My recent visit to Madrid was a study trip (*holiday*) with half of the guys and gals on my MA landscape architecture course. We had such a blast and Madrid couldn’t have been a better destination. Incredible projects and some of Madrid’s great parks; the chance to meet the lead designers; hot sunny weather; great food; fun company. I’m totally ready to up and move!
3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
MADRID RIO | probably the most impressive of Madrid’s great parks and contemporary landscape projects, if nothing else due to its sheer size and impact on city living. We met Javier Malo de Molina, project director, and lead designer, Fernando Porras. Fernando took us on a bike ride along this 6km park above a sunken motorway. He explained some of the key design concepts, including ‘pulling’ the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains down to the city to heal the divide.
FLAMENCO | this gem was an incredibly fortunate tip-off and highly recommended. No red spotty dresses and castanets here – ‘Backstage‘ was a thoroughly local and authentic experience, narrated and sung entirely in Spanish. The passion and talent was spine tinglingly good.
PARQUE DEL BUEN RETIRO | it’s a pleasure to see this large central park in so much use by Madrileños. You can tell it’s one of Madrid’s great parks and a real treasure of the city. I particularly loved the manicured Cypress trees in the ‘El Parterre’ section of the park. These are near the expansive Estanque Grande del Retiro (an artificial pond) and the lovely Palacio de Cristal, built in 1887.
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
PARQUE JUAN CARLOS I | listed here purely due to its location – further out of the city towards the airport – this modern park also offers another window on Madrid living. We received another VIP experience from Jose Luis Penelas, who explained the significance of the park’s circular shape. Here the design inspiration is taken from the original establishment of the city of Madrid, with lots of symbolism present. I loved the giant sculptures throughout this more unusual example of Madrid’s great parks.
PRINCIPE PIO | this popular spot was buzzing with activity when we collapsed on the grass after a full day of exploring. You can enjoy great view from the top of this famous hill, and it’s right next door to the Royal Palace. The Palace has neat accompanying gardens (Jardines del Campo del Moro), as well as the imposing Cathedral – which is more beautiful on the inside.
MERCADO DE SAN MIGUEL | this touristy market makes for a great pit stop, but avoid the lunch time chaos or visiting if you’re starving! We ate just outside, then nibbled on local cheeses and crackers, before squeezing in a dulce de leche crepe. Try the baby elvers eels (supposedly a delicacy), which I politely gave a miss. The market is right next door to the fabulous Plaza Major, or Main Square, which has been around since 1577.
3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:
PUERTA DEL SOL | this is a landmark square up there with El Plaza Major. Unfortunately I think ‘Sun Square’ is more comparable with Leicester Square in London – and not in a good way. It’s all rip-off Nike trainers, flashing plastic toys, hagglers, and people loitering in large groups (albeit not in a threatening way). Yes, it’s got a lively atmosphere, but I can also see why it’s renowned for pick-pockets. Spend your time outside exploring Madrid’s great parks instead!
VEGETABLES | well, you won’t have much choice really! I’m always so surprised how Spanish restaurants don’t appear to know what a fresh vegetable is. Yet the markets and grocery stores are brimming with the most amazing produce.
AIRPORT TAXIS | or for me, just Spanish taxis in general, as I always seemed to get ripped off. It seems fairly easy to catch public transport to the city from the airport, but unfortunately the key line was having repair work. Take note: flat taxi rate of €30 from the airport!
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
EL PRADO | on this trip we didn’t have much extra time for tourist classics such as this major art gallery. We did dash in to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. This was purely to see Picasso’s Guernica, which is incredibly powerful and a must see.
AND KNOW THIS: Football team Real Madrid’ was founded in 1902 and is the world’s most successful football club of the 20th century. It’s also the richest football club in the world. Ching ching.