Think Spain, think city breaks with a variety of cultural, gastronomic, entertainment and sporting delights – most people think of Barcelona. Think again, think of Madrid. It ticks all the boxes for a truly unforgettable trip, one that you will want to tell your friends about. And where better to stay on a 5 Star trip like this – than The Hotel Ritz Madrid in the Spanish capital.
Andrea at reception not only checked us in but showed my wife and I to our accommodation, explaining to us the unique features of the hotel en route. There was the wow factor as we entered Suite 515, one of the finest in the hotel, where a personal handwritten welcome card awaited us. As you would expect at a Ritz establishment, it bespeaks grandeur and sophistication. Our opulent suite not only boasted plush bedding, stylish bathroom, individual furnishings, ornate carpets and comfortable lounge area, but its French balcony opened out to a panoramic view of the adjacent Museo Del Prado, the justifiably world famous art gallery as well as San Jeronimo, a spectacular church dating from the sixteenth century which is a must see.
Having settled into the hotel, it was time to explore the rich delights of the Spanish capital. The Ritz is so central and the city is so accessible, a walker’s paradise. We averaged 15km a day according to our pedometer! Almost on our doorstep, we came across Calle de Cervantes, named in honour of the author of one of my favourite books, Don Quixote. Passing the Cortes, the Spanish parliament, we soon found ourselves in Puerto Del Sol, the vibrant meeting point of the capital with its varied array of street artists which rivals the Ramblas in Barcelona. Vibrant, spotlessly clean, streets bustling with shoppers and tourists radiate from here. Shop to your heart’s content on the appropriately named nearby Gran Via where stunning architecture houses a wide selection of designer shops, boutiques, restaurants and tapas bars in a buzzing metropolitan atmosphere. Suffice to say my wife had a grand time on the Gran Via. Wandering the historic streets and plazas of central Madrid is a shopper’s paradise. Meantime, you don’t have to go to the sunny climes of southern Spain to enjoy golf. A range of courses easily accessible from the Spanish capital offers the opportunity to hit the fairways and combine it with the exciting cultural experiences of a big city break.
Staying at the Ritz we were spoilt for choice where to visit locally, whether to see the spectacular architecture in the Plaza de Cibeles, not least the Cybele Palace, as well as the neo-classical marble sculptures and fountains, or to sample the wonders of the Plaza Mayor. Only minutes away too is Buen Retiro Park, an oasis of 320 acres in central Madrid where not only sculptures and monuments abound but boating on the lake affords the relaxing opportunity to absorb an ambience of tranquillity amid centuries of Spanish heritage.
Pride of place to visit while staying at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid is the Museo del Prado, the world famous art gallery. As an Irish historian who spent many years researching European history in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, it was fantastic to see the original portraits of Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV, Spanish kings who had close links with the important Irish princes, the O’Neills and the O’Donnells. I thought of Philip II cheered up on his deathbed at the Escorial palace (a UNESCO World Heritage site just 28 miles from Madrid) in 1598 when news of the famous victory of Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell, his Irish allies, at the Battle of the Yellow Ford was trumpeted in Spain. It was Philip III who finally managed to make good on promises of direct Spanish military intervention in Ireland by landing a Spanish invasion force at Kinsale in 1601. While the Battle of Kinsale ended up disastrously for the Irish and Spanish forces, the close links between Spain and Ireland continued for centuries as thousands of Irish exiles made Spain their home, many of them rising to high command in the Spanish army or in the case of Don Leopoldo O’Donnell, Duke of Tetuan, Prime Minister of Spain on three occasions in the nineteenth century. For Irish visitors to the Bernabau Stadium, home of Real Madrid, it is no coincidence that it is on the Calle O’Donnell as this famous stadium began its life as the Campo de O’Donnell.
Perhaps the most famous artist featuring in the Prado is Goya. Having researched the Peninsular War in recent years I was particularly struck by his representation of the Third of May 1808, the executions by the French of citizens of the Spanish capital who had rebelled against the occupying army. Not only is the work of Goya at the Prado adjacent to one side of the Ritz hotel but outside its front door is the striking obelisk to those who died on the Third of May 1808, which is also now considered the Spanish war memorial in the capital.
Justifiably proud of its location astride the Museo del Prado, the Ritz offers a range of dining options, the highlight being the Goya Restaurant where diners can sumptuous meals. On the occasion of our visit, I just had to enjoy Eggs Benedict while my wife had a smoked salmon bagel, options on the American breakfast menu, alongside platters of cold meats, cheeses, artesan breads and pastries, all washed down with beverages ranging from freshly squeezed orange juice, speciality teas and coffees, as well as Cava if you were of a mind to do so.
Having enjoyed staying at the Ritz and in Madrid so much, I posted highlights of the trip on my Facebook page. On my return, a work colleague who visited Madrid many times as a student of Spanish many years ago, asked me all about my trip. He shared my infectious enthusiasm. It was not long before his eyes welled up with nostalgic recollections of days spent in the Spanish capital – and he concluded it was time to go back. I completely understand the city’s seductive appeal. Next time, not only will I spend more time exploring the Spanish capital, but I will avail of the opportunity to visit the oldest university in Spain, Alcala, just over twenty miles away. And then there is Toledo, the ‘City of Three Cultures’ just 40 minutes away by high speed train, a metropolis infused with Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions and architecture. For me, the message is clear, Madrid merits a prominent place on the pantheon of most desirable city breaks in Europe. And where better to stay to top off a premier trip than at the famous Ritz hotel, one of the world’s premier hotels