8 Epic Sights and Monuments You Can’t Miss in Madrid

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We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Madrid is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. With an expansive art realm and a mouthwatering food and wine scene, you may forget that Madrid is also full architectural wonders: neoclassical palaces, charming fountains and unique green spaces. In fact, Madrid happens to have 2,294 monuments — so you better start now if you want to see them all! If the thought seems too overwhelming, though, we’ve narrowed it down for you. Here are some of the most epic sights and monuments you just can’t miss in Madrid, Spain — and if you can’t fathom exploring them all on your own, Insider’s Madrid can give you a curated private tour.

Palacio de Cristal

Madrid’s most famous park, El Parque de Buen Retiro, is already a must-see when visiting Madrid. Inside the park’s iron gates, the Crystal Palace awaits, nestled upon a small lake shared by ducks, turtles and other flora and fauna. A structure created almost entirely of glass, there’s nothing like seeing the sun streaming in through the glass windows and looking up to the green treetops hovering over the clear rooftop. If you’re lucky, you may catch a temporary art exhibit inside the palace, fulfilling both the need for nature and creativity in one go.

The Crystal Palace in the Retiro Park. Image by Diego Delso / Wikipedia.

Puerta de Alcalá

Madrid was once a walled city and this monument used to be one of its five entrance points. Flanked by blooming flowers and the aforementioned Retiro park, you can spot the city of Madrid below through the gate’s arches. When walking around the stone ‘door’, you may notice some small marks: cannon shrapnel damage from the Spanish Civil War. After all, the gate does date back to the late 1700s — it’s bound to have some scars!

The gate of Alcala. Image by Juanlufer4 / Wikipedia.

Palacio Real

We know Buckingham Palace and Versailles get all the attention, but Madrid’s Royal Palace is actually the largest royal palace in Europe in surface area. You can pay an entrance fee to to explore some of the 3,418 rooms (beyond the bedrooms and ballrooms you can also check out the royal library and pharmacy), but we love simply admiring the outside of the palace. The grounds are bordered with 44 statues of historic Spanish royals and the Sabatini gardens filled whimsical labyrinths of trimmed hedges and ponds.

The Royal Palace at night. Image from Madrid Destino Cultura Turismo y Negocio.

Templo de Debod

Bewildering as it may seem, an Egyptian temple sits peacefully in the heart of Madrid’s city center. The temple dates back to the 2nd century BC, but was given to Spain as gift from Egypt in 1968. The temple arrived in Spain disassembled in stones and was rebuilt in the Parque Oeste, piece by piece until it finally opened to the public in 1972. Locals and visitors have been enjoying colorful sunsets seen from the temple and its surrounding park ever since.

Templo de Debod in fall. Image by Lori Zaino.

Plaza de Cibeles

The busy traffic circle may not seem appealing on paper, but when you see the beautiful Cibeles Palace, you’ll immediately be impressed. The massive structure was once a post office, but is now the mayoral office. Don’t worry though, many parts of the building are open to the public, like the lobby and the building often houses art and fashion exhibitions. The rooftop, which overlooks the bustling rotunda and beyond, is a chic place to enjoy a sunset cocktail. Below, you’ll see the Cibeles Fountain, another emblematic structure in Madrid. The fountain depicts Cybele, the Greek goddess of fertility pulled by two lions on her chariot.

Cibeles Palace and fountain. Image by Lori Zaino.

Catedral de Almudena

Built on the site of a former mosque, Spain’s cathedral is relatively new compared to many of its other monuments, officially consecrated in just 1993, over 100 years later when construction first began. Although most Christian churches have an east-west orientation, this one is unusual in that it has a north-south orientation to match with its neighbor, the Royal Palace. The Cathedral has services you can attend if that’s your thing, but you can also walk through to check out its Neo-Gothic interior free of charge too.

The Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace. Image by Lori Zaino.

Edificio Metrópolis

Perched on the corner of one of Madrid’s most exciting streets, this impressive building is the perfect jumping off point to start your trek down Calle Gran Vía. Although the street is known for shopping  with many stores housed in refurbished movie theaters, don’t forget to look up to see some spectacular architectural wonders — the Metropolis building is just one of them. The design of the building is French-inspired, and you’ll be in serious awe of the dome at the top which is covered in 24-karat gold and presided by an angel.

The Metropolis Building. Image by Max Alexander / Wikipedia.

Plaza Mayor

This majestic plaza may just be Madrid’s most emblematic sight. Although it can be touristy and crowded, you can’t leave Madrid without seeing this special square, which has 237 balconies that face its center. With the red walls and newly-renovated fresco facade, the bustling plaza is home to cafes and pubs where you can chill out and grab a beer. The ambiance is quite different than what it once was back in the day — a spot for town meetings, the site of Spanish inquisition trials and even home to bullfights.

The Plaza Mayor. Image by Sebastian Dubiel / Wikipedia.

Your Guide To Spain’s Fashion, Shopping and Designer’s Scene

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When you think of fashion capitals around the world, New York, Milan, Paris, London and Tokyo may first come to mind. But don’t discount Madrid, a European capital with some seriously chic style,  talented designers and fashionable brands, or even Spain in general. After all, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville are all spots budding with fashionistas too! Here are just some of the designers and shops to know and check out during your next visit to Spain.

Bimba y Lola

This brand has colorful and versatile garments for everyday wear — think stylish separates and soft leather handbags and wallets. The spring campaign, #ThisisSUMMEROFLOVE, with its bold and vibrant florals and details like feathers, stripes and dots has us believing that this summer will indeed, be filled with love.

Photo by Bimba y Lola

Roberto Verino

Whether it’s preppy menswear suits or an elegant, glittering gown, Roberto Verino has been trending on the Madrid fashion scene since 1984. With his designs in over 46 stores and 76 Corte Inglés locations, the designer is a staple on the Spanish fashion front. His SS18 collection, Dream Island, makes us want to hop on a yacht and take a spin around the Mediterranean: think nautical stripes, crisp white linens and soft cotton. The leather bomber jackets and cigarette pants rewind us back for vintage-inspired spring.

Photo by Roberto Verino

Sita Murt

Sita Murt grew up designing her own knitwear and named her brand after herself in the 1990s. With light, flowing fabrics and simple, modern designs, Sita Murt has made a name for herself in spots like Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona. Check out one of her shops to purchase a red, wide-leg jumpsuit or voluminous, earthly green and beige separates this season.

Adolfo Dominguez

Another designer who’s been hot on the Spanish fashion scene since the 1980s, Dominguez has created a brand aesthetic and always sticks to it: using loose and natural fabrics. Although his designs move with the current trends, he always seems to stay true to his original aesthetic while creating stylish and wearable clothing. This spring, it’s all about color, with vivacious pinks, bright golds and rich royal blues.

Photo by Adolfo Dominguez.

Teresa Helbig

Known for her dresses, Teresa Helbig creates garments that are both romantic and bohemian, but modern enough for a 21st century, all-encompassing female. Impeccably designed and sewn, you’ll turn heads in a Teresa Helbig dress, that’s for sure. She’s also known for her made-to-measure bridal wear. For SS18, get ready for bold and gold from her collection, Rien ne va plus.

Photo from the Teresa Helbig Facebook page.

Juana Martin

Coming straight from Córdoba, Spain, you can feel the Andalusian flavor this designer’s garments emit immediately. However, her talent lies in making ruffles and flamenco-inspired pieces relevant to city living. So don’t be surprised if you end up taking back a little bit of Andalusia to New York, London or Singapore with you. Pickup a flowy, white sundress or an layered orange tea-length number for this summer.

Photo by Juana Martin.

Uterqüe

Although this company is owned by Spanish group Intidex, the fashions found at this shop seem original, despite the fact the brand boasts 82 stores around the globe. Uterqüe still hasn’t made a debut in the UK, Australia or the United States, so it’s best to visit Spain to shop, where you’ll find 34 of the stores. The store feels like an upmarket Zara, with snazzy fashions appropriate for pretty much any occasion. The spring collection is full of exciting colors and silky fabrics, so stop in to check it out.

Photo by Uterqüe.

If you want to shop these brands and more, Insider’s Madrid will create a personalized shopping or fashion tour for you around Madrid, ensuring you discover all the coolest Spanish brands that perfectly cater to your individual style and budget.

If you want to dig even dipper into Spain’s fashion roots, a textile, food and fashion tour from Corazón will take you to different cities in Spain, giving you exclusive opportunities like meeting cape-makers and silk painters in Madrid, taking a patchwork class from former Givenchy model Lola Barasoain in La Rioja and touring the Valgañon family factory (which has been said to  manufacture for the likes of Hermés, Givenchy and others) in the country town of Ezgaray and  is known for its mohair and cashmere scarves.

Your Guide To Exploring Madrid’s Expansive Art Scene

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It’s no secret that Madrid is famous for having some of the most impressive art in the world. Besides the acclaimed museums the city is known for, there’s also an abundance of lesser-known spots to see some truly inspirational paintings, drawings, prints, architecture, photography, sculptures, street art and more. Here’s your go-to guide to exploring Madrid’s multifaceted art scene.

Photo of La Guernica painting from Wikipedia.

The art triangle: a Madrid must-see

No visit to Madrid is complete without wandering through its three most famous museums, conveniently located in a triangle in the heart of the city center: the Museo del Prado, where you’ll spot famous works by Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, home of Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica, and the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, which houses a comprehensive collection featuring the likes of Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock and more.

Hoping to see it all? Sign up for a curated Fine Arts Tour from Insider’s Madrid, guiding you through your choice of museums (and/or galleries) in Madrid.

Photo by Museo del Prado.

Go to ARCOmadrid at IFEMA

You’ll be impressed with how many well-known modern artists select this festival to unveil their work. ARCOmadrid, the city’s largest COntemporary ARt festival takes place annually at IFEMA, the city’s trade fair venue. ARCO this year is February 21st – 25th. See ‘historical avant-garde, the contemporary classics, and modern art. The galleries display painting, sculpture, installations, photography, video, new media, drawing, and etching.’ IFEMA also hosts other various art events throughout the year, like FERIARTE, the art and antique festival. This year, IFEMA will also be hosting ARCOLisboa and Estampa, another contemporary art fair. Stay tuned.

Museums with a more personal touch

Tucked away in local neighborhoods of Madrid, more personal museums abound. Start by exploring work by the great luminist, Joaquín Sorolla. The Museo Sorolla is set in the artist’s private home and  showcases work throughout his career, all while keeping in the style of his home when he and his family once lived there. The gardens are modeled on the Alhambra Palace’s ornate Generalife gardens. Set in the Tribunal area of Madrid near Malasaña and Alonso Martínez, the Museo de Romanticismo goes beyond just paintings with furniture, stamps, drawings, clothing garments and more from Spain’s Romanticism period. Set in the former residence and magnificent mansion house, the Museo Cerralbo houses the collection art, furniture and objects belonging to the house’s former owner, the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo.

Photo by Museo de Romanticismo.

From meat to art

The Matadero is one of the most eclectic spots in Madrid to experience art and culture. A former slaughterhouse dating back to 1911, the space is now dedicated to different art forms like cinema, theater, music, books, contemporary design and more. You could spend a couple hours here — or an entire vacation soaking up all the cultural activities and events offered.

Hit the streets 

Madrid’s boulevards and streets feature nonstop architectural wonders, but there’s also literal art too. Street art is most prevalent in the bohemian, hip neighborhoods of Lavapiés and Malasaña. You can spot some special graffiti simply walking around, or for several murals in one spot, stroll past the Tabacalera in Lavapiés.

Colombian artist Fernando Botero also has a few of his oversized masterpieces scattered around the city and the Parque de Juan Carlos I offers a day filled with blooming trees and flowers, plus some unique abstract sculptures.

Photo of the walls of the Tabacalera by Guillermo de la Madrid and Madrid Street Art Project.

Galleries galore

Museums aren’t the only way to experience art in Madrid. In fact, the city is full of galleries, some of the most interesting located near the Reina Sofía on the street Doctor Forquet. Slowly but surely this street is becoming a mecca for art aficionados and the gallery count is 15 and growing. If this seems overwhelming, don’t worry — Insider’s Madrid can create a special gallery tour just for you, guiding you alongside curator, art appraiser and writer Cristina Anglada.

Check out the calendar

Many exhibition spaces in Madrid are dedicated to showcasing temporary art, such as the Fundación Mapfre, Fundación Canal or the Espacio Fundación Telefónica. Each of these halls changes exhibits frequently, showcasing photography, fashion, paintings, drawings, sculptures and more from new and emerging artists to famous, well-known big timers. Make sure to see what’s on during your visit to Madrid.

Photo of the previous Houdini exhibit by the Fundación Telefónica.

Remember, Insider’s Madrid would be happy to curate any specific art tour you’d like, guiding you through your desired combination of museums, galleries, art fairs, exhibitions and more. For more information or to personalize a tour, contact us at info@insidersmadrid.com.

6 Reasons Why You Need To Check Out Spain’s Up & Coming Fashion Scene

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Milan, Paris, Tokyo and New York may come to mind when you think about fashionable destinations around the world. But we have a little secret: Spain is that up & coming fashion haven you need to explore. Sure, it’s famous for tapas, wine, bullfighting and siestas, but the fashion scene, which has been growing immensely over the past several years, is now on everyone’s radar. Here’s why:

Fashion Weeks Galore

Spain has several fashion weeks (even in smaller cities like Valencia or the island of Ibiza), the most famous being Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Madrid which occurs twice per year. This particular week has a lineup of talented Spanish designers such as Andrés Sarda, Juana Martin, Roberto Torretta and many more. The EGO portion showcases young and emerging designers — Spain is full of youthful creativity. BCN 080, also a biannual event, is Barcelona’s fashion week, home to the world-famous brand Custo BCN. Make sure to check out the catwalks, as these events are on deck for January and February.

Capes designed by Devota y Lomba and Teresa Helbig walk the Madrid runways. © IFEMA.

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Spain is home to some seriously trendy boutiques, especially in Madrid. If you’re hoping to experience a little bit of the city’s special shopping scene, sign up for a Shopping Tour with Insider’s Madrid. You’ll discover items like merino wool, leather goods (even see items made in their workshops), ceramics, gourmet food products and more. Make sure to leave some space in your suitcase!

If you want to go a step further and really get up close and personal with Spain’s impressive textile and fashion industry, sign up for a Corazon Textiles, Food and Fashion Tour, which includes going behind the scenes at famous brand Loewe while also checking out handmade cashmere items made in small villages, seeing locally-made designs at family-run workshops and visiting world-renowned fashion museums.

A glimpse of Madrid’s vintage shopping seen at The 2nd Room. © The 2nd Room

Flamenco is Fashion

Spanish fashion has a variety of unique style influences and one of these is flamenco. Flamenco isn’t just a genre of music or dance, for some, it’s a lifestyle. Seville even houses the We Love Flamenco fashion week, a six-day event dedicated to flamenco and it’s many colors, shapes and styles. This season, which happens to be in January this year, has over 48 different fashion shows, so get ready for ruffles.

Bold and red are two common trends spotted during flamenco fashion shows © We Love Flamenco Facebook page

Famous Designers

The names Adolfo Dominguez, Hannibal Laguna, Roberto Verino, Balenciaga or Jesus Del Pozo may ring a bell. Did you know these are all Spanish fashion designers? It’s true – some of the biggest names in fashion hail from Spain, so make sure to check out their boutiques and designs when visiting.

Roberto Verino floral prints on the Madrid catwalk © Ifema

Blushing Brides

Both Madrid and Barcelona also have Bridal Fashion Weeks, so if you’re planning on tying the knot, you can check out all the dress and accessories trends coming this April. You may spot something ideal for your coming nuptials. In fact, the aforementioned Corazon Textiles, Food and Fashion Tour takes you behind the scenes with wedding dress designer Isabel Zapardiez (whose designs walk the Barcelona Bridal Week catwalks) and even give you a wedding dress fitting.

A wedding dress at the 2017 edition of Barcelona Fashion Week by designer Immculada Garcia. © Barcelona Fashion Week.

Made in Spain

Check out your tag — and if it says ‘Made in China,’ it’s time to head to Spain, because there are plenty of handcrafted goods created right here in Spain. Those summery shoes everyone wears are called espadrilles and are decidedly Spanish. Seseña is a famous brand of capes made here in España — Hilary Clinton is a fan of the brand, and Pablo Picasso was actually buried in one of these capes. Many small boutiques make fascinators, or tocados, which are hair pieces artfully crafted for your most important special occasion. Alicante is famous for its leather industry which makes soft and supple handbags and shoes. Hand-crafted jewelry can be found all over the country too.

Handmade jewelry by Helena Rohner in Spain. © Helena Rohner

Here’s Why 2018 Is The Year To Visit Madrid, Spain

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Madrid has always been an exciting city to explore. Thanks to its nuanced architecture, world-famous art museums, vibrant nightlife scene and a never-ending supply of tapas and vino, it’s always been a top travel destination (and likely always will be). But if you haven’t been yet — or even if you have — 2018 is the year to visit.

Madrid is the heart of Spain. © Luis Garcia/ Wikipedia.
Madrid is the heart of Spain. © Luis Garcia/ Wikipedia.

Intrigued? Read on to find out why now is the time to go:

A Pedestrian-Friendly, Pollution-Free Madrid is in the Works

Madrid’s current mayor Manuela Carmena, has diligently worked to increase the number of bike lanes and trees-planting around the city this past year. By the start of 2018, circulation around the city center by car will be limited, helping to maintain better air quality and encourage people to bike and walk instead. Calle de Gran Vía, one of the Madrid’s most famous streets, will have more lanes accessible to pedestrians and car traffic will be restricted.

Calle Gran Vía will such much less traffic in 2018. © Lori Zaino.
Calle Gran Vía will such much less traffic in 2018. © Lori Zaino.

300 Days of Sunshine in 2018

Okay, you’ve got us, this isn’t a new development for 2018. It’s sunny 300 days out of every year in Madrid, making it Europe’s sunniest capital. But why not take advantage and walk the city under the warm rays?

The sun shines down on Madrid's Puerta de Alcalá monument. © Lori Zaino
The sun shines down on Madrid’s Puerta de Alcalá monument. © Lori Zaino

Fly to Madrid from Around the World

Arrival to Madrid has never been easier. Madrid’s Barajas Airport is already well-connected to cities around the world such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Paris, Rome, Dublin, Dubai, Bangkok, Bogotá, Mexico City and many more. Starting in 2018, though, there will some new routes launched. Air Europa will fly nonstop to Guayaquil, Iberia will operate a nonstop flight to San Francisco from April to September and Ryanair will be flying from Madrid to five new destinations: Bari, Frankfurt, Glasglow, Poznan and Prague, bring the total destination count to 55 different cities from Madrid.

Iberia will soon connect San Francisco directly to Madrid. © Micha Sender / Wikipedia.
Iberia will soon connect San Francisco directly to Madrid. © Micha Sender / Wikipedia.

Sample all Madrid’s Tastiest Tapas

The Spanish capital is having a moment when it comes to food. With an influx of trendy new food markets, international restaurants and an increase in travelers and tourists coming to Madrid specifically to experience cuisine. If you want to eat, 2018 is the year to do it. And did you know Madrid is home to the world’s oldest restaurant, Botín? Why not try one of Insider Madrid’s specialized food tours, like the Botín Experience or the Gourmet Tapas and Wine Tour to hear (and taste) all the hidden secrets about Madrid’s food scene.

Typical Spanish snacks. © Escarabajo Amarillo / Madrid Tourism.
Typical Spanish snacks. © Escarabajo Amarillo / Madrid Tourism.

Enjoy the Arts

In your hoping to experience a more creative side of Madrid, 2018’s cultural offerings come in many forms beyond the golden triangle of museums (the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza). Musical events such concerts from Bruno Mars and Pearl Jam and Broadways’s Lion King are on the agenda. Special exhibitions like Harry PotterManolo BlahnikAuschwitz and art from Fortuny will pass through the city in 2018.

Besides all of the famous works by Goya, 2018 will bring art, music and other cultural events and festivals to Madrid. © Museo del Prado.
Besides all of the famous works by Goya, 2018 will bring art, music and other cultural events and festivals to Madrid. © Museo del Prado.

Happy holidays to you all!

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Dear all,

We have enjoyed another year of adventures. We have met so many people – from orange growers to sheep farmers, from wine-makers to fashion house designers, from world-class flamenco artists to Michelin star chefs. They don’t all have to be the prizewinners. There are so many people doing remarkable things and we have enjoyed taking you to meet them.

Next year, we have lots of exciting tours in the pipeline including Cadiz and Valencia. We are also looking forward to leading our first tour along the Way of St James, the Camino de Santiago and then outside of Spain, we will be discovering the delights of Sicily.

Yes to good food and wine, yes to learning about this country’s art and history but most of all, yes to boarding our tour bus!  Our journeys are full of anecdotes and experiences that unfold as we travel, and it wouldn’t be possible without you.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season and all the very best for the New Year,
Joanna, & the Insider’s Madrid & Corazón Travel team!

We’re headed to Cádiz for New Year’s 2017! 

What is so enticing about this Southern tip of Spain? Is it the old fortress city of Cadiz, founded by the Phoenicians with all its seafaring history or is it the whitewashed hilltop villages with their Moorish architecture?  Perhaps it’s a lunch of fresh fish and chilled wine by the beach, the smell of aging casks of the old family bodegas in sherry country or the sound of a flamenco guitar from the bar on the corner?

From the majesty of Seville, to the antiquity of Cadiz Old Town to the magical, Moorish village of Vejer de la Frontera. This six-night New Year’s Eve escape takes us on our own voyage of discovery as we experience its food, wine and history.

NEW TRIP!
Valencia 2018

Valencia has recently stepped out of the shadow of Madrid and Barcelona to become a world class destination in its own right. With its stunning City of Arts and Science (designed by local architect Calatrava), as well as a charming old quarter and a burgeoning gourmet scene, this is city on the rise.

The region is the birthplace of Spain’s best known dish, paella, and of course is famous for its vast orchards of orange trees that dominate the landscape. Local drinks such as Agua de Valencia (a cocktail made from orange juice, Cava and sugar) and horchata (made from tiger nuts) are not to be missed. Valencia, both the city and region, has the feeling of a place whose time has come and we are delighted to be returning there.

Insider’s Gourmet Tour 2018
October 28th – November 3rd, 2018

This seven-day tour offers a gourmet overview of central and southern Spain, allowing you to see, taste and breathe the wonders the country has to offer. We travel through the diverse landscapes of Castile and Leon, Extremadura and Andalusia, beginning and ending in Madrid.

The trip is hosted by Joanna Wivell (Corazon Tours & Insider’s Madrid), designed together with Jeremy Shaw (Iberian Wine Tours). Their inside knowledge offers a unique insight on how to taste the very best of Spain,

The love of wine, and the stories surrounding it, is a key element of this trip. We experience tastings of top-class wines from established winemakers as well as visits  the best of the new wineries in the region.

7 Beautiful Cities in Spain You Have To Visit

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Picturesque beaches, towering mountains, rolling vineyards and some of the most elaborate architecture in the world. All of these wonders and more can be found in the country of Spain. Here’s a list seven beautiful Spanish destinations you absolutely have to visit at least once in your lifetime.

Madrid

Perhaps we’re biased, but Madrid, often ignored in lieu of cosmopolitan Barcelona, has something for any style of traveler, whether it be tapas, flamenco, nightlife, wine, architecture, history, fashion or major sporting events. With its quaint, cobblestone streets leading to grandiose squares like the Plaza Mayor or the Plaza Cibeles, you’ll be in awe just roaming around. Plus, Madrileños are passionate about all things edible, so foodies can bask in numerous options for international and Spanish cuisine, food markets and food tours. Of course, we recommend doing one (or more) of the many different food experiences and tailored tours by Insider’s Madrid, like the gourmet tapas tour or a paella and sangria class.

Plaza de la Villa in Madrid. © Madrid Destino Cultura Turismo y Negocio

San Sebastián

San Sebastián, located in the Basque country is known for its famous seashell-shaped beach, La Concha. Beloved for its fancy pinxtos (these are similar to tapas and can sometimes be found “pinched” with a stick and placed on a baguette slice) dining scene and large number of Michelin-star restaurants, it’s also the last stop on the specialized Textile, Food and Fashion Tour led by Corazón. The city is surrounded by rolling green hills and wild beaches, and the Sagrado Corazon de Jesus statue on top of Monte Urgull keeps watch day and night over the city.

An aerial view of San Sebastian. © Keta / Wikipedia

Bilbao

Also a stop on the  Textile, Food and Fashion Tour tour, the Guggenheim Bilbao is one of the most intriguing art museums in the world. Designed by Frank Gehry, visitors come from around the world to see both the curved stone, glass and titanium exterior overlooking the Nervión River as well as inside of the museum, which features masterpieces by artists such as Willem Kooning, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol and Antoni Tàpies.

The Guggenheim exterior in Bilbao. © VA / Wikipedia

Santiago de Compostela

The final stop on the famous pilgrimage Camino de Santiago, known as the Way of St. James in English, Santiago de Compostela is a welcome site for weary travelers — ones who’ve been trekking for days or even those just getting off a Ryanair flight. The city’s magnificent Romanesque cathedral (which later added on Gothic and Baroque touches), towers above the rest of the city and is said to be the burial place of St. James the Great. The entire historic city center is designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site, so grab your camera and spend the day wandering around.

The cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. © Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez / Wikipedia.

Ibiza

This island, part of the Balearic archipelago, is best known for its party scene, but what many don’t know is that the island’s many hidden coves known as calas and secret beaches are some of the most stunning in the world. This is an island made for exploring — so rent a car and start your adventure. We recommend Cala Lentrisca, which you’ll have to walk through a small pine forest when the road ends in Urbanizació Es Cubells.

A cala in Ibiza. © juantiagues / Flickr

Logroño

The gateway city to Spain’s famous Rioja wine region, this city was made for food and wine aficionados, just a short drive way from hundreds of vineyardsThe city is beautiful in a different way, which stems from its very special manner in which both visitors and locals alike can dine: specialty tapas along the famous Calle Laurel. The long, winding street is lined with tapas bars — small bar-style ‘restaurants’ where you’ll often spot more people standing at the bar or around wooden wine barrels that sitting, chattering over one another while sipping a local Rioja variety or beer and their favorite tapa.

Tapas (or pinxtos) along Calle Laurel. © jynus / Wikipedia

Cádiz

This Andalusian gem is one of Spain’s oldest continually inhabited cities, and its historic architecture mixed with its long stretches of sandy beaches that sparkle beneath the sunshine will ensure you never want to leave. The city boasts a few different cathedrals, an ancient Roman theater and an 18th-century watchtower. You’ll be able to see all these delights and more if you sign up for Corazon’s specialized New Year’s Eve Cádiz Tour.

Cádiz. © Anna & Michal / Flickr

A Culinary Getaway to the Hilltop Town of Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

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The white villages of Spain: breathtaking, stunning, charming, or simply beautiful  are just some of the adjectives used in vain to try to capture the essence of these magical towns.  A visit is what is needed to truly understand their draw and there is nowhere better place to start than in the province of Cádiz – in a town called Vejer de la Frontera.

Vejer sits proudly atop its hill high above the River Barbate gorge, allowing views of the Atlantic Ocean as it leads to the Strait of Gibraltar.

 

Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

 

Although the Moors left centuries ago, their spirit is still felt through the city’s design and architecture.  A curiosity, often falsely attributed to their presence from years ago, is the cobijada – a veiled outfit unique to the area and worn by women for centuries. A cloth covering draped across the face and body resembling a burka, the cobijada actually came to the region in the 16th century, hundreds of years after the Moors’ departure.  Still spotted on some older generations up into the 20th century, it is now used only ceremonially, but this historic garment is immortalized in the cobijada-wearing statue in the old Jewish quarter.  

As you wander the small, cobblestone streets, you will no doubt notice a scent that looms large over this village: emanating from the endless orange groves, this natural fragrance combines with the aesthetic merits of Vejer creating a trip to appeal to all one’s senses.  After all that exploring and sensory stimulation, you’re most likely thinking about one of the most important senses: taste.  If you’re hungry – and you will be – you’re in for a treat.  Many may be surprised to learn that  a town as small as Vejer is becoming a world-class culinary destination.

 

Sherry and jamon in Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

 

Aside from the traditional – and highly recommended – restaurants which line the streets serving Spanish classics, a wave of newer restaurants have opened in recent years drawing on Moroccan influences or even on the avant-garde.  Locals and visitors alike scramble for reservations (a must) at many of these eateries and not only enjoy world-class cuisine, but are also able to soak in the ambiance of small town life in beautifully restored, historic buildings or  relax in a candle-lit patio hidden away behind fortressed walls.

So how is it that this small town with its population of around 13,000, has become a foodie destination?  To use a cliché from the real estate business:  location, location, location.  Although Vejer finds itself high upon a hill, the sea is still just a stone’s throw away, and the bounty that sea provides finds its way into a myriad of delicious dishes.  Bluefin tuna is a specialty which you may have the chance to try in a jerky-like delicacy called Mojama, in a traditional fish stew, or even in a more modern-day ceviche.  If you lean more toward the turf on a surf and turf menu, you’re in luck.  The excellent pork and beef from the area are world renowned.  

Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

An excellent location not only means access to excellent products, but also access to the adventurous and discriminating travelers who visit the province of Cádiz on the Costa de la Luz.  Often looking for something different and less traveled, visitors find their way to Vejer de la Frontera’s foodie scene for that gourmet experience that no one back home seems to know about.  The town can give many a larger city a run for its money when it comes to culinary wealth and offers an experience away from the crowds that descend on Spain’s southern coast.

Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

Want to see for yourself?  It’s an easy trip from the cities of Cádiz, Seville, or even Gibraltar.  And If you’re looking for something truly special, consider joining us on our New Year’s Eve trip to Cádiz where we explore the delicacies of Vejer through an exquisite New Year’s Eve dinner at the lovely Casa de Califa.

7 Reasons To Visit Madrid Around The Holidays

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Wafts of hand-made candy spill out of Madrid’s pastelerías onto the cobblestone streets. Christmas carols can be heard playing as shoppers frantically search for the perfect gifts — it’s truly the most wonderful time of the year! The Spanish capital is the ideal place to soak in the holiday spirit with non-stop celebrations, decorations, culinary delights and more. Read on to find out all the reasons why you should visit Madrid this Christmas season.

The holidays season lasts forever

Spain typically celebrates the holidays for almost a full month and a half. This year, the holiday season in Madrid starts November 24th — that’s when thousands of sparkling lights and festive decorations will be switched on, illuminating the city of Madrid into a magical holiday paradise.

In between the Christmas and New Year’s festivities, Spain even celebrates its very own version of April Fool’s Day called Día de los Inocentes on December 28th, so beware, practical jokes may ensue. With the decor up in full force and so many different celebrations going on, you can’t help but join in on the holiday spirit all the way through January 6th, the Día de los Reyes Magos (King’s Day), celebrated with presents galore, special desserts and even a parade, but more on that later.

The holiday lights are on in full force. Image by Jose A. / Flickr.

See all the shiny lights

The aforementioned holiday lights are a reason in itself to visit Madrid and many people come from around the world to see these glittering decorations. Some of the most popular spots to see the illuminated holiday decor are Gran Vía street, the Plaza Mayor, the Puerta del Sol and Cibeles. Family travelers should take their kids to Cortylandia which is an interactive holiday playland for the little ones.

If a walking tour seems overwhelming, don’t worry, you can hop on the Naviluz for a ride. This double-decker bus, which actually celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, leaves from the Plaza de Colón and takes visitors on a 40-minute ride circling Madrid to see all the holiday cheer. More information and ticket purchase can be found here.

Here’s all the info you need about the Naviluz bus.

Besides the lights, a big part of Madrid’s Christmas decoration includes Belenes, which are Nativity scenes. Most families will have one of these set up in their homes next to the Christmas tree and there are several larger scenes set up around the city in spots like the Ayuntamiento de Cibeles, the Almudena cathedral, the Puerta del Sol and the Iglesia de San Gines.

Play (and hopefully win) the Spanish lottery

The Christmas lottery is a big deal in Spain and all the locals dream of winning El Gordo, which literally translates to “the fat one” — meaning a grand prize of €4,000,000. The typical way to participate is to go in on a ticket number with co-workers or friends where you’ll each pay €20 for a number and have a chance to snag El Gordo. Prepare to be guilted into purchasing a ticket (or a few) as Madrileños love to explain to you how you’ll feel when they all win and you don’t!

If you happen to spot a very long line of people around the Puerta de Sol, it’s likely to be the line for the Doña Manolita shopfront. This store is forever popular as it has sold the largest amount of winning tickets over the years, so try your luck there if you’re willing to wait in the queue. Make sure to watch local television on December 22nd, as the winning number are announced by enthusiastic pupils from the San Ildefonso school, chosen with the honour of actually singing the winning numbers.

There’s always a queue at Doña Manolita. Image by Barcex / Wikipedia.

Indulge that sweet tooth

The Spanish have a whole range of sweets they love to eat over the holidays, and Madrid is no exception. Marzipan and turrón (a type of nugget) are fan favorites, and polverónes are powdery treats made of ground almonds with a touch of cinnamon. Visitors should definitely try the sugary sweet roscón de reyes which is a special cake eaten to celebrate Three Kings Day. Hopefully you’ll discover the small figurine in your slice which will bring you luck, but not the dried fava bean — finding that means you’ll have to pay for next year’s cake!

Roscón de Reyes. Image by Tamorland / Wikipedia.

Shop til’ you drop

Each year, Black Friday becomes more and more popular in Madrid for shoppers on the hunt for holiday bargains, and this shopping spirit continues well into January. In fact, it’s not unlikely to see locals waiting until after the New Year to shop, because most gifts in Madrid are actually given on January 6th, the Día de los Reyes Magos. The night of the 5th January is when the three Wise Men arrive with presents, though with plenty of international influence, presents also come from Santa on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Rebajas, or the bi-annual sales usually start in early January, some as early as January 2nd, so get ready for bargains. Although Madrid isn’t known for its holiday markets, perusing the nativity scenes, ornaments and prank gifts found at the market in Plaza Mayor underneath the holiday lights is a must-do. There are also some smaller holiday markets in La Latina neighbourhood and the squares; Plaza Jacinto Benavente and Callao.

Lights shine over the Plaza Mayor holiday market. Image by Priit Tammets / Flickr.

Eat grapes on New Year’s Eve for a lucky 2018

New Year’s Eve is a happy occasion celebrated by partygoers gathering in the Puerta del Sol square to eat twelve grapes, one for each chime of the clock as it strikes twelve at midnight. Don’t miss sharing in this tradition as it’s supposed to bring you luck for the year ahead. The celebration has become so large that now the city does a rehearsal called the ‘pre-uvas,‘ or the pre-grapes celebration, usually the day before. It has become which is now just as popular as doing the same thing on December 31st. Keep in mind the underground metro won’t stop at Sol station around midnight on December 30th and 31st, so plan accordingly.

Eating 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve will bring you luck.

Celebrate the Kings Day with the locals

It’s clear this is an important day in Madrid for presents and cake, but Madrileños take it very seriously. The parade, affectionately known as the Cabalgata, occurs on the January 5th at 18:30 in Nuevos Ministerios, but you may want to head there or along the route earlier to secure the perfect spot. Expect to get a lot of candy tossed off the floats and see many smiling children, and don’t leave before the big fireworks display in Cibeles Plaza.

Enjoy the parade on January 5th in honor of King’s Day. Image by Madrid Tourism Bureau.

If you happen to be in Madrid over the holidays, consider Insider’s Madrid for a private food, shopping or flamenco tour — you’ll surely see many lights and decorations in the city along the way.

5 Spanish dishes perfect for an American Thanksgiving

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Sometimes being a rebel is just too tempting to pass up.  Whether it means sneaking an extra item through the 10-items-and-under line at your local grocery store or standing in place under a “no loitering” sign, we all have to bring our inner bad boy or girl out every now and then.
And when it comes to Thanksgiving, although we love tradition, sometimes we secretly think of putting a few alternative dishes on the festive table just to shake things up.

If you’re looking to add some spice – literally and figuratively – to your Thanksgiving feast this year, you need look no further than Spain for inspiration.  Here we take a look at five delectable Spanish foods and recipes which would fit perfectly on your holiday table making your guests shout Olé!

The Appetizer:  Jamón Ibérico

Often lauded as the Rolls Royce of ham, a Spanish jamón Ibérico is the star on any Spanish menu and treated with a much-deserved respect.  This Spanish delicacy is sweet and nutty with a delicate layer of fat (good cholesterol by the way!) literally melts on your tongue.  The Guardian, dedicated an entire article to jamón ibérico in 2010 stating that  “few food experiences have or ever will match it.”

Previously, very difficult to get outside of Spain, laws have changed worldwide, allowing gourmands everywhere to partake in the experience.  With many options to purchase a Spanish jamón online, there is no excuse to deny this treasure to your guests and you’ll find that it is the perfect prelude to the upcoming feast.  Odds are high that Anthony Bourdain will be having it on his Thanksgiving table as well!

The Sides: Espinacas con Garbanzos

Espinacas con garbanzos
Photo by Xemenendura via Wikipedia

A popular choice in the tapas bars of Seville, this is the perfect side dish, to combine your greens and legumes. The spinach is sautéed in olive oil with garlic and cumin along with the chickpeas. Slightly mash them for some texture and voilá, your Andalusian side is ready to serve. Go to recipe.

The Dressing/Stuffing:  Migas

Spanish Migas
Photo by Tamorlan via Wikipedia

Every region in Spain has their version of a dish called Migas.  Literally meaning crumbs in Spanish, this dish is made with day-old bread (hence the name crumbs) and is mixed with diced chorizo and bits of Spanish bacon.  Adding grapes or figs gives this dish its unique twist. Although intended to be eaten on its own, migas make a delicious alternative to a traditional stuffing mixture, and can be used as a dressing on the side or to stuff a bird. Go to recipe.

The Bird:  Pollo en Pepitoria

Pollo en pepitoria
Photo by Tamorlan via Wikipedia

Although turkey is not as common in Spain as it is in the US, it does find its way onto the dinner table, especially at the holidays.  But since we’re feeling rebellious, we’re suggesting a distinctive chicken dish, flavored with sherry and saffron.  Pollo en pepitoria, as it is known, is a comfort food that could be – and should be – elevated to a higher status.  This recipe can certainly be made with turkey too. Go to recipe.

The Dessert:  Tarta de Santiago

Tarta de Santiago
Photo by Katrin Gilger via flickr

When it comes to Autumn desserts, the almond rules in Spain.  And we can think of no better representation than the ubiquitous Tarta de Santiago (St. James’ cake).   A moist and rich cake made with ground almonds and no flour.  The recipe dates back to the middle ages and is named after the patron saint of Spain, St. James, known in Spanish as Santiago. His legend has spurred millions to undergo the pilgrimage, The Camino de Santiago (The Way!).  This cake is covered in powdered sugar and traditionally decorated with an imprint of the cross of St. James. Go to recipe.

Happy Thanksgiving from Corazón Travel and Insider’s Madrid