Madrid: Atlético or Ramses?
Short stays in big cities like Madrid- it's all about meticulous planning to ensure you get the most out of the limited time available in your chosen destination. At A2D, we’ve been travel planning on behalf of our clients for the past 23 years, so you can absolutely trust our expertise. As global concierge professionals, we’re constantly out and about, scouting the best places to eat, the trendiest new hotels, the hottest concerts and events and anything quirky, fun and adventurous.
In this post, A2D’s CEO and Founder, Stig Egard, travels to Madrid for a 3 day trip and shines a spotlight on what you need to know.
Not only is it the capital of Spain and the third-largest city in the EU after London and Berlin; Madrid is also the international headquarters of A2D, so I’m very fortunate that my visits to this fabulous city are as frequent as 10-12 times per year.
Whilst the main reason for my trips is to catch up with the A2D team, I also make it a top priority to discover some of the new and exciting delights that this ever changing metropolis has to offer, and believe me, there are a lot!
To maximise my time in Madrid, I usually arrive on Sunday morning. This provides ample opportunity to settle in to my hotel and leisurely explore the city before spending Monday and Tuesday working with my team.
Prepare to Land
Flying into Madrid from my base in Brussels unfortunately means landing at the dreaded terminal 2 of Madrid-Barajas airport, an altogether unpleasant experience in every sense.
The airport has five terminals and in 2017, it reportedly transported an incredible 53.4 million travellers, making it Europe’s sixth busiest airport.
The jewel in the crown of Madrid-Barajas airport is the stunning terminal 4 (Iberia’s terminal). Designed by renowned architects Antonio Lamela and Richard Rogers and opened in 2006, the award-winning design attempts to use its sweeping visual effects to psychologically create a stress-free feeling among passengers prior to their journey. It uses the unifying element of bamboo, to create a sense of calm and whilst I can’t attest to the stress reducing effects of the terminal’s design, I have to admit that the abundance of glass panels and ceiling domes that flood the areas with light certainly make for an aesthetically pleasing experience. It really is a sight to behold.
Another great attribute of Terminal 4 is the dedicated luxury shopping emporium that is home to some of world’s most exclusive labels and brands. This is terminal shopping on another level. With names such as Burberry, Loewe, MaxMara, Samsonite and Victoria’s Secret, for the travelling fashionistas it really is the perfect place to ‘spend’ valuable time and money prior to departure.
Terminal 2, by comparison, is the poor relation that nobody would choose to visit. In my opinion, it is one of the worst terminals of Europe’s larger airports. The washrooms always have an unpleasant odour and the staff and service providers (those working for the airlines and the luxury chauffeur companies) are all too preoccupied with their mobile phones to even notice the arriving passengers. It really is a terrible experience and definitely one I would avoid subjecting the A2D clients to.
As a frequent flyer, my luggage should have priority to arrive first, but at terminal 2 it never does and the staff simply don’t care if you complain about it. I often wonder how the staff at terminal 2 can be so different to the staff at terminal 4. It’s hard to believe it’s the same airport.
My tip to anyone travelling through terminal 2 of Madrid airport is to only travel with hand luggage and to arrive as late as possible for departure so that you can board and leave as soon as possible.
Where to Stay
Probably, the most important decision any traveller has to make when visiting a city is where to stay and Madrid, with its 21 districts (barrios) is home to some of the most charming, historic and trendy neighbourhoods in all of Spain.
As CEO of a global concierge business, I make it my business to try new hotels - it’s what our clients expect after all. However, like any frequent traveller to the same city, I have my favourite places to stay and they are - the Gran Meliá Fénix , Urso and The Ritz which was bought by the Mandarin Oriental Group in 2015 for €130 million. It is currently undergoing a whopping €90 million renovation which is scheduled to be completed in 2020. I can’t wait to see the sensational results!
Madrid’s rising importance on the global stage as a world class destination was recently witnessed with the fantastic news that The Four Seasons will also be opening a property in the centre in late 2019. All eyes are definitely on Madrid right now.
Where to Eat
Unfortunately, despite it generally being a phenomenal city, my frustration with Madrid is the restaurant scene. We have an expression in Belgium that we use to define the difference between the restaurants in Brussels and Antwerp. In Brussels, people look at the plate. In Antwerp, they look at the place and interior and then the food. For me, Madrid is like Antwerp - a lot of stylish, cool places, but where the food is secondary.
That being said, there are of course some fantastic restaurants to be found in Madrid.
Sunday afternoon, I usually have a tough decision to make - go see my favourite team Atlético Madrid play or visit Ramses, the Philippe Starck-designed venue, owned by Jorge Llovet that is part restaurant, part club and part cocktail bar. La Terraza Ikebana is presided over by the number one club impresario Raúl Abad and is the place to go for their famous Sunday brunch. Thanks to its prime location opposite Puerta de Alcalá, it’s a year-round meeting point. Ina, my PA and Office Manager will normally be there on a Sunday enjoying the view, the DJ, live saxophone player and of course, the delicious food.
Popular restaurants also worthy of a mention include Tatel which is owned by a consortium of big named investors including the tennis player Rafael Nadal, singer Enrique Iglesias and NBA player Pau Gasoland. Here, the menu consists of traditional Spanish recipes that have been revived to be adapted to the present day. With such big names involved, the popularity of this restaurant clearly reflects that.
El Paraguas and Ten Con Ten both owned by celebrated chef Sandro Silva are also very popular with a lot of politicians, actors, footballers and Madrid's in-crowd. However, as always with such places, individual service and the food can be a bit hit or miss. When it's good it's fantastic and when it's bad, it sucks.
One steakhouse which is a must visit is Amazonico. Opened in the summer of 2016 and also owned by Sandro Silva, the food is inspired by tropical, Asian and Mediterranean cuisine, with references to Brazilian gastronomy. I would go as far as to say it has the best meat in the city. The bar is always buzzy and there is a really cool jazz club in the basement.
The restaurant is so popular that diners are given 2 hour slots. This is customary in UK and US restaurants and generally works when diners are notified of the policy. Unfortunately, the staff at Amazonico don’t seem to have understood the mechanics of this policy. My lawyer Carmen was there recently entertaining two clients and ten minutes after ordering a second bottle of wine, they were summarily ejected from the table before finishing their drinks. This is not the way to treat guests if you want them to return.
On my most recent visit to Madrid, I went to BiBo by Dani Garcia, the two Michelin stars chef from Malaga. I have previously had the pleasure of visiting his restaurant in the Marbella Hotel Puente Romano Beach Resort & Spa and know that Dani does not disappoint. His Madrid restaurant has everything - a great buzz, impeccable service and sensational food. The restaurant’s culinary trademarks include the cherry gazpacho, the foie yogurt and the oxtail brioche. Highly recommended and not to be missed is their brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 12-3pm.
For lovers of seafood, I recommend a visit to El Pescador to sample the freshest products of the Galician coast. A favourite of locals since it opened in 1975 and always packed, especially since its refurb in 2010, this is a great spot. It still doesn’t come close however, to what I consider to be the best seafood restaurant in Barcelona, if not Spain - Passadís del Pep. It embodies everything that makes an unforgettable dining experience - charming, friendly service, in a traditional and rustic setting with food that is cooked with simplicity and mastery. Its reputation is of mythical proportions.
Madrid has an overabundance of choice when it comes to restaurants and there are always new gastronomic delights popping up to please the in-crowd. But, for me, the standard of food in Madrid is nowhere near that of Bilbao, La Coruna or Barcelona.
If I’m lucky and flying out from Terminal 4, I always make time to have my final meal at Kirei by Kabuki. The kitchen is supervised by the chef Ricardo Sanz of the Kabuki Group which currently has five restaurants and three with a Michelin star. It's entertaining show cooking here, with the chefs making all the food to order in front of the customers. The restaurant serves the Japanese specialities of a sushi bar with classic recipes for nigiris, sashimis and makis, soups and vegetables. Of course, all executed at an exceptionally high standard. The great thing about this place is that there is a takeaway service, so it's perfect for those short on time that want to eat on the plane.
As I take to the air, I dream of a day when my favourite restaurants such as Zuma, Coya, Roka or La Petit Maison are also part of the Madrid restaurant scene. Now, that would up the ante. Until then, it's time to enjoy my takeaway from Kirei by Kabuki.
If you require any help planning your next trip to Madrid, or any other worldwide destination, please don’t hesitate to contact us. The team at A2D are always ready to assist.