Travel: Viva Madrid

Vibrant and bustling, with a rich cultural heritage, beautiful architecture, world- class museums and incredible food, there are so many reasons to make Madrid your next city break stop off.

With just a couple of days to explore Spain’s capital city, we had decided to base ourselves as centrally as possible, and The Gran Hotel Inglés ticked the location box (as well as so many more). Madrid’s original five star hotel, it first opened to guests in 1886, though it began to fall into disrepair during the Spanish Civil War, and finally closed its doors in 2012. It has since undergone an extensive renovation, overseen by American architect David Rockwell, and reopened with a chic, characterful new look in 2018.


The Gran Hotel Inglés

First impressions count, and stepping through the front doors straight into the decadent lobby, we are not disappointed. Art deco influences abound: a striking circular bar commands the space, dramatically framed by huge wooden pillars (we’re told they are original features), and the walls are lined with large, eye-catching mirrors. It has a glamorous 1920s feel; we can’t wait to sink into one of the large leather sofas and sample a cocktail later (apparently there’s a whole menu dedicated to gin).

Ominously, our room number is 101, bringing to mind the infamous torture chamber in the Ministry of Love from George Orwell’s 1984. There is nothing torturous about what we find behind the door, though. In fact, the room is fetchingly simple and stylishly designed. The use of space is very clever, allowing a bathroom-dressing room combo, with a separate toilet and a fabulous shower. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the amenities on the gorgeous marble vanity are from L’Occitane and smell divine. There is a coffee machine and a mini bar filled with local craft beer, alongside bottles of high-end spirits. All this, plus a divinely comfortable looking bed reassures us that we will enjoy a very special stay here at The Gran Hotel Inglés.

After settling in, we decide to explore the neighbourhood, and are pleased to discover a vibrant area with quaint cobbled streets and beautiful architecture, packed with busy bars, delightful-looking delis, and a trendy nightclub. Surveying the youthful crowds queuing for the latter and deciding that we are not the target audience, we instead wend our way to Picalagartos Sky Bar. Offering stunning views of the city and a cocktail menu that both satisfies our needs and slakes our thirst, it proves to be a very good decision. The food looks excellent, too, but we are booked into the hotel’s restaurant, and having had a good amble around already, we head back with rumbling tummies.

Our meal does not disappoint, we might be in Spain, but we can’t resist the Beef Wellington, which, to our delight, is served whole and carved at the table, enabling us to see it in its full splendour. The chef has cooked this classic dish to absolute perfection and we happily devour the generous portions presented to us, before enjoying a final drink back in the lobby bar.

The next morning, appetites fully restored, we tuck into breakfast at the hotel. A first-class buffet is offered here, as well as an à la carte menu featuring all the usual favourites such as eggs benedict, huevos rancheros, pancakes and churros. Everything is delicious, and feeling energised, we are ready to hit the streets.

As is the way on most city breaks, we discover walking is the best way to see the sights. We soon find ourselves at the nearby Plaza de la Villa one of Madrid’s best preserved historical areas, housing some of the oldest buildings in the city. There are also some tremendous shops in the immediate vicinity of the hotel; my partner is delighted with his purchase of a hat from Sombrereria Medrano, the oldest hat shop in Madrid.

The Gran Hotel Inglés

Lunchtime is upon us and we are on a pilgrimage to find the best tapas Madrid has to offer. Our fanatic search for the world’s best croquettes began several years ago, and this odyssey has spanned large swathes of Europe, but finally, here we are in the home of tapas, determined to leave triumphant.

We make a beeline straight for Casa Julio in the Malasana district, as it does indeed have the well-earned reputation for making Madrid’s finest croquettes. And it really is croquette heaven, with an amazing choice of flavours on offer. You can order by the half dozen, but we opt for the full dozen and leave thoroughly satisfied, though so full we are barely able to make our way back to the hotel.

That evening we decide to take in a very different aspect of Spanish culture flamenco. We head to Corral de la Moreria for the most amazing night. The food is good, but world-renowned flamenco dancer Belén López steals the show with graceful ease. Her dancing is nothing short of awe-inspiring and we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have witnessed it.

The next day we head to the Parque de El Retiro. One of the largest parks in Madrid, it’s a wonderful place for a sunny walk, although it does make us miss our dog! Lunch is dedicated once more to the great tapas quest, this time taking us to Juana La Loca in the district of La Latina. It is a modern gem and we sample some of the best tapas we have ever encountered. Standout dishes include their tortilla dripping in oil and topped with caramelised onion, and the melt in the mouth oxtail tournedos on sliced potato.

Our evening is spent at Viva Madrid, a bar just round the corner. Set in a beautiful old building, it features characterful tiled walls and an 18th century wooden bar. Irresistible wooden cherubs appear to hold up the ceiling, from which huge lantern lights hang. Appearances are matched by service, which is impeccably fast and friendly, and the cocktails are excellent.

Madrid has not let us down; a winning combination of beautiful architecture, incredible food and friendly people means we’ll be sure to come back and visit again, and we know exactly where we’ll be staying.

Nightly rates start from €450 per room, per night on a B&B basis, based on double occupancy. For more information, see