The Getaway: Madrid
Conor Power checks into The Ritz for a very tasty short break in Madrid.
Set the mood
We pop up from Madrid's underground system (the second-largest, incidentally, in all of Europe, after London) at the beguiling semi-circular-shaped square of Puerta del Sol. It takes a moment to fully absorb the bubbling atmosphere.
This is the middle of Spain, the precise point from which all national roads are measured. There's even a "kilometre zero" pavement slab marking the point in front of the ornate post office building (Real Casa de Correos) where huge crowds gather to count down the New Year.
Welcome to the beating heart of a city whose streets are intoxicating at any hour of day or night.
Checking into the Ritz by Belmond on the broad and leafy Plaza Lealtad, next door to the Prado Museum, we walk through a sumptuous and naturally-lit lounge to the fabulously atmospheric bar. And we lose little time in ordering a Daltini cocktail.
Its story? Catalan artist Salvador Dalí inadvertently created a craze when he pricked his thumb on a piece of broken glass, infusing the vodka with a trickle of his blood. Today, the effect is provided by cherry pulp suspended in a Martini/Cointreau/vodka mix.
The Daltini tastes subtle, sweet, round and warm. It's dominated by the vodka and cherry - we feel like we've made intimate contact with a piece of edgy art history in a glass.
The Ritz by Belmond was commissioned just over 100 years ago by the seemingly progressive King Alfonso XIII, who was the last of the Spanish monarchs to live in the incredibly out-sized Royal Palace (Palacio Real). At the height of the Spanish Civil War, it was used as a hospital, but other than that, it has been a haven of luxury and exclusivity.
The Ritz isn't a place to save money, of course. But it is a truly memorable hotel. Don't miss the Goya Restaurant - one of Madrid's (and Spain's) finest, spilling into an absolutely gorgeous enclosed garden terrace during summer months.
We plunge into the infectious world of the movimiento madrileño at El Tigre (eltigre.delsurweb.com) on Calle de las Infantas. This is all about cheap food mixed with raucous company. Nobody stays for more than one drink and the floor is littered with discarded napkins and general detritus. But for under a fiver, you'll have a pint of beer and a huge plate of tapas.
At the Ritz by Belmond, it's room size. In the last 100 years, the standard of five-star luxury has evolved to include super-sized rooms and bang-up-to-date décor as standard. Anyone looking for either might be disappointed in the comfortably-sized rooms and the hotel's abundance of beautiful but slightly faded handmade carpets.
Overall, The Ritz by Belmond offers a dizzyingly sumptuous standard of care and cuisine in surroundings that will transport you to a very beautiful palace in Far-Far-Away Land. Double rooms start at €268 per night with breakfast. ritzmadrid.com
Get me there
Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) fly to Madrid from Dublin. The airport is a one-hour ride on the super-efficient Madrid public transport system into the heart of the city.
Don't leave Madrid without seeing a flamenco show. It's an Andalusian tradition, but you'll find the finest exponents of a visceral blend of sean-nós, cabaret and sulphurous gypsy passion here. Start at Coral de la Moreria (coraldelamoreria.com).