Madrid - of bears and strawberry trees....
Located in our magnificent city’s central square, La Puerto del Sol, or the place of the sun, is the 20 tonnes statue of a mammal that once populated the forests surrounding the Spanish capital. It is a bear and he is leaning on a large strawberry tree devouring its fruit. This statue is known as ‘El Oso y El Madrono’.
While not many people have seen a strawberry tree (Madrono), I believe that it is more likely a reference to the hackberry, which is a relation to the elm tree and does grow edible fruit. Just like the City of Berlin, the bear emblem is central to Madrid’s history. However, that forested area that used to cover much more ground, before the 1920s, when Madrid really started to grow in
geographical terms, is still important to the local people and it forms much of our positive attitude towards the environment and ecology.
No matter where you reside in Madrid, you are never more than fifteen minutes walk from parkland, although one of the most famous and a great attraction for both tourists and residents alike is Monte de El Pardo. You can call this place a Mediterranean haven, within a major conurbation. In fact, it is regarded as one of the best preserved forests of Europe and is packed with wildlife.
While we do not have any bears awaiting the unwary any more, you might spot rabbits, red partridges, wildcats, deer and many majestic stags, as well as wild boars that roam freely around the park. The location is part of the regional park of the high basin of the Manzanares, the major river that cuts through the centre of the city, and it is protected by key legislation. It is hard to believe that such a remote place can be so close to the city centre. It feels wild, yet it welcomes many visitors throughout the year.
In case you wondered, Madrid is one of the most environmental conscious cities of Europe and possesses the greatest number of trees and green surface areas per inhabitant of any. Even since 1997, the amount of green areas in Madrid has grown by more than one sixth. Despite the inevitable pollution from transport and properties, the air in our city is among the cleanest in the
world. You can breathe freely in Madrid.
A lot more than just greenery
Unfortunately, in 2004, a terrible disaster took place on Madrid’s commuter train network, when several bombs exploded, killing 191 people and wounding 1,800 more. An al-Qaeda inspired cell was blamed but the truth has never been verified. To commemorate ‘11-M’, which is how we refer to the tragedy, the Bosque de los Ausentes (the Forest of the Departed) was created in the Buen
Located close to Puerto de Alcala and the wondrous Prado Museum, once you have decided that walking the parks is enough for one day, you can try the delights of Spain’s national art collection, exhibiting some of the most stunning works of Goya, Velazquez, Titian, Rubens and Hieronymus Bosch. There are 7,600 paintings, more than 1,000 sculptures, 8,200 etchings of all types and
prints galore to pore through and satisfy your creative heart. With a nearby underground station and access from all major city centre routes, the museum, which celebrates its second centenary in just six years’ time attracts almost three million visitors every year.
If you are indulging in a family holiday in Madrid, there is so much to look at, so many fascinating places to visit and much fun to be had. Head west out of the city centre and you will arrive at the Casa de Campo, or Country House, which is another lakeside park that provided a location for Sergio Leone’s run of ‘spaghetti westerns’, all of which were shot in Spain, although the at various times enjoying the local scenery and, of course, the night-life.
Dancing ’til dawn
As this is Spain, you just know that we are going to be proud of our dance heritage. If you pick the type, you can be sure of a place to try out the steps and, even if you do not know them, the enthusiasts will show you how to. Of course, Flamenco is the most well known, followed closely by the Fandango and the Pasa Doble. Yet, there are others of equal appeal that you might not
have heard of, such as Jota, Sardana, Zambra and Sevillanas, all of which are variations of traditional gypsy Flamenco.
To indulge in Flamenco, also means to become entranced by the cante, toque e palmas, which are the accompanying music and songs, guitar and handclaps. Of the fifty or so variations of the dance, only around a dozen are practised regularly and presented to visitors from home and abroad, because everybody loves the excitement and clamour of the Spanish traditional dance
and the songs that tell a story that the dancers act out with enormous pride and spectacular colour.
It is magical to watch the guitarist’s fingers flicking like fire across the neck and fret of his instrument. Music is central to a lot of Madrid’s entertainment and throughout the year a wide range of concerts and events take place everywhere in the city from basement jazz clubs to major gigs starring international artistes.
It is said that ‘it is never too late’ to enjoy a night out in Madrid and I always recommend to visiting friends that they should relax during the day, as good preparation for the night. We refer to this ‘rest period’ as the siesta and it could almost be the biggest gift we give to our friends, along with jamon iberico, of course. I like to think of my city as being the nocturnal capital of Spain. For a start, when you go out for dinner, most of us do not start eating until 10pm. I know it is kind of late but you are on holiday!
Of course, we have good reason for enjoying the nighttimes, at this time of the year, it is pleasantly warm during the day but, in the summer, it can become oppressively hot, even the locals try to find a cool place to rest. It is more pleasant to walk around town in the more tolerable evening temperature. If you want to go crazy, then try our disco beat at Fabrik, Pacha, Kapital, Fortuny Club or El Sol. On the other hand, perhaps something less frantic might be better and Berlin Cabaret or Ohm might provide a more relaxing dance opportunity. Whatever you decide, be prepared to return to your hotel as the sun rises, or even take breakfast in any one of many street cafes…pastries, cava and coffee are a great combination for early morning party fans.
Accommodation to suit all
It has taken a long time for Madrid to wake up to its rooftop culture but dining, dancing and partying under the stars is now very possible in several trendy establishments in the city. The elegant Hotel Urban, on the Carrera de San Jeronimo, appeals to the five-star set, while the Hotel Me, in the truly hip Plaza Santa Ana, offers spectacular views over the city combined with a brilliant chill-out vibe. However, every season, more of these rooftop venues open in grand, or boutique hotels, even on the roof of the Madrid Casino, on the Calle Alcala. It is best to ask but public access is usually granted for both food and drink.
If you have a package deal, sometimes you get no choice of accommodation but Madrid has thousands of places to stay, ranging from the chicest of boutiques, to the most exclusive residences, many of them with wonderful histories attached. Some of them are romantic. Some of them are classic. Some of them are very cost-effective. Some have golf, which is very important to Spanish people. However, many visitors come to Spain these days to sample our food, which is not just tapas, however enjoyable and sociable that can be and there is no shortage of the finest tapas bars dotted all over Madrid, where you can eat heartily and very
Ever since El Bulli hit international headlines as the finest dining establishment in the world, Spain has been improving its reputation and now scores consistently high in the annual competition to find the world’s best restaurants. Sadly, El Bulli is now closed, although it has a strong legacy and many of its chefs now entertain the palates of Madrid residents and holidaymakers.
Never enough time
No matter how many times you come to Madrid, you will never run out of things to do, like taking the Teleferico, a cable car, from Paseo del Pintor Rosales to the Casa de Campo, from which you can see the Almudena Cathedral, Debod temple and the Parque del
Oeste on a 15-minutes ride. Madrid’s main amusement park, Parque de Atracciones, is in the Casa de Campo, with fun stuff for kids of all ages, including thrill rides, street shows and even theatre.
A visit to the stadium for Real Madrid will never go amiss for football fans, while the Retiro Park has its boating lake, puppet-shows and buskers and the Palacio de Cristal will remind you of London’s very own Crystal Palace. However, we even have an urban beach, where there are many natural obstacles to play with, in the tree trunk jungle, or taking a trip down slides hill, or just
splashing through the water. If you thought that Madrid was only about its famous bear and the strawberry tree, now you can say you know better. However, just one final tip…do not come here in August, because that is when we go to the beach.
Getting there: with fares costing from as little as £43, located one hour ahead of UK time and not quite a two hours flight away, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted or any British airport can offer inexpensive air travel. If you are driving, head south from Santander or your port of arrival, all signs point to the capital.
Getting around: Madrid is well supported by public transport, with an underground system, trams, buses (some of which are open-top), metro trains and do not forget the cable car in the city. Taxis are quick but can be expensive. Tourists can benefit from an ‘unlimited’ transportation card, which can be bought in newsagents. More info from: www.neoturismo.com
Tourist information: there are plenty of sources of information on Madrid both prior to going there or for extra help on your holiday.