Madrid: bathed in sunshine most of the year and host to an exuberant 24-hour party scene. Add to this a high standard - and low cost - of living, plus a resurgent property market offering investment opportunities and the Spanish capital is an inviting prospect.
Of time and the city
Time is a relative concept in Madrid. The expression “no pasa nada” — literally “nothing happens”, figuratively “no worries” — is as much an attitude as a local expression. Days can be punctuated by siestas, with breaks for chocolate and churros at venues such as Chocolatería San Ginés, where the snack has been a 4pm ritual for more than 120 years.
Most of the city’s restaurants don’t get going until 10pm, so nightclubs tend not to fill before 2.30am. The early morning return home means that, at weekends, Madrid is largely dead before 11am. Frequent public holidays mean plenty of short weeks, and for the whole of August life grinds to a halt to allow an exodus to the beach.
Real estate bounceback
The Spanish property market has been through a lost decade: when the construction bubble burst following the 2008 financial crisis, it triggered price falls of up to 45 per cent, and 300,000 new homes were left empty in Madrid alone. Now, as a result of low interest rates, falling unemployment and a healthier economy, the property market is gaining strength, with prices nationally up 7.2 per cent since their low in 2015.
According to the latest quarterly figures from valuer Tinsa, Madrid is leading the charge; in the past 12 months, prices across the city have risen 17 per cent. Property commentators predict this resurgence will gain further momentum as overseas cash that might otherwise have gone to London, were it not for Brexit, is attracted to the Spanish capital.
Inclusive dining culture
Dining out is a way of life in Madrid. Its bars and restaurants start to get busy in the early morning when Madrileños from all backgrounds gather shoulder-to-shoulder for a pre-work coffee. Many cafés are bustling from 7am, but for a less hectic, more artisan experience join the local hipsters in Toma Café in the heart of Malasana. The establishments are then repopulated by workers from early evening for cañas (small draft beers); many bars dish out free tapas to keep the drink orders flowing.
Given that €1.50-€2.50 will buy you a decent glass of Spanish Toro, Rioja or Ribera, there is no need to compromise on either quantity or quality. The same applies to restaurants, which tend to offer generous spreads from Spain’s regions at reasonable prices.
Everyone has a favourite tapas venue, but you could do worse than the likes of family-run Bodegas Ricla, which serves a fine tripe stew, and Bodega de la Ardosa, a 111-year-old restaurant offering up delicious croquetas and small tumblers of vermouth.
The joy of getting lost in Madrid’s winding back streets goes up a notch up when you emerge into one of its many bustling street markets — an assault on the senses as well as a potential strain on the waistline. From Mercado de San Miguel in the centre of the city serving up incredible tapas, pastries and speciality calamari sandwiches, to the 75-year-old Mercado de Maravillas (“Market of Marvels”) in the north-central Cuatro Caminos district, where live snails are on offer, Madrid’s markets are a destination for locally sourced fare.
For those seeking something other than food, there are also flea markets, such as the Mercado de Motores, set in a former station. Here stalls sell vintage clothes and arts and crafts goods against a backdrop of old locomotives.
Somewhere to slope off to
Madrid is known for being well connected, with cheap transport links to the rest of the country — Valencia, Seville and Barcelona are all less than three hours away by train. In the winter months, though, the city has some snowy pistes right on its doorstep. The slopes of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range host several ski resorts, the nearest being Puerto de Navacerrada, a mere 65km from Madrid.
When the snow disappears in April, the mountain slopes fill with hikers and climbers taking in the incredible scenery.
Photographs: Getty Images/iStockphoto; Light Rocket via Getty Images; Dreamstime.com