The melting pot of Spanish culture
Madrid is famous for its culture and nightlife. The capital city is home to some of the most famous museums and monuments in Spain. The city of Madrid modern yet traditional, with a mix of cosmopolitanism and deep roots in culture. You can visit what is known as the Triangle of Art, which contains within a limited area the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía Art Centre and the Thyssen-Bornesmiza Museum. You’ll also be able to visit such impressive monuments as the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor square and the grand avenue known as the Gran Vía. The nightlife of Madrid is possibly the most exciting in Spain. You can visit the large green spaces such as the Retiro Park and drop into typical bars and taverns to sample a range of delicious tapas. But you’ll find the Madrid Region offers much, much more. For example, the cities of Aranjuez, Alcalá de Henares and San Lorenzo del Escorial, all of which have been declared World Heritage Sites or small picturesque towns such as Chinchón, and the charming villages in the mountains.
Places – top 3 to visit if you are in Madrid
1. Rascafria -The natural jewel of the Madrid region
Rascafría is a small town in Sierra de Guadarrama, some 100 km north of Madrid situated in the lovely Valle de Lozoya at an altitude of about 1,100 m and is one of the natural jewels of the Madrid region. One of the most impressive sights in the town is without a doubt the remarkable Santa María del Paular monastery located in a breathtaking natural setting. Building of this monument started in the late 14th century, but it wasn’t until one century later that most of the work was finished thanks to Juan Guas, the architect to the Catholic Monarchs. The façade of the church is a great example of the flamboyant Gothic while the cloisters are an example of the Mudejar Gothic. In spite of having centuries of history, there are still monks living in the monastery who still make some of the famous local products like liqueurs, cheeses and honey. Visitors to Rascafria must be sure to visit the beautiful Puente del Perdón that gives a wonderful view of the monastery. Several surrounding buildings also take one back in time like the Batanes Old Paper Mill that produced the paper used in printing the first edition of Don Quixote, one of the most important books of all times. Rascafria is home to the famous Plaza de los Trastámaras, reminiscent of the dynasty of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Fernando. The town hall was built in the neo-Mudejar style of the early 20th century and close to it one can see the 15th century San Andrés Apóstol Parrish. Apart from the history and art, it is the nature that also attracts thousands of visitors to Rascafria. In the summer months lots of people go to the Las Presillas, on the Lozoya riverside, perfect for a swim. And in the winter they all head for the mountains, to the Valcotos and Valdesquí ski resorts. For those in the mood for festivities, culture and food, there are plenty of things to do in this town. The local folk festival, Natural Folk, attracts each June numerous fans of this music and there are tons of cultural activities all around town. In the fall, especially in the months of October and November, the food lovers have an additional motive for the visit: The Mushroom, Game and Wine Food Festival where one can try the most delicious mushrooms and game, paired with some of the best wines of Madrid.
2. El Escorial – Take a step back into history where it is preserved at its finest
The Escorial is a vast building complex located in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, near Madrid, in central Spain. The building is the most important architectural monument of the Spanish Renaissance. Construction of El Escorial began in 1563 and ended in 1584. The project was conceived by King Philip II, who wanted a building to serve the multiple purposes of a burial place for his father, Holy Roman emperor Charles V; a Hieronymite monastery; and a palace. The first architect, Juan Bautista de Toledo, designed the ground plan on a gridiron scheme, recalling the grill on which San Lorenzo, the patron of the building, was martyred. After Toledo’s death, Juan de Herrera took up work on the project. Although Herrera was influenced by the styles of Sebastiano Serlio and Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, the final product was uniquely Spanish.The building complex, severe in its lines, has four principal stories with large towers at each corner. Arranged within a quadrangle, the buildings include the church; the monastery, royal palace, and college; and the library.The interior of the Escorial was decorated by many notable Spanish and Italian artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. Pellegrino Tibaldi and Federico Zuccaro were among the earliest painters to execute frescoes there. Other masters who painted works for the Escorial were El Greco, Luca Giordano, and Claudio Coello.
3. Alcala de Henares – One of the most important towns in the history of Spain
Alcalá de Henares, one of the most important towns in the history of Spain, is just 30km from Madrid. The Complutense University was founded here in 1499, and since it was from there that the Spanish language was officially declared a language of culture. As a result, Alcalá de Henares is now part of the Path of the Spanish Language, a route comprising all those places in Spain that have had a special influence on the Spanish language. In 1998, it was classified as a World Heritage Site. Rodrigo Gil de Hontañon, the architect behind the Salamanca and Segovia cathedrals in Alcalá de Henares , started building this hall of residence in 1537 in the Mudejar style. Its construction was finished in 1553 under the quantity surveyor, Pedro de la Cotera. It boasts an elegant plateresque façade with interesting grilles. Inside, one can still see two of the Colegio Mayor’s three original cloistered yards: the Patio de Santo Tomás and the Patio Trilingüe. The building houses a real gem: the great hall or paraninfo of the University. It was here that graduation ceremonies and other important academic events took place. Now, it is home to the Miguel de Cervantes Prize gala, honouring the lifetime achievement of an outstanding writer in the Spanish language, held on 23 April every year. It also includes the Chapel of San Ildefonso, where leading figures associated with the University were buried. It is said that the Magisterial Cathedral in the town was erected on the spot where the Santos Niños Justo and Pastor were buried. These holy children, whose saint’s day is celebrated on 6th August, are now the patron saints of the town, and their relics are kept in the crypt below. The cathedral is one of the only two churches in the world called ‘Magistral’, meaning that all its canons are ‘magisters’ or lecturers at the university.
Food and Drink – top 3 to try in Madrid
There is no more sincere love than the love for food
Eat in Madrid and you will be faced with a variety of regional and international cuisines that is unparalleled anywhere else in Spain. For centuries the people of Madrid survived on heart dishes built for harsh winters and blistering hot summers but thanks to the constant migration of outsiders, the cuisine of Madrid has slowly evolved over the years resulting in a diversity of culinary traditions from all over Spain, including late night tapas bars and increased sophistication of the city’s gastronomic offerings. The Basque cuisine of Madrid was inspired by the French and embraces simplicity, technological advances and shorter cooking times to preserve natural flavours. Between the mid 90s and the early 21st century, Spain’s surge in economic growth led to a wave of immigration from Asia, South America and North and West Africa, each bringing their own ingredients and culinary traditions to the table. At the same time, the city saw a creative upsurge of Catalan chefs who have been cultivating their own brand of Spanish cuisine, largely drawing on the concept of molecular gastronomy
1. Cocido Madrileno – Traditional Madrilenian comfort food
Cocido Madrileno is a traditional chickpea based stew from Madrid. This is a substantial dish prepared with meat and vegetables which is most popular during the winter but can be found throughout the year in some restaurants. The origins of the dish are uncertain but most locals believe that it was created during the Middle Ages as an evolution of a different dish until it became a staple in Madrid cuisine. The main ingredient of the dish is the chickpea which is paired with potatoes, cabbage, carrots and turnips. The meat used is fundamentally pork.
2. Heuvos Rotos – Eggs with a Spanish twist
Heuvos Rotos directly translates to ‘broken eggs’ and is one of the most popular dishes in taverns in Madrid. The dish is an incredibly simple combinationof fried potatoes, chorizo sausage and perfectly fried eggs that can be served at any time of the day. The local people of Madrid like to enjoy this tasty dish as a lunch or dinner meal.
3. Bocadillo de Calamares – Madrid’s most beloved dish
Bocadillo de Calamares consists of a fresh bread roll filled with squid rings that have been coated in flour and deep-fried in olive oil. Each sandwich is made to order, giving the squid a delicious, just-cooked crunch. It’s that simple. The local people of Madrid usually wash down their bocadilla de calamares a small beer. This local favourite dish can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or, if you’re particularly hungry, for an afternoon snack. Without a doubt, visitors to Madrid have to sample a calamari sandwich at one of the bars around Madrid’s Plaza Mayor.
Wine – Top 3 To Know About Wines Of Madrid
Madrid – Spanish wines rivaling the best in the world
Winemaking in Madrid is an old custom, and winemakers have been traditional suppliers to the city’s inhabitants for centuries, especially since Philip II made it the permanent capital in 1561. There are three minor regions that make wines from Madrid – 3 small areas that make up Denominacion de Origen (DO). Vinos de Madrid known as subzonas. These are Arganda, Navalcarnero and San Martín. The heart and soul of these wines are red, made mostly from Tempranillo or Garnacha, but one can also find some decent white wines from Madrid too. By the end of the 20th Century, many wines in Spain had developed a reputation for being cheap, characterless and poorly crafted. That opinion was a result of two factors: changing wine-consumption habits and a stronger economy. In short, people drank less, but were willing to pay more for better quality. To meet the newly-acquired tastes, D.O’s needed to make a change. For decades the bodegas produced everyday ordinary wine, but they soon had to respond to more demanding customers, which they have done with extremely impressive results.
The sprawling metropolis and imposing Sierra de Guadarrama mountains to the north confine vineyards to the southeastern and southwestern corners of the autonomous community of Madrid. The Vinos de Madrid DO covers three demarcated wine sub-regions, each with distinguishing characteristics. Arganda is by far the largest sub-zone, with more than 50% of Madrid’s vineyards and 60% of its total production. The local climate is strongly continental, with extreme variations in seasonal temperatures. The soil is a mixture of clay and lime. Some interesting rosé wines are also produced here. San Martin occupies the most eastern part of the DO. It is home to nearly 35% of the region’s vineyards and produces around 25% of its wine. The climate is once again continental, but San Martín gets more rainfall (around 25 inches/635mm) than its neighbors. Dark-skinned Garnacha grapes thrive in this climate and on the predominantly weathered-rock soil. Albillo produces the top white wines. Navalcarnero forms the middle section of the DO and produces 15% of its wine. The climate here is similar to the other Madrid sub-zones, but the clay-based soil is low in nutrients and lime. Garnacha is the main red grape, while Malvar produces the best whites. Slowly but surely, the region is shedding its image as a bulk-wine producer and gaining a reputation for good-quality, good-value offerings.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Granacha Tintorera
- Petit Verdot
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Small berry Muscat
Style of wines
The Brut Nature Blanco is the only sparkling wine made in Madrid, and winery Jesús Díaz releases just 1,500 bottles a year. Crisp, fruity and slightly bitter, this is a delicious local alternative to cava, especially at Christmas. The wines from the Toro region of Madrid use the same tempranillo grape as most other Spanish wines, but there’s something special about them here. The grapes have mutated into a unique variety known as tinta de Toro, since it’s only found here. This allows for bold, robust flavors and one of the most flavorful wines to order in Madrid. Most people only think of reds when it comes to Spanish wine, but the country produces some spectacular whites as well. One of those is Verdejo, produced in the Rueda wine region in Madrid. This light-bodied white wine is often compared to Sauvignon Blanc, but fans of Pinot Grigio or even Riesling would enjoy it as well. It’s fruity, not too sweet, and one of the most perfect wines to order in Madrid.
Both wineries: Solera Bodegas and Bodega y Viñedos Valleyglesias are producing fabulous wines under the appellation D.O Vinos de Madrid.
Nature – top 3 to visit in Madrid
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware
When one imagines a visit to Madrid, you may picture yourself strolling through its cobblestone lanes, sipping wine over a plate of tapas, studying the masterpieces of Dalí and Goya, or admiring the city’s stately architecture. If natural beauty is your cup of tea, there are also many beautiful natural attractions nearby. Madrid is a fantastic city for outdoor escapes: hiking trails, scenic views, peaceful parks, and adventure opportunities abound in the city and its surrounding areas.
1. First National Park in the Guadarrama Range – An exceptional refuge for biodiversity
The National Park extends over the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, whose highest peak is the Peñalara summit. Other outstanding features include the Puerto de Navafría pass and the La Morcuera and Siete Picos mountain ranges. All these mountainous areas are much frequented by hiking and climbing enthusiasts. The cooler and more humid conditions to be found in these mountains, plus the fact that it is so little affected by human activity, have made these mountains an exceptional refuge for biodiversity. Its physical features include glacial cirques and lakes, and granite rock fields, and its plant landscapes are formed by high-mountain ecosystems and extensive forests of Scots pine.
2. Cuenca del Henares – A magical sight to be behold
Cuenca is a magical sight, dramatically standing above a river gorge with its famous “hanging houses” clinging to steep, rocky slopes. This UNESCO World Heritage city is one of the most beautiful medieval locations in Spain. With its cobblestone lanes, town square, and old mansions, Cuenca has wonderfully preserved its old-world character. Tourists enjoy wandering the ancient streets, discovering picturesque alleys and hidden corners. Fascinating historic monuments and fabulous views are found at every turn. Cuenca also has outstanding art museums and festivals. For a rewarding cultural experience, visit during Easter to attend the Festival of Religious Music.
3. The Alberche River – River fun in Madrid
The Alberche is a river in the provinces of Ávila, Madrid and Toledo, central Spain. The Alberche flows roughly from NW to SE and bends sharply midway in its course to flow from NE to SW. It meets the Tagus a few kilometres east of Talavera de la Reina. This river has the following dams along its course: Burguillo, Charco del Cura, San Juan y Picadas and Cazalegas. Alberche Beach is a sandy beach stretch on the banks of the Alberche River, a favorite spot for vacationers from Madrid. The river is very popular among visitors for canoeing and kayaking activities.