Madrid in springtime

Standing in the classical Plaza Mayor and hearing stories of its history, one truly feels at the heart of Madrid.
Standing in the classical Plaza Mayor and hearing stories of its history, one truly feels at the heart of Madrid. / SUR
  • World-class art exhibitions, spectacular Easter parades, and favourable weather make April and May the ideal time of year to enjoy a city break in the Spanish capital

There's a Spanish adage that says. 'Madrid, nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno'. Roughly translated it says that the city's weather is little more than nine months of winter and three months of hellish heat!

Yet, contrary to perceived wisdom, Madrid does have a spring and in my mind, it's one of the most enjoyable times to visit the Spanish capital.

Park life

Taking a morning jog through El Retiro park on a bright spring morning, the city feels like one of the best places in the world. The lake is already busy with visitors mucking about in small rowing boats, and the sun is filtering through the ancient cypress and cedar trees. This is one of Madrid's most beautiful green spaces, a mix of botanical gardens, romantic glass pavilions, and historic sculptures. The traffic free routes are perfect for jogging and cycling.

I'd not really discovered this famous park properly before, but instead of using the treadmill in the gym, the hotel suggested I take one of their jogging maps and enjoy the neighbourhood. It was a wise idea, since it was a case of the morning after the night before.

Only You

I'd arrived on the high-speed AVE service from Malaga, whisking me at some 300kph from Andalucía to the very centre of the peninsula in less than two and half hours. Just across from Atocha station, one of Madrid's most significant transport hubs, is an elegant period building, that has recently been reimagined as one of the capital's most hip hotels, the Only You Atocha - and my home-from-home for a short city break.

The lake at El Retiro park is already filled with visitors early in the morning.

The lake at El Retiro park is already filled with visitors early in the morning. / SUR

Madrid is the contemporary political and cultural hub of Spain, but it is fair to say that the city sometimes struggled to capture the imagination of the world as a true cosmopolitan metropolis, a 'happening' city. Well, that's not the case now. Madrid has finally emerged as a fashionable destination, a European capital that is being recognised not only for its traditional cultural attractions, but for its modern cuisine, nightlife and its contemporary arts. The city's gastronomy is now giving Barcelona a run for its money, thanks to influential chefs like David Muñoz, whose three Michelin stars have helped reposition Madrid's culinary standing.

Cosmopolitan cocktails

The night before I didn't leave the hotel - I just became immersed in the lobby bar atmosphere. Before long I was enjoying gin cocktails by Shannon Ponche, a young and talented mixologist from the legendary New York Brooklyn bar, the Clover Club. First a refreshing and smooth 'Brooklyn VIP' made with Seagram's gin, dry vermouth, fino sherry, agua de rosa and absinthe; and then off-menu creations! Shannon had flown in from the States to be part of the restaurant and bar pop-ups in the Only You Atocha. The hotel is one of the many drivers behind Madrid's renewed energy and vibrancy. You don't need to be a guest to enjoy the unique atmosphere; in fact, that's the whole point. Hotels like this are becoming destinations for locals, not just for visiting business people or tourists; the lobby, coffee shop, bar and restaurant flow together in one large space, with a mood and energy that evolves with the day - this is the future of city hotels and it's here in Madrid.

Head into the traditional hub of Madrid's nightlife, Calle Gran Vía, the street that never sleeps, and one will find further innovation. Set back one city block, in Calle Reina is the discreet Angelita Madrid. Already recognised as one of the hot new addresses in the capital, this chic wine bar and basement cocktail club is changing the perception of what the city offers. Forget the usual glass of Rioja or Ribera del Duero, here the owners offer over 500 wines, many international. A cosmopolitan style that is reflected in the Bar Americano in the basement, a stylish cocktail place where the vibe is urban, sharp and on trend.

Museum triangle

Spring in Madrid means clear, fresh sunny days, perfect for walking off the effects of the night before. So wander the avenues and streets of the capital, and discover its cultural heritage. 2017 is already set to be an extraordinary year for the main galleries of the Museum Triangle.

A fine example of Madrid's ornate architecture.

A fine example of Madrid's ornate architecture. / SUR

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, so expect a full programme of events. Starting in April is the major retrospective on Rafael Moneo, the Spanish architect who remodelled the Palacio de Villahermosa as the venue for the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in Madrid, and is the creative genius behind many well-known buildings.

Spanish medieval art, and works from the Spanish Golden Age will form part of the stunning exhibition of over 200 works from the holdings of the Hispanic Society of America in New York, to be shown at The Prado Museum, starting on 4 April.

The third gallery of Madrid's renowned 'triángulo del arte' is of course the Reina Sofia Museum, home to Picasso's iconic masterpiece, Guernica. Also opening on 4 April is 'Pity & Terror - Picasso's Path to Guernica' marking the 80th anniversary of the mural's first exhibition in Paris, and tracing the roots of Picasso's imagery in the famous work, that is believed to depict the bombing of the northern Spanish town of Guernica during the civil war.

Devour Madrid

To make a stroll around Madrid even more compelling, combine it with bar-hopping, enjoying the city's quintessential eateries and specialities. Devour Madrid offers small group tapas tours and experiences; including their 'Tapas, Taverns & History Tour'. It's an entertaining way to spend an evening, discovering the atmospheric streets and plazas of Madrid while tucking into some tasty tapas. Even familiar sights like the Puerto del Sol and Plaza de la Villa will come alive thanks to the storytelling of the guide - giving a fascinating historical perspective to what has made Madrid the modern capital of Spain. Standing in the classical Plaza Mayor and hearing stories of its history, one truly feels at the heart of Madrid. 2017 is the 400th anniversary of Plaza Mayor, so there's plenty more to enjoy in this striking architectural square than just a 'relaxing cup of café con leche' - look out for live music and open air exhibitions.

Semana Santa

Easter is probably the most important festival in Spain, and Madrid knows how to mark it. Throughout the holy week, the city hosts spectacular parades, including on the evening of Good Friday, 14 April, when the 'Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno' parade will leave the Basílica del Cristo de Medinaceli and pass through the main streets and squares of the city. Enjoy some typical Spanish street food, 'torrijas' (sweet fried bread treats), and be immersed in the unique atmosphere.

San Isidro

Yet really the highlight of spring in Madrid comes in May when the capital celebrates its patron saint, San Isidro. For five days, building up to the saint's day on Monday 15 May, several events will take place, from city craft markets, music concerts, firework displays and more.

So cast aside the adage about Madrid's climate; spring has arrived and it's time to enjoy the heart of Spain.