Soak up the splendour of Madrid

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Weekender had an exclusive invitation to Spain, and our writer gets a first-hand experience of travelling around and seeing the glorious capital

By Cheryl Chia

I was invited to Spain to attend the Madrid Fusion 2014 gastronomic summit. Madrid, the glorious capital of Spain, has a host of history and attractions to see and to experience, which I did.

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As I was the only one from Singapore invited, I was on my own for the most part. I’ve heard many horror stories of pickpockets – one in particular where my editor had his camera bag and passport stolen, in the blink of an eye. Wary as I was, I’ve emerged unscathed.

How to Get Around

Personally, I found the people in Madrid friendlier and more helpful than people in Paris. Moreover, most of them can at least speak basic English and will try their best to help.

I tried to approach old ladies or groups of friends or families for directions. This is much safer for a solo female traveller than approaching a strange man.

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The Madrid Metro app helped me greatly and I recommend that you download it to your phone and use it. It works offline too.
All you need to do is to enter the station you are departing from and arriving at and, voila! The route will be mapped out for you, including where you need to change lines.

The Palacio de Cristal is located in Parque de El Retiro in Madrid
The Palacio de Cristal is located in Parque de El Retiro in Madrid

Shopping & Bargains

I stayed at Campos de las Naciones, which is quite far from the city centre. Nonetheless, a 20-minute or so train ride took me to the main road of Gran Via.

Perfect for a spot of shopping, the main thoroughfare has renowned Spanish brands such as Zara, Bershka and Pull & Bear, as well as departmental store El Cortes Ingles.

I highly recommend Lefties, the cheapest outlet store for past season Zara clothing items. Do be careful in more crowded or touristy areas as many pickpockets lie in wait there for their next victim.

As you pass Plaza de Espana, on the west end of Gran Via, look out for the large monument of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the Spanish novelist most renowned for the classic, Don Quixote de la Mancha.

Further down, you’ll see the grand and elaborate Palacio Real or Royal Palace. Entry costs €10.

Also in the vicinity are the Templo de Debod (an Egyptian temple right in Spain), Plaza Mayor and the Museo Nacional del Prado, which contains one of Europe’s largest collections of art from artists such as El Greco, Goya and Velasquez.

Temptations Abound

The huge park, Parque de El Retiro, is located within the same area. There are several majestic fountains and large ponds with ducks and geese.

At the end of Parque de El Retiro was the Palacio de Cristal, a glass structure specially-made for showcasing the beautiful flora.

After a long day of walking, I was more than ready for my next meal and I was fortunate to be taken to Restaurante La Barraca, which is said to have the best paella in Madrid. I completely agree. La Barraca has been around since 1935, and serves hearty and traditional Spanish cuisine.

I loved the Paella Negra, a black squid ink paella with seafood. It was flavourful, warm and covered with just enough sauce. Most paellas in Singapore are too wet and I end up with mui-fan. I also fell in love with the Croquetas de Jamon, a potato croquette with béchamel sauce and chopped Spanish ham.

There are several options if you wish to try a Michelin-star restaurant. I visited the one-Michelin star Restaurante Coque.

The degustation menus there range from €80 to €200 but the food was a little too chichi for my taste.

While in Spain, you must patronise one of the many stalls selling Churros con Chocolate. The churros in Spain are crispy, and un-dusted with sugar or cinnamon, but come with a warm cup of melted chocolate – perfect for cold weather.

Mercado de San Miguel is a great place to see the variety of produce and tapas Madrid has to offer. For a less touristy option, try Mercado de San Anton.

Soak up the splendid atmosphere, tapas, shopping and warmth of the lovely people when you visit Madrid.

This trip was made possible by Tourist Office of Spain.
Weekender would like to thank Pullman Madrid Airport & Feria, La Barraca and Restaurante Coque for hosting us.

By Cheryl Chia