Spain

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Spain

Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I – Explore The Lovely Heart Of Barcelona

Imagine lounging in elegant relaxation and carefree seclusion, knowing you have the vibrant and exciting city of Barcelona to explore right at your doorstep. Imagine returning from a long day of sightseeing, shopping or bar hopping to a fantastically stylish modern suite where your only pressing concern is the walk to the pool. Even better, imagine doing so at a completely unique urban resort that offers the perfect gateway to Spain’s best-loved city. Now, thanks to the brand new Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I – the first Fairmont resort to open its doors in Spain – you can.

Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I

Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I

Set in six acres of lush, mature gardens to the west of the bustling heart of the Catalonian capital, Fairmont Reyjuan Carlos I offers an unparalleled experience that blends sumptuous luxury and breathtaking modern design. Whether you’re looking to pamper yourself with a treatment at Royal Polo Club Fitness & Spa, feed your appetite at one of the resorts many restaurants, or just get an incredible night’s sleep in one of Fairmont’s 432 thoughtfully designed rooms and suites, you’ll be in the ideal place to create amazing holiday memories from the moment you check in. However, it’s not just divine luxury at the beating heart of Barcelona. Fairmont Reyjuan Carlos I also has 24 indoor and outdoor event spaces to cater to your every need, as well as easy access to the Catalonian Convention Centre, which can play host to up to 3,000 guests.

With this perfect mix of business and pleasure, no matter whether you’re working away or just getting away, you’ll be able to kick back and relax in the comfort of a painstakingly designed urban oasis with easy transport links for the city, the airport, and beyond. The perfect balance of peaceful sanctuary and city break bolthole on the doorstep of vibrant, bustling Barcelona, every stay at Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I is a serene and straightforward getaway that gives you the best of worlds.

Barcelona: The Unique Experiences Of A Priceless City

Fundacio Joan Miro – Got your Gaudi fix? Good. (If not, try beautiful Park Guell, pictured.) For even more arty vibes and quirky architecture, make the pilgrimage up Montjuic to the Fundacio Joan Miro. If modem art’s not your schtick, the trip is well worth it for top notch hilltop city views – just take the funicular from Para-lel if you don’t like achy legs.

Censored Barcelona Walking Tour – Forget standard tours, you won’t be taking in anything quaint and belle here. Instead, ducking through the notorious neighbourhood of el Raval, you’ll be shown the sites of the city’s anarchist revolts and despotic history with a nice sprinkling of street art packed in for good measure.

Moloka’i SUP Centre

Moloka’i SUP Centre – Yep, as well as culture and cuisine, Barcelona has hell of a beach – about time you used it. When you’re bored of the Barri, hit the Barceloneta for serious maxing – and the dullest stand up paddleboarding on the Spanish side of the Med. Because not hing beats seeing the sights from the water.

EAT

Boca Grande – SHAKE YOUR TAIL FEATHER: Not content with slapping up the freshest fish in town, this sophisticated eatery tucked between Passeig de Gracia and Diagonal is also home to one of the city’s top cocktail bars. If the hardwood banqueting tables, flaming cocktail garnishes and oyster platters don’t win you over, Barcelona’s most audaciously designed loos probably will.

Cerveceria Catalana – TAPAS TREATS: If you manage to beat the queues to this classic Catalan canteen, you can swing by for salads, tapas and tons of montaditos -that’s tiny slivers of bread topped with prawn skewers, veal sirloin, or whatever else tickles your fancy. Our favourite bites were the squid (andalusian or fritti, we’re not fussy), the cold shell fish salad, and the beers (lots of them). Pop in for a snack and keep on chowing down till you waddle out the door.

Cerveceria Catalana

Cerveceria Catalana

Food Markets – MARKET RESEARCH: For fresh fish, hanging hams and Barca’s spin on tiger-nut horchata, head to La Boqueria, off La Rambla – even try a cooking course if you fancy yourself as a Spanish chef. Alternatively, if you can’t take the tourist hordes and slippy floors, the quieter Mercat de Santa Caterina offers the same, but with a bonus wavy mosaic roof. Four-hour market tour and cookety class.

DRINK

Bobby Gin – HIGH SPIRITS: If we’ve learned one tiling in Barcelona, it’s that Catalans love a G&T. Cue Bobby Gin, where you can slurp bowlfuls of them from an immense menu full of fine gins given a Spanish citrus twist. Our favourite comes infused with mandarin, bitter chamomline and agave nectar. And obviously, where the best drinks go, the tapas follows – Iberian pork? Gin and tonic salmon? Sold.

Sor Rita – KITSCH COOL: So the Barrio Gotica balances cool, dusty heritage with super-luxe hotels, right? Not always. When you head to Sor Rita – the leopard print, stiletto and, er, nun adorned super-kitsch dive bar that sits on the edge of the Gothic Quarter’s warren-like alleys, you’ll feel like you’re walking right into the set of a Pedro Almodovar film. It’s dissident, raunchy and just a little bit weird.

Sor Rita

Sor Rita

Can Cisa/Bar Brutal – BEST BOTTLES: It’s hard to pick a single bar from the bustling alleyways and tree-lined boulevards of El Born, but this cool neighbourhood tavern just about takes it. Unpretentious yet refined. Bar Brutal blends classic bodega and wall-stacked wine bar. The wines – all 300 of them – burst from barrels and bottles are stacked all over the shop in organic, biodynamic glory.

Party in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Party all night, pray all day that you’ll feel normal again. If that’s your gig, and you’re sad the Ibiza season is over, then hop on over to the Canary Islands, where the latest Hard Rock party hotel has just opened. The new property’s set to revamp the island’s nightlife with Children of the ‘80s parties running each weekend, with some of your favourite throwback performers (the Milage People are performing on the opening night, while Corona played in Ibiza this summer).

hard-rock-tenerife

Hard Rock Hotel

Fender guitars and sound systems will be delivered to your room, should you fancy bringing the party back to yours, and after all that you can swing by the spa and treat yourself to a facial, complete with personalised soundtrack (we’ll take Tina Turner’s We Don’t Need Another Hero, please). Frankie says relax, and we couldn’t agree with him more. HOW: Classic Collection offers three nights from £734 including flights, transfers and breakfast. Don’t forget your leg warmers for the Hard Rock Hotel’s weekly disco. It’s the only time you’ll need them, though, as Tenerife has a pretty pleasant climate all year round.

Canary Islands: Enjoy The Best Spain Has To Offer

Spain’s Canary Islands are among the most sought after holiday destinations in the world with people from all over the globe visiting every year. Tenerife is the most popular of the islands, with impressive hotels situated all over the island, hundreds of bars creating fantastic nightlife, and world class beaches. However, there are plenty of other things to do on the island; attractions that will leave you with memorable moments on your next trip to Tenerife.

Golf Del Sur is popular with the older generation, and snowbirds often come here to settle in their retirement. Its a peaceful location with stunning views and hotels as well as a spectacular golf course that is perfectly situated and surrounded by breathtaking landscape. Designed by Pepe Gancedo, who is considered the “Picasso” of his field, its one of the most peaceful golf courses you will ever play on!

Golf Del Sur

Golf Del Sur

Teide National Park is the spot to learn about the Tenerife culture. There are daily tours taking people on a wonderful day out to see the sights, including the islands historic volcano. Mount Teide, the true foundation of Tenerife, created the “gray sand” beaches.

Playa de las Americas is the heart of Tenerife, and offers cabaret shows, famous tributes, comedians, and hypnotists, all providing you with a great night out. You will also find some of the best shops on the island in Americas, where everything is completely authentic, as no fake items are allowed in the center. Adeje also has a selection of night spots, including some of the best cocktail bars on the island. Many of these are situated directly on the coast, right next to the beach, so you can enjoy the view while you have the time of your life.

Siam Park has been rated the best water park in Europe and one of the ten best in the world. There is an enormous wave pool that everyone loves to cool down in. Relax by the wave pool on the man-made beach and then go round the park seeing all of the different water flumes, including the famous Lazy River. Grab a rubber ring and float around the river while soaking up the sunshine. If you are feeling invincible, have a go on the Tower of Power, one of the largest water flumes in the world with an almost vertical drop. Only the bravest have what it takes to slide down it!

Siam Park

Siam Park

Tenerife is truly one of the most spectacular and adventure-filled islands in the world. If you’re looking for a fun, exciting holiday in the sun, book a flight to Tenerife. Stay in Playa de las Americas or Costa Adeje to make the most of your holiday. If you’re looking for a cheap and peaceful holiday, then Puerto de la Cruz might be a better option. Nonetheless have a good time!

The Most Exquisite Classic Cocktail Bars Around The World

69 COLEBROOKE ROW, LONDON – With its unmarked side-street door, white-jacketed bartenders, jazz pianist and party vibe, this legendary spot is like tripping back to Fifties London. Even in the afternoon, the small, black-and-white, retro-designed room is buzzing with cocktail lov69-COLEBROOKE-ROWers. The candlelit tables are so crowded with exquisite drinks there’s barely room for the olives and mini saucisson.

Every one is innovative, including the Manhattan Steel Corp, made with maraschino liqueur and dry essence (a distillate concentrate of macerated grape seeds).

Almost too beautiful to drink, each is the creation of owner and mixologist Tony Conigliaro and his team at the Drink Factory. New comers are often surprised by their simplicity, but every cocktail is cutting edge and the changing menu has gained a cult following.

LITTLE RED DOOR, PARIS – Come here for a nightcap or five – it’s open until 3am on Saturdays – after bar-hopping around the Marais. It’s a laid-back spot with love-seat sofas, dimly lit corners and round-back chairs upholstered in a mish-mash of colourful fabrics. But to be in the thick of things, take a velvet-covered pew at the bar, where barmen with impressively high pours are dressed in denim shirts, dickie bows and aprons printed with flowers and butterflies. Bottom line: they’re having fun and the atmosphere here is super-friendly as a result. The Bartender’s Board Special changes fortnightly; original concoctions include The Hedgewitch, made with Amontillado sherry, Kamm and Sons botanical spirit, whiskey, blackberry liqueur and honey, garnished with a dehydrated blackberry. It’s a tribute to the mixologist’s mother’s favourite tipple.

LOS GALGOS, BUENOS AIRES – One of the city’s wonderful traditional bars, untouched for decades, the original Los Galgos closed its doors in 2015. But thanks to a rescue mission instigated by the savvy team behind the famous 878 bar in hip Palermo, an important slice of Buenos Aires’ Thirties history has been saved. Features such as French oak boiserie and beaten-up encaustic floor tiles keep the essence of the old Asturian tapas bar alive. And, given their taste both for nostalgia and a stiff drink, portenos have ensured that the relaunch has been an enormous success. It’s open all day, so start with a mid-morning cortado and come back for a vermouth and soda. But the cocktail that stands the test of time is the Negroni. One too many? Rib-eye seared medium-rare on the wood-burning grill will do the trick.

Los Galgos, Buenos Aires

Los Galgos, Buenos Aires

SALON DE NING, NEW YORK – Ah, the myth of Fifth. Not the most poetically named of avenues. Nor, these days, the prettiest. And yet – enchanted. Especially when seen from up high. Take the express lift, therefore, from the lobby of The Peninsula, at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, to Salon de Ning, the hotel’s elegantly east-meets-west-styled rooftop bar. Stand as close to the edge of the terrace your sense of vertigo allows. Cast your gaze up and down the street, which suddenly seems endless, seething with life and energy, and submit to sheer skyscraper hoodoo. Then take a seat or a day bed, recline into its plump silky cushions and raise a glass of something chilled and exotic – the house riffs on classic cocktails are unfailingly catchy – to what may still be the greatest city on earth.

DRY MARTINI, BARCELONA – Just as Ferran Adria was the wunderkind of the Spanish restaurant scene in the 1990s, the debonair Javier de las Muelas was its cocktail-bar impresario. He first shimmied his way into the spotlight in 1978 with the opening of emblematic Dry Martini. Almost 40 years later, he’s still going strong. How grown-up it feels to be in his gloriously old-fashioned world of polished-teak-panelled walls, racing-green leather armchairs and marble bar tops trimmed with gold. So cultish is its appeal there are now outposts from London to Singapore. But you really can’t beat the original joint, which hawks 100 variations of the classic Martini, as well as some of De las Muelas’ more outre inventions, such as The Pipe – a lethal concoction of Glenmorangie and Lagavulin whiskies, absinthe, spice droplets and smoke. Salut!

la-palma-spain

La Palma, Spain

The Canaries aren’t all about beaches, you know – let’s explore wild volcano trails, starry skies and a colourful capital on the lush island of La Palma

Sat in a cobbled square, shaded by a scarlet-blossomed flamboyant (Delonix regia) tree, an old man quietly hand-rolled cigars as soulful notes from a busking guitarist threaded the balmy air. Around the corner, the sound of Spanish chatter emerged from a cocktail bar in a 300-year-old merchant’s house. I settled at a sidewalktable and sipped a mojito, gazing past locals promenading along the seawall to the turquoise ocean.

Havana? No – Santa Cruz, enchanting capital of little La Palma. The north-western most Canary Island is part of Spain, sure, but its soul is more complex. The original inhabitants, called Guanches by the invading Spaniards but known to themselves as Benahoarites, left their mark in petroglyphs, cave burials and the taste of toasted gofio (a flour made from roasted grains). Centuries later, waves of emigrants, fleeing hard times on La Palma, settled in Cuba and Venezuela, forging Caribbean ties that remain palpable in the island’s cuisine, rum, tobacco-growing and easy pace of life.

While the old mansions and whitewashed Renaissance churches of Santa Cruz might be all that cruise-ship passengers see on a fleeting visit, there’s much more to La Palma. From black-sand beaches in the west to the stark lava fields and cones of the far south, and the vast Caldera de Taburiente dominating the island’s centre, its volcanic past has created a rugged landscape, far more verdant than other islands in the Canaries.

La Palma is famed not just for its tobacco crops but also malvasia vines producing fine whites (formerly known as malmsey), reputedly favoured by Shakespeare. That’s not the only taste sensation to seek out; there’s fabulous fish and seafood, juicy figs and bananas, terrific goats’ cheeses and pan-Canarian favourite papas arrugadas (‘wrinkly potatoes’), here served with piquant mojo Palmero (hot chilli-and-garlic sauce).

avenida-maritima

Colourful Houses in Avenida Maritima

Don’t worry about the calories. La Palma is laced with some 1,000km of well-waymarked and signposted footpaths, offering opportunities for burning off feasts on hilly hikes-this is, they say, the world’s steepest island. Trails mount volcanic craters, dense forests of Canarian pines and lush rainforested gorges. The central south was hit by forest fires in August, and a few trails remain closed to allow regeneration and path restoration, but most of the island is again open for business.

Despite the wonderful variety in such a compact package – nowhere’s more than an hour’s drive away – foot traffic remains fairly sparse. It’s popular with German and Spanish visitors but, for the most part, Brits are still to discover the joys of hiking on La Palma. Not for long: direct flights from London launched in October, making this an ideal short-break winter-sun destination. Take a stroll on its terrific trails and you’ll quickly discover why the Spanish call it La Isla Bonita: ‘The Pretty Island’.

Explore The Greatness Of Spanish Outdoors

Join guide Leticia Prieto on Back-Roads Touring’s Highlights of Northern Spain trip. Wander medieval villages in the Spanish Pyrenees, wind along sections of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and be baffled by the pieces at Salvador Dali’s old house in Pott Lligat. Then there’s the cuisine: slip into La Rioja’s deep-rooted wine culture and devour Basque Country pintxos by the dozen.

When: Tbc How long: 9 days

How much: £1,710 (2016 price, 2017 tbc, exd flights)

Barcelona To Rome: Get A Taste Of European Romance

Aromatic roundels of chalky, ripe goat’s cheese adorned with lavender petals and spiky herbs, and arranged by size so they look like a tiny drum kit, catch my eye at the farmers’ market in Place Richelme, a plane-tree covered square in the impossibly pretty town of Aix-en-Provence. .Against a backdrop of faded ochre buildings, two sturdy matrons do a brisk trade selling red peppers, aubergines and asparagus tied in neat bundles. Temptation gets the better of me when I spy the straw’ baskets full of Calissons d’Aix candies. That we are on a food-focused excursion is no surprise: Oceania is the self-billed foodie cruise line (and claims to spend more on dining per guest than any other cruise company) and a real magnet for gourmets.

La-Sagrada-Familia-Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

During the 12-day voyage on board Sirena, the 684-passenger ship which launched this year, there are plenty of other spots that are ripe for sampling the best of local produce. In Monte Carlo, one of a clutch of ports we call at along the Cote d’Azur, I savour a menu formule lunch at the Quai des Artistes bistro, which overlooks the mega-yachts jostling for space in the harbour (salade nigoise, sirloin steak with shallots and Parisian flan is a snip at €22). The following day, bathed in sunshine, we drop anchor off Saint Tropez and, charmed by the sand-strewn floor at L’Escale; I splash out on snowy-white burrata and a superb asparagus and prawn risotto, washed down by a couple of glasses of chilled kir. There’s a very real French connection with Oceania, thanks to executive culinary director Jacques Pepin, a former personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle.

Sirena’s formal Grand Dining Room transforms into the Jacques Bistro at lunch where traditional French fare includes snails in garlic butter, herb-crusted free-range chicken and tarte tatin. ShouStedentrip-Rome-The-Eternal-City-in-Italyld taste buds be craving something less buttery, more spicy, there is also Asian restaurant Red Ginger and, on this ship only, the new Tuscan Steak (inspired by the much-loved Toscana and Polo Grill restaurants on board sister vessels) where guests can tuck into Italian favourites such as hand-rolled potato gnocchi with langoustines; as well as lobster fra diavolo with chilli peppers and tomatoes.

To atone for the excesses of too many button-bursting meals, you can book in for a detoxifying ritual at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Evenings are spent at Martinis bar, an effortlessly welcoming spot with winged-back chairs and a grand piano which comes into its own at cocktail hour as ‘Sirena Blue’ cocktails (Absolut vodka, blue curagao, elderflower syrup, pineapple juice and lemon) are shaken to the swinging sounds of the Rat Pack. “That’s Amore’ might have been an Italian smash hit but I couldn’t have loved this taste of France more.

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Spain from the Source

Spain has a remarkably varied food heritage, but its cooks snare a passion for seasonality and local produce – we bring you four authentic recipes that each embody a region’s cuisine

To a casual observer, there might seem something of a disconnect between the outward face of Spanish gastronomy – the futuristic revolution curated by El Bulli’s Ferran Adrià and his ardent, blue-sky disciples – and the largely unchanged way in which the ordinary Spaniard shops, cooks and eats. The countless dishes that can be traced back to the pastoral tradition of carrying bread, oil, vinegar and garlic as sustenance on the long days and weeks of driving sheep to pastures new; the citrus fruits, saffron, cumin and almonds that came with the Moorish invasion; and the fascination with the tomatoes, peppers, corn and potatoes that arrived from the New World in the 16th-century Columbian Exchange. These were the great seismic shifts in Spanish home-cooking, not the advent of foams, freeze-drying and cooking sous-vide.

Change is afoot, yes, but only insofar as it builds on the love and respect for what has gone before. Phrases such as ‘slow food’ and ‘food miles’ are all but redundant here, where the ready meal is an unknown concept and produce is only available for as long as it is in season. Almost every town has its weekly market, where herbs are sold in bouquets, where rice and flour come in hessian sacks, where your cut of meat is sliced from the animal before your eyes, where potatoes are muddy and apples misshapen, where chickens have heads.

The rituals, too, continue to be sacred. Families come together on Sundays for animated afternoons centred around paella. An intrinsic part of any neighbourhood fiesta is the setting up of long trestle tables for communally cooked and eaten dinners that go on late into the night. The matanza, the annual slaughtering of pigs, followed by days of feasting, is still a reality in hundreds of Spanish villages and towns.

It is exactly these deeply entrenched traditions that provide the springboard for what is happening in restaurant kitchens around the country. Something I hear over and over is: ‘What we’re aiming to do is resurrect old recipes, but bring them into the present day.’ Some of the recipes here reflect that philosophy, in which the spirits of long-passed grandmothers (and it is always grandmothers) provide the guiding hand at the stove, and inform the fundamental combinations and techniques at the heart of every innovation. You’ll find dishes that have passed down through generations of a chef s family, but in his or her hands are given a twist. We’re not pretending these recipes are simple, but with a little dedication these are creations set to impress at a dinner party.

Of course you’ll also find good, honest peasant food, of a type that anyone could make with whatever happens to be in the larder – which is exactly the attitude with which it is approached in Spain.

Madrid By Foot: A Free Spanish Museum

Once known mainly for its museums and palaces, Madrid’s cityscape is changing. Madrid is working hard to make itself more livable, and the lively city of today has enough street-singing, bar-hopping, and people watching vitality to give any visitor a boost of youth. Massive urban-improvement projects such as pedestrianized streets, parks, commuter lines, and Metro stations are transforming Madrid. The investment is making once-dodgy neighborhoods safe and turning ramshackle zones into trendy ones. The broken concrete and traffic chaos of the not-so-distant past are gone.

Today’s Madrid feels orderly while remaining upbeat and vibrant-get ready to dive headlong into its grandeur and intimate charm. Madrid’s historic center is pedestrian-friendly and filled with spacious squares, a trendy market, bulls’ heads in a bar, and a cookie-dispensing convent.

A wonderful chain of pedestrian streets madridcrosses the city east to west, from the Prado to Plaza Mayor (along Calle de las Huertas) and from Puerto del Sol to the Royal Palace (on Calle del Arenal). Madrilenos have a passion for shopping, and most shoppers focus on the colorful area around Gran Via and Puerto del Sol.

Here’s the spot to pick up some mantones (typical Spanish shawls), castanuelas (castanets), and peinetas (hair combs) for the folks back home. The fanciest big-name shops (Gucci, Prada, and the like) tempt strollers along Calle Serrano.

For an interesting Sunday, start at Plaza Mayor, where Europe’s biggest stamp and coin market thrives. Enjoy this genteel delight among old-timers paging lovingly through each other’s albums, looking for win-win trades. Then take a green and breezy escape from the city at Madrid’s main park, Retiro Park, which becomes a carnival of fun on weekends with splendid picnicking, row boating, and people-watching.

Save some energy for after dark, when Madrilenos pack the streets for an evening paseo. The paseo is a strong tradition in this culture —people of all generations enjoy being out, together, strolling. Even past midnight on a hot summer night, entire families with little kids are licking ice cream, greeting their neighbors, and enjoying little beers and tapas in a series of bars. Join the fun-anyone is welcome.

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

The historic center is enjoyably covered on foot. No major sight is more than a 20-minute walk from Madrid’s lively main square, the Puerto del Sol—the pulsing heart of modern Madrid and of Spain itself. It’s a hub for the Metro, commuter trains, revelers, pickpockets, and performers dressed as Spanish cartoon characters. (Spanish parents love to pay for their kids to get a photo with their favorite TV heroes.) The Puerto del Sol is a prime example of a spot that changed from a traffic nightmare to an inviting people zone. Nearly traffic-free, it’s a popular site for political demonstrations. Don’t be surprised if you come across a large, peaceful protest here. And just as in New York’s Times Square, crowds gather here on New Year’s Eve, cheering as Spain’s “Big Ben” atop the governor’s office chimes 12 times.

From Puerto del Sol, you can easily do a blitz tour of three major sights. Within a 15-minute walk you can visit one of Europe’s greatest palaces (the lavish Royal Palace), the ultimate town square (Plaza Mayor), and my favorite collection of paintings under any single roof in Europe (the Prado Museum). Start with the Royal Palace, which rivals Versailles with its gilded rooms and frescoed ceilings. It’s big – more than 2,000 rooms, with tons of luxurious tapestries, a king’s ransom of chandeliers, priceless porcelain, and bronze decor covered in gold leaf While these days the royal family lives in a mansion a few miles away, the palace is still used for formal state receptions, royal weddings, and tourists’ daydreams.

One highlight is the throne room, where red velvet walls, lions, and frescoes of Spanish scenes symbolize the monarchy in a Rococo riot. Another eye-stopper is the dining hall, where the king can entertain as many as 144 guests at a bowling lane-size table. The ceiling fresco depicts Christopher Columbus kneeling before Ferdinand and Isabel, presenting exotic souvenirs and his New World “friends” to the royal couple.

The next stop is Plaza Mayor—a stately, traffic-free chunk of 1 7th-century Spain. In early modern times, this was Madrid’s main square. It is enclosed by three-story buildings with symmetrical windows, balconies, slate roofs, and steepled towers. Each side of the square is uniform, as if a grand palace were turned inside-out. This distinct “look” pioneered by architect Juan de Herrera is found all over Madrid. Day or night, Plaza Mayor is a colorful place to enjoy an affordable cup of coffee or overpriced food.

Puerto del Sol

Puerto del Sol

An equestrian statue honors Philip III, who transformed an old marketplace here into a Baroque plaza in 1619. Bronze reliefs under the lampposts detail the Spanish history that played out upon this stage. The square once hosted bullfights and was the scene of generations of pre-Lent carnival gaiety. During the Inquisition, many suspected heretics were tried here and punished by being strangled or burned at the stake. Thankfully, those brutal events are long gone. The last stop on our tour is the Prado Museum, which holds one of my favorite collections of paintings anywhere. With more than 3,000 canvases, including entire rooms of masterpieces by superstar painters, the museum gives an eye-pleasing overview of Spain’s rich history, from its Golden Age through its slow fade.

The Prado is the place to enjoy the great Spanish painter Francisco de Goya. You can follow this complex man through the stages of his life—from dutiful court painter, to political rebel and scandal-maker, to the disillusioned genius of his “black paintings.” It’s also the home of Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas, considered by some to be the world’s finest painting, period. In addition to Spanish works, you’ll find paintings by Italian and Flemish masters, including Hieronymus Bosch’s fantastical Garden of Earthly Delights altarpiece. As you walk back to Puerto del Sol, reflect on this bustling capital-home to more than four million people. Despite economic uncertainty, today’s Madrid is energetic. Even the living-statue street performers have a twinkle in their eyes. After every trip to this exciting city, the impression I take home is that of a thriving people with an enduring culture.