We have been lucky in our travels to have stayed in some very fine and luxurious hotels, but the Hotel Ritz Madrid has quickly soared to be up there with the absolute best. I really think that this is due to a perfect combination of utter luxury and truly friendly service. There is no dress code here, and the staff does everything to make this place ‘home’ (not that WE live like this!), which provides a certain intimacy despite the grandeur.
Breakfast was a culinary delight – everything you could possibly want, including grilled vegetables for me! Although for the diary, meat, fish connoissseurs the choice was excessive! They had run out of churros by the time I was ready to indulge, so had to resort to my ‘Plan B’ – pan au chocolat instead. The things we do!
We walked to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia for our morning dose of culture and art, and spent 20 minutes in front of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ alone! This museum was a perfect way to begin our submersion into art in Madrid on a number of levels: firstly, we were able to escape long lines to purchase the ‘Tarjeta Paseo del Arte’ which gives you entry to the 3 biggies of the art triangle with a decent saving; secondly, while it is a magnificent and extensive collection, it isn’t as daunting as the Prado, so it’s a good one to cut your teeth on.
Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ was painted in response to the bombing of the Basque town during the Spanish Civil War. After it was exhibited in Europe, it went on a long holiday to New York. Picasso arranged for the Museum of Modern Art to be its home until democracy returned to Spain. So it wasn’t until 1981 that the painting came back to Spain where it was hung in the Prado. In 1992 it was again moved to its current location in the Reina Sofia, which is where it will stay because it is now too fragile to move.
Besides the truly extraordinary work of ‘Guernica’, there was a decent amount of Dali, Miró, Antoni Tapiès and Antonio Saura. We spent over 2 hours there – and we felt we really had skimmed, not at all doing it justice, but we only have 2 and a half days in Madrid, and there is much more to see! So, we headed out to try and cram more into our day.
We grabbed some Spanish fast food at nearby El Brilliante, which runs through the middle of a city block (narrow, but deep) near the Reina Sofia, nestled amongst the American fast food chains. Here you can get the most interesting sandwiches to go, or sit on the bustling street or the more quiet side in the plaza facing the side of the Reina Sofia. They are famous for their fried calamari toasted sandwich, but we opted for a vegetarian paella (very un-Spanish to have one without seafood or meat) and a glass of house wine, which was a tad blah – should’ve gone for a beer, instead.
On our way to the next art stop, we went back to the hotel to see if my bag had arrived – it had! Very happy tourist was I, and I quickly changed into something more appropriate for the warm weather. We met up with Inma, the PR manager of the Ritz, and she gave us a site tour and shared some fascinating stories. My favourite was of a visit by Dali, and an incident that inspired their cocktail the ‘Dalitini.’ The story goes that the artist asked the barman for a cocktail, and when asked what kind he wanted he didn’t know that there was a choice (he was new to cocktails…or cocktails were new on ‘the scene’), so he asked for the barman’s recommendation. A martini was placed before him. In trying to remove what he thought was a hair in the glass (it was actually a crack), he cut himself and the martini coloured with drops of his blood. The barman created the ‘Dalitini’ in his honour – Martini bianco, Cointreau, vodka and cherries pulp (from Jerte Valley cherries – cultivated for their crisp texture and sweet flavour). We tried one of these later in the day over tapas watching the Australia/Spain football match in the world cup – the Aussies may have lost, but the cocktail was fabulous!
[Detailed article on the Hotel Ritz Madrid]
After our tour of the iconic Ritz we visited our second museum in the ‘triangle’ – the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which houses what was probably once the finest private collection of artworks in the world. It may not have many of any particular artist, but ALL of the important artists are represented, which is quite mind-blowing. The Spanish government got the collection for a song for $350 million in June 1993.
We only had an hour for our visit – we chose to visit on an afternoon when it was free, but closed early at 4pm – so there was an element of rush to get a floor completed (with the intention of a return visit). So once we were ejected, we went back to our hotel for a nap, some tapas and cocktails in the garden. We planned on the tapas because we thought they would be small serves, but because we are already feeling the holiday excess, the 2 dishes (with accompanying complimentary bread, olives and crisps) were more than enough.
Once again sated (not that we were that hungry to begin with!), we stretched our legs with an evening stroll (in broad daylight) through the Parque del Retiro. There were so many people out and about, buskers, kids on bikes, people laying on the grass with their sweethearts, families on the lake in boats (with many fathers showing off to their kids how fast and strong they were with the rowing!).
Was taken by a the work of guitarist busker who was singing all the standards with a perfect American accent, but slipped into his thick Spanish tones when we chatted – I even got to pick a song from the list (nothing like a bit of Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ in the middle of a park in Madrid!). There are stalls and cafes throughout the gardens, but I could not, for the life of me, find any loos! It is a big park, and maybe they were somewhere else, but I couldn’t find any around the lake or the food joints.
There any many things to see in this park, but unfortunately, due to my need for amenities that were non-existent, we left earlier than we would’ve liked. But before that we did manage to spend some time at the Alfonso XII Monument – a gigantic curving colonnade complete with statues and other grand paraphernalia.
After a quick dash to the facilities in the foyer of our gorgeous hotel (it could not be more perfectly located for all the things we wanted to see while in Madrid!), we headed out again. Went for a walk up Gran Via and checked out the shopping district. Wide laneways closed to traffic makes for perfect shopping opportunities – darting from one side to the other without the fear of being mown down by a vehicle unleashes a certain amount of abandon!
The atmosphere was pretty full-on, and we were getting a tad tired, so we walked back to the hotel. It was another big walking day – maybe by the end of day three the muscles will be accustomed to all this schlepping! We retreated to the comfort and luxury of our room at the Ritz for a soak in the tub and a nightcap – ready for another day of non-stop activity!