by Rima Suqi
While the Barcelona-vs-Madrid rivalry is very real on the soccer field, when it comes to tourism, the two coexist on fairly even ground. Barcelona might have a sexier reputation, but over the years it also has experienced an explosion in tourism, and the crowds and other fallout (both positive and negative) that comes with that. Madrid, by comparison, is looking better and better—fewer tourists, free museums, plenty of shopping, and a burgeoning food and craft cocktail scene. Invited to celebrate the 75th anniversary of El Corte Ingles Castellana, we found several gems worth visiting both in and around the famed retailer.
El Corte Ingles
Nowhere is the bountiful shopping in the city more apparent than at El Corte Ingles. The luxury department store celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and marked the occasion by opening a standalone women’s store (Serrano Woman) in Salamanca, one of the wealthiest zipcodes in this capital city, as well as a VIP lounge in its flagship store, where shoppers sink into plush velvet sofas with a glass of Veuve while a dedicated stylist presents pre-chosen, head-to-toe looks.
Still at El Corte Ingles, there’s plenty of food and wine to be found; the roof of the men’s store is dedicated to casual dining options. StreetXO serves up a clever mash-up of Asian-Iberian street food from the brain of David Munoz, the only chef in Madrid with three Michelin stars, who plans to open a version of his restaurant in NYC later this year. The presentation is often as wild as what’s being served, and that goes for the cocktails as well—one arrived in an eerily accurate ceramic replica of a human heart, another in a plastic bag.
La Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida
An oftentimes overlooked gem, The Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of Florida (or La Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida) boasts incredibly beautiful frescoes. The pieces were painted by Goya who is also buried here (even though he died while in exile in France). It had many lives before finally being declared a National Monument in 1905 and now is a museum and a chapel. Note that it’s closed on Mondays and won’t allow access less than 20 minutes before closing time.
Villa Magna stands on the spot of the Anglada Palace, a moorish-style residence designed by architect Rodríguez Ayuso in 1878, who took inspiration from the Alhambra. Back in the day, the Dukes de Anglada and the Marquesses de Larios had some memorable parties here, and while only the iron gates of their original home remain (as well as several trees), there are other notable architectural details including a dramatic staircase flanked, from top to bottom, by a stained glass wall that dates to the early ‘70s when the hotel first debuted. It’s also home to Tse Yang, a Cantonese restaurant that is a perennial favorite among locals (it’s their Mr. Chow’s), although probably more for the people watching than the food itself.
Corral de la Moreria
The small but highly regarded Corral de la Moreria (or cathedral of Flamenco) is located right next to the Royal Palace in the center of the city. Some of the finest flamenco dancers in the world have appeared on this stage in the past 60 years, and there have been equally notable audience members as well, ranging from Pablo Picasso and Che Guevara to Samuel L. Jackson. Most impressive is the interior (especially the detailed arabic corbels) and performances—both of which will make you feel you’ve time-traveled.
This Cuban-inspired restaurant is located in downtown Madrid, and some New Yorkers might find the decor reminiscent of Indochine, but the menu isn’t as focused. At Hamanera you’ll find Cuban, Spanish, Italian and Asian dishes, but instead of being a mish-mash, it’s high-quality. We recommend trying one of the impressive specialty cocktails. (Interesting note: toothbrushes and toothpaste are available to diners post-meal.)
Images courtesy of respective venues