Let’s face it; most of us spend half the weekend lamenting the inevitable arrival of Monday morning.
Not in Madrid you don’t.
In Madrid you take Sunday into your arms, and squeeze every last, joyous drop from it.
Mondays be damned.
And this is because in Madrid you have La Latina. A magical place in which to lose yourself in a glorious orgy of great food and wonderful booze, where harmless-looking bars become daytime raves, and you emerge several hours later, blinking, amazed to find it is 7pm on a Sunday evening.
I’m not sure how it all started. But I suspect El Rastro had something to do with it. Spain’s largest flea market, this cornucopia of clutter colonizes the streets of La Latina every Sunday, attracting tourists, Madrileños, and pickpockets alike. After a few hours of hardcore bargain hunting, people are ready for an aperitivo, and the legendary bars of La Latina are only too happy to oblige.
Lo! La Latina Sunday was born.
Beyond El Rastro and the pinchos of Cava Baja, La Latina is a beautiful barrio in its own right. One of the oldest in Madrid, it has lovely old streets, elegant plazas and imposing churches. So, if you’re up for a more tranquil affair, the following recommendations also apply for other times of the week. For the sake of this series however, I’ll assume you’re along for the ride.
If you did as you were told, you may be contemplating a Sunday spent with your head under the duvet.
Think again. Up you get, and off you go.
First there is the obligatory shuffle through the crowds and market stalls of El Rastro. Keep an eye on your bag and head for the most interesting corner: the Plaza del General Vara de Rey. Here you’ll find rusted iron candlesticks, piles of ancient keys and age-stained bull fighting flyers.
From here, wind your way through the streets to your first stop along the La Latina crawl: Taberna Almería on Calle de las Aguas. This wonderful place is only open between 1.00 and 3.00pm, so don’t dawdle. Get there early to secure a spot at the bar, order a chilled glass of rueda, and tuck into the tostas.
Tosta de morcilla, tosta de sobrasada, tosta de salmon, tosta de lacón – each one yields about 4 delicious mouthfuls of wonderful bread drizzled in olive oil and slathered in whatever topping you’ve gone for. Just keep them coming, and wave your glasses at the friendly bar staff whenever you require a top up. Another must is the boquerones. Eat these salty delights sandwiched between two crisps, and call yourself a Madrileño.
This is a hard place to leave, but leave you must. Cava Baja calls… This famous street is full-to-bursting with tapas bars jostling for your attention. A tourist hotspot, it can be a bit patchy in terms of quality, and over-the-top in terms of price. But here are three places worth visiting:
If nothing else, come here to gaze at the pintxos piled high on the bar in front of you. If you can get in, fight your way to the bar, point at what you want and shout loudly. Txakolí is a sharp, slightly fizzy Basque white wine, which goes nicely with the pintxos.
Directly across the street from Txakolí, this little gem is easy to miss. Step inside and enter the sitting room of the Spanish grandmother you never had, with ornate glass chandeliers, lace dollies, and walls plastered in old photos and paintings. A pot of hot stock sits on the bar, which is served in china teacups. The ice bucket on the bar overflows with bottles of wine and cava, and vermouth is on tap. Happy times.
If vermouth is your thing, and even if it isn’t, this is the place to come. This homemade nectar is decanted with great love into martini glasses, which are lightly sprayed with gin, and garnished with a flourish of olive and orange peel. The food is also excellent. If you happen to see Lentejas con pato confitado y foie on the menu, order it. You won’t regret it – unless you’re vegetarian.
By now you’ll be positively brimming with the joys of life, and ready for the Best Bar in the World.
Hidden behind an unassuming doorway, N del T on Calle de Tabernillas might be easy to pass by, but it is impossible to forget. A dark corridor of a bar, you quickly forget the time, the day, and pretty much anything other than just how much fun you are having. It always seems to be on the brink of a party, which was waiting for you to arrive before bursting into life and engulfing you in an infectious whirlwind of festivity. At the slightest excuse the bar staff crank the bar to raucous fever-pitch; the lights go down, the music goes up, and the vermouth is suddenly laced with gin. It is a happy, happy place and the setting for some of my best memories in Madrid.
Perhaps you have a flight to catch. We must all come down to earth at some time I suppose…
If you still have time, and can bear to tear yourself away from the cocoon of joy that is N del T, there is one more thing to do: Take yourself off to the nearby Jardines de Las Vistillas, and have a final beer while watching the sunset over the Sierra de Guadarrama. And contemplate your return to this wonderful city.
And that concludes the perfect weekend in Madrid. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.