14 December 2012
Madrid: Sundown City
The Spanish capital fizzes into action at dusk and keeps on going into the early hours. Discover the best addresses to join in the fun after a siesta at Hotel Ritz.
"Learn to embrace the siesta!" was the excellent advice I received on my last trip to Madrid. One of the liveliest cities in Europe, it continues to buzz long into the night. To have any hope of keeping up you need to pace yourself and sneak a nap in the middle of the day.
Sightseeing, shopping, eating and drinking can all be enjoyed until later than almost anywhere else in Europe and the choice of bars and restaurants is unsurpassed. So join the Madrileños and kick start your action-packed evening by raising a glass.
Speaking Spanish is a huge asset in the multitude of popular bars as most are noisy, bustling places. An exception is El Botanico which somehow escapes a flood of tourists despite being in the shadow of Madrid's most famous museum, the Prado. It is authentic, full of locals and the tables outside provide a relatively quiet place to toast the sundown. For more of a scene and really good cocktails try Bar del Diego which has pared down décor and a celebrity clientele, or the more traditional Bar Cock just two doors down in Calle de la Reina.
Now is the time to reserve your table for dinner. Club 31 might be known to regular visitors to Madrid as it has been regarded as a gem since the 1950s - but be prepared to go again. Without losing its classic stature both the restaurant and the menu have been updated. More unashamedly contemporary, and with something of an urban feel, is Pan de Luj, a favourite with the Madrid style-setters who enjoy the theatricality of the food as well as the floor lights which change colour during the evening.
Two restaurants with terraces that create a positive stampede of bookings from early spring to late autumn are Iroco in one of Madrid's smartest shopping areas, Salamanca, and the Restaurant Goya at the Ritz. Whilst Iroco's tiny outdoor space has a colonial feel, the more generous terrace at the Restaurant Goya is an oasis of candlelit trees and plants in the cultural centre known as 'The Golden Triangle.'
Something DifferentJapanese sushi meets Spanish and Mediterranean style at Kabuki (Avenida Presidente Carmona, 2). Minimalist decor lets you concentrate on the extraordinary culinary combinations.
Madrid's three main art galleries all stay open late - and are an easy walk from The Ritz.
The Ritz anchors the city's three world-renowned museums the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen Bornemiza which are all within easy walking distance from the hotel and can be enjoyed well into the evening. A critically acclaimed extension to the Prado opened in 2007 has given a new reason to visit. There are over 10,000 works in the collection including Titian's Danae and the Shower of Gold, Rubens' The Three Graces and Raphael's The Cardinal. It houses many Spanish works, too, with three rooms dedicated to Goya and a feast of Velasquez masterpieces. The Prado is open until 8pm with the new, smart and efficient café and shop closing a half hour earlier.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia recently expanded into new space designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, providing the museum with airy, glass terraces on which to dawdle and admire the city until 9pm most nights. The museum's jewel is undoubtedly Picasso's Guernica (1937) and the clever, contextualising re-hang deserves attention.
Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza's collection which forms the third point of the triangle is housed in the remodelled 19th-century Palacio de Villahermosa - it too keeps its doors open until 7pm. The museum includes a good collection of 19th-century American art and medieval works from Italy and Germany - though it has to be said the salmon pink walls on which they hang do not find favour with all the critics.
Taking heed of the sage advice to siesta means having a convenient hotel in which to rest. For a central location - not to mention traditional charm and impeccable service - the Ritz is hard to beat. It has its own scene at night with a piano bar and private salons attracting Madrid's elite for lively charity auctions as well as discreet tête-a-têtes. Its position is ideal both for cultural pursuits and two of the city's finest parks - the Retiro and the Botanical Gardens. Both green oases pander to the Madrileño's taste for enjoying life after dark.
Step Outside and Stroll
Come nightfall and the scene hots up as everyone takes to the streets and parks.
The Botanical Gardens, designed by Villaneuva, architect of the neo-classical Prado, are not to be missed. Well-tended, modest, yet with contrastingly grand statuary, they are open at certain times of the year as late as 9pm. In summer they are balmy and scented, in winter crisp in the low sun.
The nearby Retiro Gardens are far more extensive and perfect for an evening stroll - dramatic fountains and lakes add to the feeling of romance. A vast boating pond and the Palacio de Crystal - a striking, 19th-century glass exhibition space - are key points on any route. In summer, when the weather obliges, you can linger in the gardens until midnight.
Evening Star(ck)Madrid shows its cutting edge cool at Ramses, a night spot that's just a short walk from Hotel Ritz at Plaza Independencia, 4. Go for the hip crowd, the eye-popping Philippe Starck decor and the sounds.
Paseo - gently wandering in the evening without a purpose - is a particularly Spanish activity. One of the oldest and most atmospheric parts of Madrid in which to roam is Los Austrias. Stop and sip a cava on the terrace of the Café Oriente in the plaza of the same name and enjoy great views of the royal palace and theatre and, in particular, all the other people walking by.
Shopping in the evening means more time for sightseeing by day. Key addresses that stay open until late are Carrera y Carrera for Spanish jewellery, Loewe for leather goods, the achingly hip men's boutique Gallery, Maison Blanche for stylish homeware and Cacao Sampaka for exquisite handmade chocolates (the gourmet truffles are allegedly favoured by the Spanish royals). With shopping bags bulging join the latest vogue for late-night home-made ice creams and pastries savoured with a beer. Designers Tomas Alia, Roberto Torreta and supermodel Nielves Alvarez have opened the perfect place - Bajo Cero - offering an environment as cool as the ice cream itself.
Madrid is blessed almost daily with the deep electric blue skies that herald beautiful sunsets. Take a trip to the Almudena Cathedral just before sundown and watch the sunset from the dome which is open late every evening to visitors and worshippers alike. I have yet to visit but understand it's quite magical and have saved this experience for my next trip to Europe's city that does not sleep but prefers to take a siesta.
By Camilla Nicholls, a UK-based writer who works for leading publications worldwide
What are your favourite places in Madrid after sunset?