When I think about the beautiful country of Spain I imagine four things: the sun, sea food, sangria and the sea. However, for once, I decided to swap my idea of a perfect, lazy holiday – which always includes lounging on the beach with a mojito resting in my palm and downing buckets of sangria on a harbour front – for something a little bit… different. I and Matty, my boyfriend, decided to travel to the inland Spanish capital of Madrid during a convenient June heat wave and my, my, my; I was falling head-over-heels in love with the sublime city of Madrid from the moment I stepped foot in it.
Madrid hasn’t ever really been a place on my dream travel list (which includes the likes of Budapest, Prague and Santorini) but with flights and accommodation on the cheap and mine and Matty’s anniversary popping its head out of the sand, I thought it was the perfect place for a mid-year getaway. Spanish sun on a budget: let’s go Madrid, baby!
Unfortunately, Manchester airport doesn’t fly out to Madrid (or it does and I was looking in the sky) so I copped two return tickets from Liverpool John Lennon airport. However, in no time at all, we were smooching around at dusk, in the stunning city of Madrid, picking up keys from our host to our own little slice of heaven.
The Airbnb I booked in Madrid was centred in the lively area of La Latina. Literally around the corner from The Royal Palace Of Madrid and slap-bang in the middle of shops, restaurants, cafes, food markets and a wicked underground system which could get you anywhere you needed to be. We really could not have picked a better area to have our first – and definitely not our last – experience of Madrid. If you are thinking of a holiday to Madrid, this place is your first port-of-call for digs.
I physically get sad every time I see photographs of our little home-away-from-home now, it was that phenomenal. Everything was immaculate and white (or at least it was before we wreaked havoc) with an extensive amount of room to breathe. The flat featured two floors in case I and Matty needed a time-out from each other too, or if we just didn’t want to share a bathroom for awhile. If I could live in it forever I would. (Not the toilet, I mean the flat.)
I love the concept of Airbnb. I think it is a lot more personal than staying in a hotel and way more special – you do not have to wake up at a certain time and hike yourself down to breakfast with bleary eyes and awful hair, nor do you have to bide your time at the front desk for forty minutes while an angry man shouts at the lovely receptionist, while you try to catch her eye and smile sympathetically.
Your own home, your own rules and nobody is going to disturb you or come in your room awkwardly and unexpectedly. I just absolutely love the freedom.
While in Madrid, we managed to get ourselves into a morning routine – when we weren’t being lazy/hungover of course.
Head to Lidl (even in Madrid it was the most affordable supermarket) for fruits of the forest, ham & cheese and then hop on over to the most amazing bakery/café called Panishop. Woweeee: I died and had gone to pastry heaven. A gigantic selection of bread adorned the walls behind the counter, pretzels and sweet pasty mountains decorated cabinets and I just couldn’t get my mitts off those Pain au chocolat. My mouth is watering just thinking about them now!
After a scrumptious breakfast, we headed out into the world of Madrid. As I previously mentioned there was a heat wave. Not just any heat wave, apparently the hottest one in forty years I was told by a passing Spanish man. Forty-five degree days in the sun, spent with a beer and my boyfriend? It is like this city was made for a sun and booze worshipper like me!
One of the more exciting foody joints we visited was the Mercado de San Miguel. Situated just outside of Plaza Mayor (a square similar to that of Barcelona’s La Ramblas yet not as fancy, schmancy) the indoor market left you with eyes the size of dinner plates and opened the pit of your stomach to counter-serviced tapas, glasses of bubbly, gigantic pans brimming with black paella and fresh fruit smoothies which could give the markets of Barcelona a serious run for their money. Hello food baby, how you doin’?
While in Madrid, we only dined at two actual restaurants worthy of a mention: TOGA and Cappuccino Grand Café Madrid.
The latter is a Spanish chain of elegant restaurants, specialising in coffee (you would never have guessed from its name) and cocktails while boasting some of the friendliest and most helpful staff I came across in Madrid. Situated close to the Retiro underground tube stop, the outside area is shaded, warm and far enough away from bustling pedestrians – allowing the perfect setting to sip on an Aperol Spritz, munch on a club sandwich and watch the world go by. I seriously could not recommend this place enough to anybody thinking about a lunchtime jaunt in the capital of Spain.
For more information or to just check out that killer cocktail menu, click here.
Now, moving on to the star event, let’s have a chat about TOGA. Pause your reading, grab a cuppa. Got one? Good, now let us begin.
Once upon a time, I and Matty had a sneaky-peek on Tripadvisor and this place called TOGA popped up in the top ten restaurants in the whole of Madrid. To make it even more lustful, it happened to be a five-minute ramble up the road from our pretty home. Winner, winner, I didn’t really care where I was going; I was just ready for a pint. Little did I know, however, I was about to have the best dining experience of probably my whole entire life. Yes, I’m being dramatic. No, I am not going to apologise.
Hidden away in a back alley of La Latina, from the outside looking in you wouldn’t believe this tiny taverna-looking restaurant was anything special. White washed walls, more gin stacked behind the bar then you could dream of, concrete floors and a handful of tables made TOGA look inviting, but it didn’t immediately have that ‘wow’ factor.
In retrospect, the minimalistic look of TOGA is probably why I was so blown away by my experience there. You’re greeted with friendly expectations at the door and you believe TOGA to be… nice. However, nice doesn’t really cut it, try the phrase sublimely divine. The idea you have formed of TOGA from the onset is blown out of the water by eager waiting staff, which were quick to recommend beers and dishes which would be complemented by affordable wines, as well as the food itself.
For starters, I opted for a fresh goat’s cheese and spinach brochette which was succulently creamy with the melt-in-the-mouth texture one can only dream of. Can you really describe the taste of goat’s cheese to be anything other than ‘goaty’. If you can, let me know because this wordsmith is struggling. For the main cour, e I opted for a baby squid risotto. I have no words of description leaping to my fingertips at this moment in time but seriously, it was the best thing I have ever eaten. Hands down, MY GOD what a meal! We were treated like kings and queens. Seriously TOGA, you have my heart forever, thank you. Squid will never be the same again!
So… Can you tell this trip was totally food based? You went for cocktails too, Ella? To a place that didn’t serve food? Well, why didn’t you say?
Situated in the Justicia ward of Madrid – named after the Ministry of Justice – is a hidden cocktail bar called Del Diego, which comes alive in the night-time. A pamphlet listing over one hundred cocktails was humbly placed before us before we dived into some mai-tai’s and some kooky names of drinks we had never even heard of before. If you are looking for a classy, late night place to get your drunk on – then Del Diego is where your heart is guiding you.
When we weren’t eating and weren’t drinking (which was pretty much never) we spent most of our time mooching around the gigantic Retiro Park. Since Madrid is inland, this was my version of the beach. As you can see from the photographs below the park had the most amazing lake, which allowed you to hire rowing boats for 45 minutes. Easily one of the more fun things we did in Madrid.
On Matty’s behalf, we also decided to jump on the tube and head to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium – the home of Real Madrid. The real-deal for any football fan, the grandeur of the stadium was unmatched by anything I have ever seen before. You cannot go to the stadium without mentioning the sheer amount of silver sitting in that trophy room too. If you get the chance to go, it was slightly pricey but well-worth the time spent.
Like all good things, Madrid came to an end. Not before I bagged my now-prized possession from Berksha though! How beautiful is this bright yellow biker jacket? How long will it be until everybody on the bloody planet has the same jacket? Stay tuned.