MADRID: TAPAS AND PALACES

May 7, 2010 in Spain | Comments (106)

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FRIDAY 7 MAY

Westin Palace Madrid 4.30 pm

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Westin Palace cupola - a magical place

Under the domed glass roof of The Palace. Commissioned as a “royal palace for visitors”, it trails glory and extravagance from yesteryear. Now it is Westin Palace Madrid, a jewel in the Starwood and Westin crown. Truly royal, apart from the eager customers at reception hoping for upgrade based on loyalty. In those days you didn’t upgrade so easily to this.

In front of me as I write, a woman poses for a photo, and demonstrates that The Palace is a landmark or even a destinatsion in its own right. In the middle of La  Rotunda restaurant, under  the centre of a stained glass cupola, she sits on a circular bench facing outwards, to the circle of classic columns that hold the glass dome up like a temple to Art Nouveau.

The lobby leads up steps  towards this “holy” space, harking back to Royal times, with inlaid marble floors, glittering chandeliers,huge tapestries  and inlays of patterned glass. Sitting in the Westin Palace lobby is an experience in itself, watching not just overnight guests but society belles of Madrid come and go.

Spanish high society comes here for weddings, debutante balls or whatever needs exquisite romantic surroundings and international service. Like flipping through a Vogue catalogue we saw  girl after girl walk past in killer heels, long glossy legs and bare arms, attired in rich colours, glossy satins and sometimes strapless mini evening dresses, bare shoulders gleaming with young skin.

Apart from the Rotunda restaurant, public spaces include the cosy Asian Gallery restaurant , a traditionally dark bar lounge serving tapas, a stylish business centre, and a gym. The Asian restaurant was a good choice for a late arrival to Madrid last night – thus avoiding cutting evening winds outside. Attracting people from the city with its cosy Oriental ambience and food, it offers quite reasonably priced dishes, main courses from around 15 eur, some starters for 7 eur. Bamboo shoots and brown mushrooms was a bit boring, but shrimp rolls (starter) very nice.

Obviously since the days it was created to serve kings it has been renovated to create more uniform size bedrooms (468 rooms and suites).  But the feel of those days is sacred – not just because it is a good business idea. This building is protected by law as a cultural treasure. The spa for example has been a long time coming because of regulations (now planned for 2012).

All over the place is antique furniture from those palatial days, or copies in the same style.

Our newly renovated room (Executive room) on the 5th floor gives an inviting olde-world feel in warm and sandy beige, with a combination of striped wallpaper and medallion fabric on head board and surrounding wall , along with old prints, and a few items of classic furniture. Of course, as the Westin brochure will tell you it has a heavenly bed (with trademark), not forgetting a delicious marble bathroom in the same warm beige with toilet and bidet (hand shower and overhead shower on bath).

 

We were shown a few more rooms by Isabella (senior international sales manager). Premium with view (30?) were very desirable  – especially because of The View and two chairs and table in the bay window. Most overlook the Fuente de Neptuno, a generously gushing fountain in the middle of a traffic circle that still bears the grand name of Pl Canovas del Castillo.  A table and couple of chairs in the bay window have the pleasure of that view.

Then if you need more room and can afford it ( c. 3000 eur/night) you can upgrade yourself to an executive suite (c. 180sqm  – also with a view but perhaps not of Neptune). Some features include separate shower, dressing room, office, lounge/dining room. Then with a Royal Suite you really go palatial with original furniture and effects. Nowadays it is celebrities  and ambassadors who stay in the Royal Suite – there are more of them than there are kings – but is fine enough for a king too. Very traditional, the Royal Suite has a master bedroom with drapes, lounge, separate dining room gleaming with black and gold, library with beautifully bound books, and a few modern things like Jacuzzi bathub, separate steam shower and a kitchenette.  That is for the butler of course – unless you are a celebrity chef.

There are two room types below our Exec room which we did not see.

HOSPES MADRID

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Afternoon.

We had lunch today at Hospes Madrid, on Pl. de la Independencia.  Fine buildings surround the traffic circle and on the traffic island in the middle is a big ornate arch. Not yet sure who they were independent from – was it from the Ottoman Empire? The only information I can find is that the arch in the middle was once the gate into Madrid and is called Puerto de Alcala; it was ordered by Carlos III because he thought that the previous gate was not fine enough.  The Puerta de Alcalá that we know today was completed in 1769.

The Hospes  hotel restaurant (called as in all Hospes hotels Senzone) is intimate and paneled in dark wood, with a view out through French balconies of the “square” (round).  A special Spanish style lunch had been prepared for us, and served with easy and leisurely pace along with friendly personal attention, over a period of more than an hour. Pelle reported that the Spanish style beef dish was superb – braised (I guess) topside (I guess) which in its succulent darkness just feell apart.

The Hospes Madrid lies close to Buen Retiro park – a huge green area comprising some 100 or so city blocks – guests can order a hamper for a picnic lunch in the green park with its romantic lake, stylishly clipped bushes and tall leafy trees plus a multitude of pathways (round what would have been city blocks). I imagine in the old days the elite rode around savouring neatly nurtured nature in horse and carriage.

Talking to Hospes Madrid’s front desk (Alvaro) armed with a map and a pen we discovered: It is also close to a big attraction: the posh area of designer shops north of the park.  It is also close to ( c. 10 minute walk) the Prado and its fabulous Renaissance  art collection (walking south), or walking west  the entertainment area  (Madrid’s Broadway), the gay area and the heavy metal area.  It is a little further to the traditional area where the tourists usually go, with its tapas bars and sights of old Madrid.

The hotel is built in a fine residential block, so it is very much part of old Madrid. We were greeted by the GM Maria Ripoll – redolent of the charming hands-on feel for which the hotel is known. Only 40 rooms, the Hospes is very personal and very pleasant, full of cosy corners, angles, stairs and surprises. There is a terrace eating or sitting area encircled by walls, and a couple of cosy lounge areas, a spa, fragrant with delicious incense, tiny gym.

We saw a Junior Suite with view (four of them have views out of a total of seven Junior Suites). Downstairs is a lounge with white furniture. Upstairs is a really charming attic bedroom with dark beams contrasting with bright white walls. Space is tight and used to the utmost … inventive, cosý, charming.  The bath on the landing is in full view of the bed, and there is a separate shower and toilet.

The deluxe room (like the standard room but with view) number 103 had a French  balcony, I  noted. Diego, the sales manager who showed me the room, corrected me with a smile. “No not a French balcony – a Spanish balcony”, he interjected. (In other words not a real balcony, but a balcony railing enables you to open the doors  and stand in the breeze admiring the view). Nice marble bathroom with shower (no bath tub).

It is now 1855 hours. It’s been raining and thundering. We sit in eternal afternoon under the cupola at The Palace with areas of transparent glass that show the brightness of what might be sun returning. Longing to go out and explore…

20.30

Now we sit at Westin  in El Bar del Palace.

A man trails sound around us from his clarinet. A girl in a very short black dress displays smooth brown legs in killer heels – silver and black. She is one of four Spanish girls living it up with a sortie to The Palace. They present a  classic sight.

The Leg

The high Heel

The slender Ankle

The Shine

The Youth

The Body creating angles that speak about love that might be and dreams that might take shape. A man joins them and his smile is so vivid you see he is charmed…

Nice thing about Westin, it is placed between two worlds of  Madrid. Like an island, taking up its own small city block, it looks over the enchanting Neptune sculpture and fountain. This belongs to grand, majestic,  Imperial Madrid with its avenues sweeping through, its treelined boulevards, eruptions of art in sculptures adorned with angels and other myths or certainties. It’s a clean and open Madrid. A splendid triumphant Madrid that ruled an empire.

Within a few steps up the hill from The Palace the old Madrid closes in. Intricate wrought iron railings, narrower streets, atmosphere  and signs distinctly foreign.  As you get higher the tapas bars increase. There is a square Plaza Santa Ana with open air cafes  – then more tapas bars and now a bit more decrepit, a bit less smooth. Next square has a Two star hotel. Turn right – very cheap cafes and No-star hotels. Around the large square and Puera del Sol metro there are swarms of people (always there I was told) – a general darkness in their clothes (brown black) giving a drabness edging on draining to the spirit. We saw crowds in a street coming down to the square – reminding of  black ants swarming in a line. Suddenly I realized my imagery was going sinister due to hallucination from hunger.  It was now around 8pm and I had not eaten since lunch.

We crossed the crowded square and I confessed: I am terribly hungry. Began peeping into all bars and restaurants no matter how much graffiti or other signs of neglect. Suddenly magically, as if a line was drawn, we were in an area of almost no people – austere street of banks and offices guarded by people in uniform.  We had made Calle Alcala. No tourists, just some respectable locals. On the left (according to our source at Hospes) if one crossed Gran Via one would come to the heavy metal area and trendy, Bohemian, Gay area. Now we were along a wide clean area of jewellery shops. But I wanted only food…

Let’s head back to the hotel I said and find some tapas bars nearby.

It was 830pm when we got to the Westin Palace and too hungry to go any further I agreed to have the longed for tapas and beer there. The aubergine and paprika tapas I had was unforgettably delicious (5 euro). The beer did not seem that reasonable but was no doubt a fine brand (10 euro/33 cl).

Saturday 8 May

A long day of exploration… see next page