A full day in Madrid, you lucky thing.
Seeing as you went to bed late last night, you’ll be happy to hear that there are no medals for early risers. In fact I defy you to find someone willing to serve you breakfast much before 10am.
I will assume you took my advice and stayed in Lavapiés, which is just off-beat enough to be trendy, and just central enough to be convenient. So, once you do peel yourself out of bed, and can bear to face that piercing sunlight head-on, we’d better get you fed.
Anton Martín, Huertas and Santa Ana
Head up Calle Tres Peces towards the barrio of Anton Martín, which separates Lavapiés from the much smarter area of Huertas. There you’ll find charming La Infinito, a sunlit café with bookshelves, mismatched furniture, and the inevitable cluster of expats with laptops . Order yourself a pan con tomate, and wash your hangover away with a café con leche.
No big breakfasts… you need to pace yourself.
By now the Mercado de Anton Martín will be in full swing – as will the barrio. Determined Spanish ladies will be trundling around with wheelie bags, small dogs in tow; you’ll hear the rhythmic ‘smack’ of the butchers knife, and the high-speed chatter of orders being placed, and pleasantries exchanged.
The market is on two floors. Upstairs you will find cured meats, olives, pickles and salt cod; downstairs meat, fish and a collection of little bars just dying to offer you an aperitivo. Stand at the bar and toss back a caña (small beer) and a pincho de tortilla.
You are just a few minutes from Madrid’s modern art museum, the Reina Sofia. Here you will find Picasso’s Guernica, his vast, harrowing response to the Nazi-lead bombing of a small Basque town in 1937. Well worth a pause for thought.
Next up: Huertas, or Las Letras. This is home of the poster boys of Spain’s Golden Age literati: Cervantes, Quevado and Lope de Vega. It seems they all moved in next door to one another with the soul purpose of irritating each other. And they kept everyone entertained with their very public literary dueling.
This is a beautiful barrio in which to meander; the streets are cobbled and shady, the buildings old and washed in pastel colors with wrought iron balconies. Look out of for the unassuming houses of the literary greats, trace the famous quotes up Calle Huertas, and poke about in the shops around Calle León. Then settle for a coffee, or another caña, in grand Plaza Santa Ana, more modest Plaza de Angel, or unassuming Plaza de Matute – wherever you can find a table.
Now it is lunchtime.
Mercado San Miguel and Los Austrias
Many locals will tell you not to. Pay no attention. Yes it is touristy, yes it is expensive, and it can be impossibly crowded. But Mercado San Miguel, is still one of my favorite places in which to while away a delicious hour or two. Built in 1916, left derelict for several decades, and resurrected in 2009, it has become a glass-walled temple to Spanish gastronomy.
The trick is teamwork. One party is in charge of finding, wrestling for, and securing a place to perch. The other must make a beeline for the jewel of the market (and, in fact, one of my key motivations for moving to Spain) the jamón.
Carved a mano in front of you into wafer-thin mouthfuls, this is some of the best jamón ibérico I have ever had. Order as much as you can afford and eat it wrapped around picos (small breadsticks). Vermouth is the perfect accompaniment. Order the reserva, which will be served in martini glasses.
Then there’s oysters, which go well with cava (conveniently next door), the croquetas, the pimientos de padrón, the huge plates of prawns, bowls of paella, sizzling steaks… the wine, the beer, more vermouth…
Once you can eat no more, you’re almost ready for a siesta. But first a stroll through Los Austrias, the old center of Madrid. Walk through the Plaza de la Villa and zigzag your way down towards Plaza de la Cruz Verde through a gorgeous labyrinth of old streets. Flights of steps open out into sun-drenched corners, and shaded restaurants hum with slightly drunken Madrileños lingering over the remains of lunch, with ice-filled fishbowls of gin and tonics.
Stop when you see a free table and order a café solo (or a fishbowl if you’re man enough).
Cross over Calle de Segovia, walk a few meters up Plaza de Paja and and you’ll see a small doorway in the wall to your left. This is El Jardín del Príncipe de Anglona, a walled 18th century garden with narrow paths lined with boxwood hedges, tinkling fountains, leafy shade and a welcome breeze. Stretch out on a stone bench, breathe deep the boxwood and feel good about life.
Back home for a siesta under a ceiling fan. You might want to set an alarm.
Sherry, Hemingway and Malasaña
8.30 is a good time to hit the streets again. And you’re about ready for a sherry. Your evening starts back in Huertas, at La Venencia, one of the many bars Hemingway propped up in his day. And it doesn’t look like it has changed since our literary friend last slammed his glass on the bar and stalked out.
The high, tobacco-stained walls are peeling, the shelves laden with dusty bottles and the flat-capped clientele may or may not be planning a Republican coup. In the 30s it was a hangout of Republican soldiers, and Hemingway would hover around looking for a scoop from the front. Signs discourage you from taking photos and spitting on the floor. Tipping is an absolute no-no and don’t expect much in the way of smiles.
Order a crisp manzanilla, or dry fino, perhaps a ración of cecina, and tuck into the olives. Your orders will be chalked directly onto the bar and tallied up when you come to pay.
Now for a night in Malasaña. Site of the failed Dos de Mayo Uprising against Napoleon in 1808, home to punks and heroine junkies in the 1980s, Malasaña is now a hipster dream come true. It is trendy, it is buzzy, it is beautiful and it is oh-so-much fun.
Plaza Dos de Mayo is a good spot for a pre-dinner drink, if you can get a table. If it is too full you can usually find something in Plaza de las Comendadoras.
You have no end of choices for dinner. But here are some options:
Cabreira is a great spot, with friendly waiters, and tables outside, from where you can watch Saturday night heat up in Dos de Mayo. Whatever you do order the berenjenas con miel (aubergine lightly battered, fried and drizzled with honey oh-my) and probably a ración of pulpo a la gallega. If there is a waiting list, put your name down and go find a beer.
If you want a proper sit-down dinner, then try Casa Dominga. It is elegant but relaxed, with bare brick walls, good wine and excellent meat. Book in advance.
If you blew all your money over lunch, the cheapest night in Malasaña is to be had sitting on the sun-baked stone of Plaza Juan Pujol and joining the kids in an impromptu botellón (street drinking). There is a take-out pizzaria, plenty of people to sell you cans of mahou, and you will have an excellent time – right up until you need the loo. Then it is time to find a bar.
Storm up Calle de la Palma, charge along San Vicente Ferrer, stagger back down Espíritu Santo. You can’t go wrong. Killer margaritas can be had in El Kártel, elegant Café Manuela might look innocent enough, but beware the absinthe. And if you are still raring to go at 3am, Taboo is fun.
If, by some chance, you find yourself trotting home the following morning, swing by Chocolateria San Gines on the way for the best chocolate and churros you’ll find in Madrid.