristy barrio Ventas (a 10-minute subway ride to the city centre and 12-minute cab ride from Madrid’s Barajas airport) which gives a great insight into ordinary Madrileño life, including the impressive Plaza de Toros (bullring). The contemporary, spacious rooms are a steal, costing from around €83 (£58) while there’s a sun terrace and al fresco swimming pool. Breakfasts are expansive banquets – think tortillas, chocolate con churros (deep-fried doughnuts with hot chocolate), manchego and chorizo. Just don’t swill a chartreuse-coloured test-tube believing it to be an exciting fruit compote, like Director did. It’s not. It’s olive oil.
Where to eat
“In Spain, everything revolves around food,” says Roberto Sánchez of Rentokil Initial España. The social act of eating is interwoven in Spanish life and the best way to sample it is embarking upon a tapas crawl. The eateries lining La Latina’s Calle Cava Baja will see you crammed in, cheek-by-jowl with fellow diners, pointing at raciones (rations) at the bar. But the morsels are bite-sized bliss, whether it’s Basque pintxos (tapas) at Txakolina, rabo de toro (bull’s tail) at Casa Lucio or roughly cut jamón ibérico at Taberna de Conspiradores. Avant-garde tapas await at elBulli-inspired Estado Puro (signature dish: omelette in a glass) and Juana La Loca (confit egg with black truffle). The Mercado de San Miguel food market is a self-styled ‘culinary cultural centre’, while no visit to Madrid should be complete without sampling chocolate con churros at Chocolatería San Ginés.
What to see
Madrid might lack landmarks to compete with Paris or New York, but it makes up for it in ‘la vida’ (life). To absorb this energy, it’s best roaming from one sun-filled plaza to the next. The city’s heart is Plaza Mayor, close to the royal residence – the 2,800-room Palacio Real. Hours can be lost at Museo del Prado, gazing at the Goyas or marvelling at Diego Velázquez’ 1656 masterpiece Las Meninas. Then there’s Madrid’s legendary nightlife – it boasts more bars per person than any other city in the world. Start the evening at wooden-barrelled sherry bar La Venencia, before zigzagging into the bars of Huertas (which also houses authentic flamenco venue Cardamomo).
“The informal part of business is very important,” says Rentokil’s Jesús Torres Mateos. “Share some common ground by asking about family links, hobbies, sports. When you’ve established links, you’ll be able to do business.” Unlike Madrid’s former resident David Beckham (who our taxi-driver berates for “not speaking a word” during his four-year stint at Real Madrid), the BCC’s Roger Cooke, says: “If you want to be accepted in the business world, you’ll probably have to speak Spanish sooner or later.”
For the flight
With his wild shock of hair and vividly hued movies, Pedro Almodóvar is the auteur behind some of Spain’s most celebrated films, such as 1999’s Todo Sobre Mi Madre (a grieving mother connects with characters from her past) and 2006’s Volver (a magic realism tale following a family of eccentric women). Both films star Penélope Cruz and you can see the actor with future Bond villain Javier Bardem in 1992’s Jamón, Jamón.
Ernest Hemingway spent long periods of time in Madrid, channelling his fascination for Spanish culture into two of his best books: The Sun Also Rises (bullfighting novel par excellence) and For Whom the Bell Tolls, set in the Spanish Civil War. Financial Times journalist Martin Wolf touches upon Spain’s ‘la crisis’ in The Shifts and The Shocks, his recent book on the economic downtown. Meanwhile, Tim Parfitt’s A Load of Bull: An Englishman’s adventures in Madrid is a humorous account of living in the city.
To dip into flamenco music, listen to hedonistic gypsy singer Camarón de la Isla or the passionate lungs of Enrique Morente. Clandestino, the 1998 album by Manu Chao (“the Spanish Bob Marley”), and Sketches of Spain, Miles Davis’s 1960 Spanish folk-influenced jazz album, are both imbued
with Iberian flair.