Ernest Hemingway, who loved Spain almost as much as his mojitos, said of Madrid: "I do not believe anyone likes it much when he first goes there." So why then did the American writer declare it "worth spending a month in every spring, if you have money to spend a month in any European capital"?
Maybe it was the price of the mojitos, which, at about €5 a glass, put London to shame. But more likely it's the fact that Madrid's lack of a big-name attraction such as Granada's Alhambra or Barcelona's Gaudi Cathedral means it has never been high on most visitors' to-do lists. That lack of tourists means it remains the most authentically Spanish of all the country's cities.
Boasting an exhaustive list of bars and art-laden museums (displaying Botticelli, El Greco and Goya to name just a few), the city has all the ingredients for a memorable city break. Picasso's haunting Guernica is housed in the excellent Reina Sofia museum, while close by is Atocha probably the world's only train station to double as a tropical garden.
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Do be aware that English is less widely spoken in Madrid than you might think, so local knowledge comes in handy for would-be gourmands. A friend, married to a Spaniard, swears by La Posada de la Villa on Calle Cava Baja, a restaurant-heavy street just off Plaza Mayor, the Hapsburg-era main square. We stretched our stomachs on rabo de toro (oxtail stew) for under £20 a head at La Chata, a cute azulejo (ceramic-tiled) bar heaving with locals.
The 12-course tasting menu at Hotel Villa Magna is also worth savouring. Designed by Michelin-starred Basque chef Eneko Atxa, dishes such as oysters on a bed of dry ice, which smokes as sea water surrounds it, compete with "egg cooked inside out with truffle juice", for the most exciting experiment west of Switzerland's giant particle accelerator. Sitting between the 300-acre Retiro park and Madrid's financial district, the hotel is also handy for business travellers looking to stretch their legs.
But whether you're there for business or pleasure, you'll find it hard to leave. As Hemingway said, "It makes you feel very badly to know that you will have to die and never see Madrid again."
Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.
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