LIFE&STYLE

An authentic taste of Spain in Madrid

By KH디지털2
  • Published : Apr 22, 2016 - 10:06
  • Updated : Apr 22, 2016 - 20:11

This is the second and final article of a two-part travel series on a weeklong journey to the new European capital of culture, San Sebastian, Spain, and through the heart of the country’s capital, Madrid. - Ed.

MADRID -- Priceless works of arts, world-class cuisine and a rich history -- there’s no touristic thirst that cannot be quenched in Madrid, Spain’s alluring capital.

Spain is certainly no stranger to the tourism spotlight. Last year the country was the third most visited country in the world. And located smack dab in the center of Spain, Madrid is one the country’s leading travel destinations alongside the bustling coastal hot spot of Barcelona. 

An exterior view of the Royal Palace of Madrid in Madrid, Spain. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)

While the landlocked capital city is void of the year-round spring break-like beach scene that attracts so many vacationers to Barcelona, I found that Madrid possesses its own historic yet modern charm that made me feel as though I were getting an authentic taste of Spain.

With its vibrantly colored mural-filled streets, classic European architecture and mouth-watering hanging jamon legs (dry-cured Spanish ham) that can be spotted at virtually every turn of the head, Madrid has all the charms of old Europe coupled with its own signature Latin flair. 

A customer eyes the selection of jamon at the Mercado de la Paz near the Plaza de Colón in Madrid, Spain. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)

By far one of the best ways to soak-in all the city’s cultural offerings is to simply wander around on foot. Some of my most picturesque strolls were through the city’s old town, including Plaza Mayor and its surrounding area. There was really no need for a map because I was more than delighted to lose myself in the nooks and crannies of the city’s narrow cobblestone alleys.

For those who want a little shop-until-you-drop time, Puerta del Sol and the Calle Gran Via are a shopaholic’s dream, with endless low- and high-end designer fashion shops and boutiques to keep your wallet busy for hours on end.

However, with all of Madrid touristic highlights, at the top of city’s cultural gems is inarguably the city’s most prized possessions located in one of its biggest claims to fame -- the Museo del Prado.

Prado Museum, first opened in 1819, is home to some of the art world’s most significant and valued collections displaying works by the great European masters such as Goya, Raphael, Rubens, Velázquez and Bosch.

Naturally, the museum acts as many visitors’ first-stop during their time in Madrid, with serious art lovers easily spending an entire day soaking in every square inch of detail in this exhibition of masterpieces.  

An exterior view of the Royal Palace of Madrid in Madrid, Spain. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)

Another absolute must see is none other than the Royal Palace of Madrid. While the palace is not the official residence of the king of Spain, it remains Europe’s largest royal palace, with the complex spanning 135,000 square meters and featuring a mind-boggling 3,418 rooms.

Both the palace’s exterior and interior exemplifies the essence of the terms “nobility” and “luxurious.” Although taking photos inside the palace is strictly prohibited, a tour through this stunning lavish royal palace -- with its beaming gold accents, antique furnishings and glistening marble interior - gave me of glimpse what living the life of Riley was all about, and then some. 

Gastronomy 

With its bustling tapas culture and it global status as a fine-dining hub, Spaniards take their food very seriously.

Spain is home to eight, three-starred Michelin restaurants, 20 two-starred and a whopping 150 one-star Michelins restaurants.

Madrid is even home to the world’s oldest running restaurant, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. Oozing rustic charm, Sobrino de Botín was founded in 1725 and continues to serve up its signature roast suckling pig to this day.

An interior view of the newly opened gastronomy center, Platea in Madrid. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)
An acrobatics performance held at dinner-theater themed Platea in Madrid, Spain. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)

However, for those looking forward to a dining experience that is less past-time classic and more future chic, Platea in the heart of Plaza de Colón should be at the top of your dining to-do list. 

The newly established Platea is without a doubt one of the most unique and unforgettable dining experiences of my life -- a renovated movie theater meets top-notch gastronomy meets Cirque du Soleil.

This once ordinary movie theater was reopened in 2014 after being completely revamped into an upscale restaurant/tapas bar/gourmet market/live music and acrobatics theater. I know it’s a lot to wrap your head around, but Platea is inventive, forward-thinking and creativity at its finest and is a dining experience that you really just have to see to fully appreciate its genius.

With an indescribable ambience, the gastronomy center offers guests a wide array of dining options, from international cuisine, to quick-eat tapas to high-end culinary delights from the minds of world-class chefs including Michelin star chefs Ramon Freixa and Paco Roncero. 

An array of delectable tapas served at the newly opened gastronomy center, Platea, near the Plaza de Colón in Madrid. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)

Another highly rewarding venture for lunch or dinner is a meal at Tatel, just a short walk from Plaza de Colón. This Art Deco-style fine dining restaurant serves traditional dishes with a modern twist.

But let’s face it, the restaurant is best known for being co-owned by some of Spain’s most international team of celebrities including tennis player Rafa Nadal, NBA basketball center Pau Gasol and Latin singing sensation Enrique Iglesias. Real Madrid global football megastar Cristiano Ronaldo is also known to frequent the restaurant for dinner. 

Despite its backing of glitzy celeb owners, the Tatel’s food more than mirrors its A-list expectations without breaking your wallet.

My recommendation for a starter is none other than the humble tortilla. Now while many people know tortillas to be the outer vessel of a Mexican taco, a Spanish tortilla is actually a fluffy omelet traditionally consisting of just eggs and potato.

I know what many may be thinking -- why shell out nearly 20 bucks for a basic omelet concoction that you can easily make at home or feast on at a local Madrid diner for just a few euros?

Well that’s because Tatel’s take on the Spanish comfort classic has been given a fine dining flair with the addition of black truffle shavings. This seemingly simple menu item is exploding with flavor, with a much-welcomed whiff of earthy and decadent aroma of truffles that can be detected from across the room, making it an appetizer I’d easily order over a steak for hunk of protein any day.

Art of flamenco

An absolute must when visiting any region of Spain is to attend an authentic flamenco show.

There is no greater display of Spain’s history, culture and Latin influence than the sensuous, soulful and heart-pounding choreography of Spain’s national dance. 

A scene from the internationally renowned Corral de la Morería flamenco show. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)

The art of Spanish flamenco consists of three parts: guitar, singing and dancing. However, the term dancing in no way captures the essence of its intricate, and seemingly impossible lightning-fast footwork.

One of the most highly respected establishments for a performance of this cultural treasure is at the el Corral de la Morería.

Corral de la Morería, which opened its doors in 1956 and is considered the “Cathedral of flamenco art” of Spain, is located in the center of Madrid near the Royal Palace. 

A tasting plate of fruit and goat cheese salad, jamon tapas and foie gras served at the Corral de la Morería dinner and flamenco show. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)

The establishment, which also offers gourmet meal pairings with its shows, is frequently visited by A-list celebrities from around the world, as well as international dignitaries, government officials and has even played host to the king of Spain. 

A scrumptious fine-dining quality meal coupled with the most emotionally compelling and jaw-dropping traditional flamenco performance makes for a perfect ending to a perfect holiday in Madrid. 

Recommended stay:

* Hotel NH Collection Madrid Colón

Address: Calle de Goya, 5, 28001 Madrid, Spain

Website: www.nh-hotels.com

Read part one of the travel series:
"Europe’s new culture capital: San Sebastian a feast for the eyes, palate"
http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20160415000850

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)
Korea Herald correspondent