Chris Carter discovers that in Madrid, style and innovation go hand-in-hand.
Her cheek is turned, her eyebrow slightly raised. It is 1909 and Elena Sorolla is a girl on the cusp of womanhood. With her elbow resting on the arm of her chair, she is wearing a long, golden Delphos gown – clothing at the height of fashion. Her father, the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla, picked it out for her in Paris as a present for his fun-loving daughter. And she, like any teenager, is posing for her picture.
Elena’s portrait (pictured below), along with the other Belle Époque paintings by Sorolla, paired with the dresses that inspired them, are on display at the Sorolla and Fashion exhibition at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid. They just go to show: when it comes to innovative style, Spain never goes out of fashion.
A walk through the Letras neighbourhood
A walk through the Letras neighbourhood will show you why – or rather, how. Here, Claudio Fonsecca, a silk painter, has his shop, and Andréz Gallardo is winning awards designing jewellery. And Seseña, the shop where Picasso bought the cape he was buried in, is here too. It is what brought Joanna Wivell, my guide from Corazon Travel, to Spain, she explains to me over a long lunch at Hojaldrería.
As a succession of savoury tartlets wing their way out of the kitchen, Joanna enthuses about Spanish life: the food, the wine, the culture. Only her Yorkshire accent gives her origins away. Then we fall silent as chef Javier Bonet’s masterpiece arrives: a meltingly soft beef Wellington in flaky pastry.
Barely had I wiped the crumbs from my chin than I find myself at Séptima, the seventh-floor restaurant at the Only You Hotel Atocha, loosening my belt for dinner. Jon Giraldo, from Colombia, and Jaime Lieberman, from Mexico, chefs from Spoonik in Barcelona, had moved into the restaurant for the evening. Think beef cooked sous-vide and served with a rich, chocolate mole sauce – a reflection of Lieberman’s Mexican heritage, that was no less present in the chocolate tamale, his unique take on the traditional Mesoamerican dish of maize flour, steamed in a corn husk.
Actress Mónica Cruz opened the Hotel Atocha just over a year ago. From the moment you walk in, you are confronted with a trendy New York-style urban aesthetic that is no less at home within its 19th century walls. If you think this is cool, visit Atocha’s wild little sister, Only You Boutique, in the hip downtown area of Madrid.
A former mansion (the old metal lift cage still runs down the middle of the creaking staircase), this hotel displays its funky charm with abandon. Faux animal heads watch over guests, and the library (pictured below) is seemingly found in the lift, both the product of designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán’s fertile imagination.
Down below, Thai Room offers spa treatments, from a traditional Thai massage “Royas-style” to the YOUultimate massage, involving a steam bath, coconut body scrub and a Thai-Bali massage. Another kind of therapy can be found in the glitzy bar upstairs, where the cava flows freely all evening.
A few glasses later, I met up with Joanna again and headed to the Mercado de San Miguel – a covered food market that comes alive at night. There, cast adrift amid a sea of grazing people, Joanna went about collecting little dishes of Iberico ham, marinated anchovies and dried sausages from the food stalls dotted around the market – I clung to the wine barrel at a wine merchants, that happily doubled up as a table.
An evening of flamenco
The highlight of any Spanish evening must surely be flamenco. If, like me, you find you’ve left your dancing shoes at home, head to Las Carboneras, a tablao located in the basement of the old palace of the count of Miranda.
Here, moodily lit nightly displays of the highly charged dance are performed atop the clickity-clack stage to the cries of “Olé!” and strumming of Spanish guitar. I sat mesmerised with my glass of Rioja. Had I been the ever-youthful Elena Sorolla, I probably would have got up and danced.
Double rooms are priced from £160 at Only You Hotel Atocha and £210 per night at Only You Hotel Boutique (prices are per night and based on two people sharing). The Only You Atocha is offering an Art & Fashion Experience, which includes entry to the Sorolla and Fashion exhibition until 27 May 2018.
For more information visit www.onlyyouhotels.com/en or call 0034 910 05 27 46
Corazon Travel runs specialised hosted tours through Spain – www.corazontravel.com