In the Spanish capital, take a tip from the locals and make time for picture galleries, pampering and a walk in the park. Marcus Waring enjoys a more leisurely pace of life.
1. Museo del Prado
Madrid has recently cemented its reputation for bold and innovative architecture. Examples range from the Hotel Puerta America Madrid on Avenida de America (hoteles-silken.com), where each of the 12 floors has been created by a different world-class luminary, to the Museo del Prado, which had a sensational new wing designed by Rafael Moneo added in October 2007. Taking five years to build and using marble, oak and brick, it has doubled the gallery’s size and freed works previously trapped in the basement – and if you like intelligent, sensitive architecture, it’ll make you giddy. The collection itself can be heavy on religion in places, but don’t miss Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, which can consume time with its exquisite level of detail, and Velazquez’ Las Meninas. Entry is €6. Open Tues-Sun 9am-8pm. (Free entry Tues-Sat 6-8pm, Sun 5-8pm.) Calle Ruiz de Alarcon 23; call +34 91 330 2800 or visit museodelprado.es.
2. Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
This central but lesser-known venue has an important collection of its own, thanks to King Felipe V, who gave the nod in 1744 to the establishment of a Spanish royal academy of fine art. Interestingly, the bulk of the works on display in the 59 rooms spread over three floors are by artists who are former or current pupils at the academy, giving you a tangible sense of connection with what you are viewing.
There are 14,000 paintings and drawings from the 16th to the 20th century, and among the highlights are works by Rubens, Murillo and Goya, including two self-portraits by the latter. Entry is €3. Open Tues-Fri 9am-7pm, Saturday 9am-2.30pm and 4-7pm, Monday, Sunday and holidays 9am-2.30pm. Calle Alcala 13; call +34 915 240 86 or visit rabasf.insde.es. (The website is in Spanish but click on the Saatchi Gallery link for information in English.)
3. Matadero Madrid
Away from the heavyweight galleries of the Paseo del Prado, and located in edgier Legazpi in the south of city, this new cultural centre was a former slaughterhouse which closed in 1996. An ambitious project is transforming the site into a cutting-edge exhibition space, with plenty of glass, pillars and photographs of how it used to look. At present, four individual spaces exist: the Design Centre is concerned with promoting new design, the Open for Building Works was once the refrigeration area and explores the relationship between art and location, while Intermediae evaluates the sense of the creative process, and Naves del Espanol has three warehouses for performances and exhibitions.
Major events have included Photo Espana, an important festival of photography, and White Nights (on every September), when venues across the city stay open between sunset and sunrise, barely testing the average Madrileno’s skill for insomnia. Entry is free. Open Mon-Sat 11am-9pm and Sunday 10am-3pm. Paseo de la Chopera 14; call +34 91 517 7309 or visit mataderomadrid.com.
4. Bodyna Spa
Now a fabulous new Hospes hotel, this red-brick Bourbon Restoration building dating from 1883 is located next to the landmark Puerta de Alcala, Madrid’s answer to the Arc de Triomphe, on the edge of the swish Salamanca district. The spa, set in a separate centre resembling a small house in the interior courtyard, is ideal for getting lost in. Japanese-style treatment rooms offer Ayurvedic, Thai and shiatsu massages, and there is a rest zone in the attic and a small pool in the basement where you can float under a ceiling of winking stars. The Senzone restaurant also has excellent dishes and a sommelier to match. Open daily from 10am-9pm, treatments from €20. Hospes Madrid, Plaza de la Independencia 3; call +34 91 432 2911 or visit hospes.es.
5. Ramses Life and Food
Tapping into the Spanish way of thinking, there is always time for a long, enjoyable lunch, and Ramses Life and Food, next door to the Hospes hotel, is the opulent Philippe Starck-designed location to do it. A fashionable blend of bar, restaurant and club, it is the latest haunt of the glitterati. On the upper floor, the formal baroque-style Bistro serves dishes such as papillot of prawns with garlic for €15. Petit is the less formal dining area by the entrance and is a casual place to eat creative Mediterranean cuisine close to the bar and live DJ. If you need to walk all this off, the Retiro Park is just across the road. Cocktail Bar open 12pm-3am; Petit and Bistro 1pm-4.30pm, and 8.30pm-12am. Plaza de la Independencia 4; tel +34 91 435 1666, ramseslife.com.
6. Segway tour
Madrid has a number of sights spread across the centre, so banish the blisters and hop on a Segway for a tour with a twist. Favoured by airport staff and the image-unconscious with a penchant for technology, the trip begins with a quiet lesson on your upright electric scooter in a nearby square, where it is easy to grasp the concept of leaning forward to accelerate and back to brake. You then weave your way through incredulous and jealous pedestrians, as you zip around the city’s monuments and pavements in motorised style. It’s on the quirkier side of cool and takes in sights like the Templo de Debod, the magnificent Palacio Real and the leafy Casa de Campo to the west. One-hour tours are €35. Urban Movil, Calle Mayor 78; tel +34 91 542 7771, urbanmovil.com.