Madrid Restaurants and Shopping

While seeing a Verdi opera at the Teatro Real or Picasso’s famed Guernica are two ways to experience art in Madrid, the city’s chefs also elevate new cuisine to an art form—or some might even say a science. Inside Madrid’s eclectic restaurants, like El Chaflan, DiverXo, or Coque, culinary alchemists mix flavors in new and inventive ways that inspire all of the senses. Similarly, a crop of stylish new gastrobars, like Estado Puro and Le Cabrera, are putting a fresh spin on traditional specialties.

Just north of Madrid’s historic center, the renovated Salamanca district is the place to go for high-end fashion streets like Serrano and Goya. Locals call this strip the “Golden Mile” for its ultra-glamorous shops and luxury boutiques carrying top Spanish and international designers, including Adolfo Dominguez, Amaya Arzuaga, Prada, and Manolo Blahnik. It’s also the neighborhood for upmarket jewelers, like Suarez, Tiffany & Co., and Bulgari.

Art in Madrid Spain

Few cities can rival Madrid’s renowned Paseo del Arte, or “Golden Triangle of Art,” formed by three of the most important art museums in the world located about 10 minutes apart. The three major stops include: The Prado, a magnificent bastion housing classics from Velazquez, Goya, El Greco, and others; the Reina Sofia National Museum showcasing contemporary icons, such as Picasso and Miro; and the wonderful Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum featuring Gothic and Renaissance pieces. Along the Art Walk, there are also radar-worthy smaller galleries, cutting-edge foundations, and cultural institutes, including Matadero Madrid and CaixaForum, which is hosting “Federico Fellini: Circus of Illusions” until December 26.

Madrid, Spain Top Pick – Hostal Madrid

Madrid is the capital of Spain and a city of over 3 million people.   Situated close to the geographic center of Spain, Madrid’s main attractions include three internationally acclaimed art galleries, a royal palace, grand public squares, and many museums filled with treasures of Spain’s history.  The city is surrounded by it’s own small province, the Comunidad de Madrid.  One of Spain’s most famous monuments, the palace of El Escorial, is also located in the Comunidad.

Stretching from the charming Plaza de la Villa to the busy Puerta del Sol, the compact heart of Old Madrid is easily navigated on foot.  Old Madrid is full of history and interesting sights.  Trials of the Inquisition and executions were once held in the Plaza Mayor.  This porticoed square is Madrid’s finest piece of architecture from the Habsburg period.

Sampling tapas and cocktails are an intrinsic part of Madrid culture.  Restaurants rarely open earlier than 8pm, and are typically open into the early morning hours.  One of the best ways to sample tapas in a unique lively environment is to sit at one of the stalls in the Mercado de San Miguel, which is half-market, half bar & restuarant.

For lodging in Madrid, our top pick is Hostal Madrid.  This apartment/hotel is an excellent place to stay if you are visiting Madrid for a few days or for longer periods. Situated in “Old Madrid”, one of two main historic districts in the central city, the location is excellent. Walking distance to some of Madrid’s most important attractions in the Old Town, one can easily reach the Palacio Real and the Plaza Mayor, within about 10 or 15 minutes.  Hostal Madrid is closest to the Puerta del Sol, one of the city’s liveliest areas with shops and cafes.

San Sebastian Top Pick – Pension Joakina

San Sebastian is a city where the sea converses with the mountains, history with modernity, culture with humankind, and flavors with textures. It’s a big open-air contemporary museum, with the best of exhibition halls – La Concha Bay, which hugs the Cantabrian Sea in its outstretched arms: a gesture reminiscent of the friendly welcome with which its people greet visitors.

Our top pick for lodging in San Sebastian (Donostia) is Pension Joakina, an apartment right in the heart of the city.  The location is excellent, within walking distance to the old town, where many of the best restaurants and tourist attractions are.  If you are so inclined, Pension Joakina will make arrangements for a traditional Basque dinner in a “sociedad gastronomica”, a typical Basque private club where only men can cook.

In San Sebastian you get a taste of the sea and of culture; but its best taste, the one which has made it world-famous with names as international as those of Arzak, Berasategui and Subijana, is that of its food. The world capital of the “pintxo”, San Sebastian is the Spanish city with the highest number of Michelin stars per square meter. Gastronomy is an art and a pleasure that can be tasted in the city’s many bars and restaurants, where the freshly-cooked food will make your mouth water.

San Sebastian throbs with an intense cultural life that goes far beyond its international festivals such as the International Film Festival and Jazzaldia – International Jazz Festival, and has motivated the City to enter the European Capital of Culture 2016 program. San Sebastian is a city that’s constantly reinventing itself, with ceaseless cultural activity that extends into all spheres of creativity, from contemporary art to urban culture. The diverse museums and the urban sculptures alone are a good excuse for visiting it.

Hostal del Cardenal is the place to stay in Toledo, Spain

Picturesquely sited on a hill above the River Tagus is the historic centre of Toledo. Behind the old walls lies much evidence of the city’s rich history. The Romans built a fortress on the site of the present-day Alcazar. The Visigoths made Toledo their capital in the 6th century AD, and left behind several churches. In the Middle Ages, Toledo was a melting pot of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures, and it was during this period that the city’s most outstanding monument – its cathedral – was built. In the 16th century the painter El Greco came to live in Toledo, and today the city is home to many of his works.


In 1085, when Alfonso VI of Castile took Toledo from the Moors, the entire walled expanse near the old Bisagra Gate came under the control of the first Cardinal of Toledo after the Reconquista.  His name was Bernard of Cluny.  Having been a walled city (7th C. King Wamha), the city has various Gothic and Roman gateways and bridges including the gateway of the Sun (Mudejar), the Cambron, the Valmardon, and the Bisagra gates.

Over the succeeding centuries the walls lost their defensive nature and it became a recreational estate for the Cardinals. Towards the end of the 18th century, Cardinal Lorenzana constructed a pavilion overlooking the garden, which, after its restoration, is now known as the Hostal del Cardenal.  This is our hotel pick in Toledo.  The Hostal del Cardenal is a 3 star hotel with excellent access to the medieval historic old town, and top-notch amenities.


Don Francisco Antonio de Lorenzana y Buitron, a strict guardian of ecclesiastic discipline, a man of piety, culture, firm character and an independent thinker, after becoming the dean of the cathedral, was named Archbishop of Plasencia (1756) and Archbishop of Mexico in 1766, where he would demonstrate his enlightened and philanthropic nature. In 1772, he was named Archbishop of Toledo, becoming a Cardinal in 1779 and eventually the Grand Inquisitor of the Kingdom.


The singular feature of the edifice is the pentagonal tower that the cardinal used as an open air oratory, saying his vespers by the light of the twilight sun, setting on Toledo’s low plains.  The façade is a harmonious blend of Castillian masonry and lintels of unpolished granite, with wooden struts and bases.  Walking through a pathway of kiln-fired floor tiles, we enter the El Greco dining room, adorned with faux plaster lintels inspired by Moorish tracery and a 16th century polychrome coffered ceiling


A stairway whose railing dates from the 16th century leads to the upper flow where a replica of El Greco’s ‘Storm over Toledo’ hangs in the anteroom of a neo-classical social hall. Two cordovan leather armchairs huddle around a central fireplace in the middle of the irregularly shaped room decorated with etchings from the National Printing Office.

The lush gardens, a replica of the Generalife gardens of the Alhambra, boasts fountains that flow into long pools with cypress trees on either side. At the bottom of the stepped garden, past the century-old white mulberry trees and the privet bushes is a building in the Mudejar-Castillian style of St. James Church in Toledo, which houses the restaurant.

Great Stays in Eixample, Barcelona

Barcelona has one of the greatest collections of Art Nouveau buildings of any city in Europe, and more of this style of architecture than any city in the world.  The style, known in Catalonia as Modernisme, flourished after 1854.  This was when the city decided to dismantle the medieval city walls to make room for development.  This was previously a military construction-free zone.

Eixample is one of three great historic districts in central Barcelona, getting its name from the “expansion” that occurred in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  The plan called for a rigid system of grid-aligned streets.  At each intersection, the corners were chamfered to allow buildings to overlook squares.  One of the great exceptions to this grid system was the “Diagonal”, a main avenue running from the aristocratic area of Pedralbes down to the harbor.  Another exception was the diagonal Avenguda de Gaudi, which runs diagonally from the Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau towards Antoni Gaudi’s church of the Sagrada Familia.  This church is Barcelona’s most celebrated Modernista building.  Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece was begun in 1882.  It rises above the streets of Eixample.  The polychromatic ceramic mosaics and sculptural forms inspired by nature are typical of Antoni Gaudi’s work, from which the term “gaudy” is derived.

For an economical stay in Eixample try our pick, Travessera de Gracia Rooms, located at Travessera De Gracia, 366-1.  This apartment/hostel offers easy access to all the main attractions in downtown Barcelona.  Its location is excellent and convenient.  This apartment is walking distance to Barcelona’s most important monuments and buildings in the Eixample, only 5 minutes walk from the Sagrada Familia.  Good restaurants are found nearby at Avinguda de Gaudi, only 4 blocks away.  While one can also walk less than 2 miles to Barcelona’s Old Town, where the world famous Las Ramblas is found, it is also conveniently reached by taxi, bus, or metro.  Las Ramblas is Spain’s most famous street.  The third district with much interest to tourists is Montjuic, best reached from Eixample by public transportation.