November 16th, 2011
The Spanish have many lovely, sometimes quirky and occasionally downright weird habits and traditions!
But, one of my favourites is the art of Paseo - just to stroll – always in the early evening before dinner, and lovely to watch on a late summer evening as the sun slips away on another day…whole families, elderly couples, young lovers….a time to take it easy, chat and relax.
Any Spanish city, town or village is the location, along a beach promenade or through a local park, the plaza of a busy city or through the charming streets of a dusty white village, and as far back as the late 18th century, Carlos III and the capital Madrid set the scene…
Let´s pay a visit to the heart of Bourbon Madrid and the Paseo del Prado, once known as the “Meadow”.
Before the builders
Hard to believe today in the busy cosmopolitan city that is the Spanish capital – but once in the eastern part lay market gardens and fields, a green and pleasant area that was commonly known as the Meadow of Madrid.
The Habsburgs decided a bit of renovation was necessary and built a palace and grounds, whose garden remains and is known today as Retiro Park, a great place to visit if you are visiting Madrid, complete with a splendid well kept and extremely large Zoo. (Allow an entire day to visit it and hire one of the little golf buggies to get around.)
The in - crowd
Carlos III decided that somewhere a little more in keeping with the rest of fashionable Europe was needed – and came up with the idea of a central area for the Arts and Sciences. He presumably stuck a pin in a map and came up with this area, proceeded to throw lots of grand squares and fountains at it, a Parisian styled grand archway and what is now the best art gallery in the world, the Museo del Prado, or just The Prado – which holds some of the best masterpieces ever to be painted.
The entire area became the most fashionable area to stroll, see and be seen, and so it remains today, many of the paparazzi shots are taken here and splashed on the pages of !Hola!
So be sure to comb your hair and check your clothes before you come out for that evening stroll…
I love to walk in Madrid – there seems to be something worth discovering around just about every corner.
But if your feet have had enough of all that shopping on Gran Via and you need to sit down then head for the closest Metro station and the lines 1,2, or 4 will take you to the Paseo del Prado. Prefer the bus? You will need the numbers 14, 15 or 27, which are all heading in the right direction. Or have a go at travelling by one of the Hop on Hop off buses, great fun…
A gateway worth entering!
The Puerta de Alcalá was the front door chosen by Carlos 11 when he decided on the renovations, and what an entrance! Taking 9 years to build – like some Spanish workmen today! – it is constructed from granite and has no less than 5 arches. Lofty and grand, it lets you through in style from the Plaza de la Indepencíaand is best viewed at night, when stunningly lit up by all of the floodlights – a photo opportunity?!
What´s to see there?
Of course you can just join the crowd and stroll in the early evening too. But you´ll more than likely have arrived here with the intention of a little Art – and a visit to the Museo del Prado. Who would blame you?!
It´s one of those places on your to visit list that you will want to repeat time and time again, and the endless list of masterpieces are certainly worth every visit. Who´s your favourite?
Goya, Velázquez, Zurbarán, Rubens, Titian? They´re all here, in all their glory.
Read all about the visiting Hermitage collection here, currently showing at the museum.
Other museums worth a trip are :
Casón del Buen Retiro – the annexe to the Prado, set just behind it. Later painted works are exhibited here, including lots of work by Impressionist artists.
Museo Tyhssen-Bornemisza – said to be the best private collection in the world, including works by Van Gogh and Picasso.
Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas – Close to the Retiro, and a collection of Spanish ceramics since 1912. There´s even an entire 18th century kitchen from Valencia – moved in situ and giving you a little glimpse into Spanish domestic life back then…
Museo de Ejército – Stuffed with Military Memorabilia from Moorish invasions – in the Sala Arabé – up to the present. The room dedicated to just tin soldiers will delight big and little boys!
Look out for a piece of the actual cross planted by Columbus when he reached his destination in the New World.
Greeks and Romans
They´re all here, including a God or two. Stroll on down to the Plaza de Cibeles and see the magnificent fountain there – Fuente de Cibeles – where you can admire Cybele herself, the Goddess of nature, sitting proudly in her chariot. You can even throw her a Euro for all her effort!
Plaza Cánovas del Castillo is where you will Neptune – also in his chariot and also in a fountain!
More photo opportunities!
Time for tea…
Of course, there is always the Ritz for tea at 4pm – if you are well dressed then it´s just a hop away from the Prado, and is probably the most opulent hotel in all of Spain. If literary history is more your thing than glitz and glamour, then make a point of seeking out Café Gijón – known as the Intellectuals Café during more subversive times and still attracting a bookish crowd today it´s worth a café con leche… Find it on the Paseo de Recoletos, 21.
The Ateneo de Madrid on Calle del Prado is another socialist hang-out, writers and intellectuals are members of this association and the building is open to public visits from 9am-1pm during the week and Saturday mornings. Stroll down the grand staircase and gaze at the serious portraits of the liberal thinkers of Spain, past and present.
..and time for bed
If you want to sample more of the literati life and haven´t won the lottery in order to book the Ritz, then join us and choose a more personal, lovely place to finish that holiday book from this list of Madrid holiday rentals.
Choose an apartment or penthouse with panache, or a larger property and bring the whole family.
The only snag is that you will have to return, as there is never enough time to sample all that is magnificent Madrid!