The Spanish Game (Alec Milius 2) - Articles

Guide to Madrid from The Sunday Telegraph

You can also find this article on The Telegraph's website at http://bit.ly/domS7C 

WHY MADRID?

I lived here for three years while writing The Spanish Game, a novel about a British spy who becomes embroiled in a Basque separatist plot. My wife was a teacher at an international school in the city and we still regularly return to visit friends, eat great food and watch Real Madrid at the Bernabéu.

WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST WHEN YOU'RE AWAY?

The slower pace of life. Madrid may be a capital city, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. The emphasis is on good times: long, boozy lunches, late dinners, walks in the Parque Retiro and bars that stay open beyond dawn. Madrileños tend to mind their own business. There's none of the aggression that you find on the streets of too many British cities.

WHAT'S THE FIRST THING YOU DO WHEN YOU RETURN?

I head to the Café Commercial, a Madrid institution. A revolving door takes you into a vast, high-ceilinged café where grumpy waiters in shrunken white jackets ferry cafés con leche and plates of tortilla to an eclectic mix of office workers, tourists, struggling writers and unemployed actors.

WHERE'S THE BEST PLACE TO STAY?

If you want the full Posh and Becks experience, stay at the Hotel AC Santo Mauro (C/Zurbano 36; 0034 91 319 6900; www.hotelacsantomauro.com; doubles from £150), where the happy couple made their home when they first arrived in Madrid. For those on a tighter budget, try the Hotel Vinci Soho (C/del Prado 18; 141 4100; www.hotelvinccisoho.com; from £92) in the heart of the Old Town.

WHERE WOULD YOU MEET FRIENDS FOR A DRINK?

Museo Chicote (Gran Via 12) is Madrid's most famous bar, largely because Hemingway drank there, but it can become loud and crowded at weekends. Head instead to the nearby Del Diego (C/de la Reina 12; 523 3106), the best cocktail bar in town. For a more relaxed atmosphere, Pez Gordo (C/del Pez 6) is a charming, busy little bar in the heart of the Malasaña district. Pedro Almodóvar holds court there from time to time.

WHERE ARE YOUR FAVOURITE PLACES FOR LUNCH?

There's a great tradition in Spain known as the menú del día, a simple, three-course lunch usually costing less than €10. A favourite haunt, near Plaza de España, is Ristorante Reina, on the corner of Calle del Tutor and Calle Ventura Rodríguez. The lentils are superb. For something more sophisticated, try La Musa (C/Manuela Malasaña; 448 7558) or the famous (and expensive) Café Gijon (top middle; Paseo de Recoletos, 21), where they do superb grilled meat and fish.

AND FOR DINNER?

Fresh seafood is still packed in ice and brought to Madrid by overnight train. Some of the best is served at Ribeira do Miño (C/de Santa Brígida 1; 521 9854), a cheap, atmospheric Galician marisquería. Ask for the house speciality of prawns, piled eight inches high on a plate of boiled crab and razor fish. For the best tapas, it has to be Bocaito (C/de la Libertad 4; 532 1219), but eat at the bar rather than in the restaurant. They do fabulous mushrooms fried in garlic and spicy, chargrilled green peppers known as pimientos de padrón.

WHERE WOULD YOU SEND A FIRST-TIME VISITOR?

Most people head for the Prado, but for my money there's an even better gallery just across the street. The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Paseo del Prado 8) houses arguably the finest private art collection in the world.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THEM TO AVOID? 

The Plaza Mayor, in the Old City, is the heart of tourist country. The square is beautiful, but the tourist-trap bars and restaurants that surround it should be shut down. The service is terrible, the drinks are overpriced and you may never recover after eating their paella. 

PUBLIC TRANSPORT OR TAXI? 

Taxis are extremely cheap and the metro efficient and easy to use. But traffic jams are a major problem - even at four o'clock in the morning. The centre is relatively small and can easily be negotiated on foot. 

HANDBAG OR MONEYBELT? 

In three years of living in Madrid, I didn't hear of a single instance of mugging. As in any big city there are parts to be avoided, but it's unlikely that you'd visit these on a brief trip. The area surrounding Gran Vía metro station can get a bit seedy late at night. 

WHAT SHOULD I TAKE HOME?

Some of the delicious Jamón Serrano. 

AND IF I'VE ONLY TIME FOR ONE SHOP? 

Lavinia (C/José Ortega y Gasset 16), a temple of wine in the chic Salamanca shopping district. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable and the range of French, Spanish and New World wines is staggering. Ribera del Duero is a great buy.