It already seems too long since myreturn from our Gourmet Madrid trip, but I can still taste the warm, gooey centre of freshly fried tortilla and the rich spiciness of Toledo wine. If you’ve never experienced this vibrant city, let me try to entice you with a little breakdown of what we saw, ate and drank…
Tapas, Tapas, Tapas
Every major city in Spain may lay claim to having the best tapas, but the incredible diversity of offerings and value for money (providing you avoid the ubiquitous tourist traps) makes Madrid my firm favourite. We spent a lot of time in the Mercado de San Miguel, savouring traditional Vermut aperitivos, sumptuous jamón Iberico, and Madrid’s famous fiery potato dish, patatas bravas.
I always find that you get so much more from the experience of tasting wine if you have a little insider knowledge, so for our first day we spent the afternoon learning the basics with our slightly eccentric host Julián. In the basement cellars of Madrid we were shown all the tricks of the trade through a series of fun games and quizzes, leaving us ready to swirl, sniff and sip in vineyards like the pros. After this we all headed for a gourmet tapas meal with the best Sangria in town!
Carafes and Castles
Our fist vineyard venture took us into the mountains on the outskirts of the city and to some of the most impressive views around, which we got to enjoy at a custom built tasting area carved from the very rose granite which helps to make the wine so delicious. The bodega owners also run the local old Castillo, which just happens to be the sight of the signing of the marriage contract between Isabella of Castile and Fernando of Aragon which united the kingdoms of Spain. After a private tour of the castle we are treated to a homemade lunch in the old chapel – heavenly!
When visiting this area around Madrid you should never miss a chance to see the magnificent El Escorial monastery – part building of worship/part palace where the kings and queens of Spain have been buried for centuries in awe inspiring marble tombs. We had just enough time to admire the building and have a moment to get lost in the gallery of art treasures within before it was time to head back to the city for a taste of traditional Basque fare in one of Madrid’s favourite little family-run spots.
The Original Capital City
Today’s excursion was to the ancient city of three cultures; the former Spanish capital of Toledo. Famous for its unrivalled blend of Catholic, Islamic and Jewish architecture, as well as top notch steel and mouth-watering marzipan, this is a wonderfully eclectic place where you can wander the cobbled streets and come across cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues nestled between shops filled with swords, suits of armour and golden yellow almond creations!
As the former seat of power in Spain, naturally Toledo needed a good supply of wine (such an important life staple!) The wines of the area may have been overshadowed by the fame and popularity of Rioja to the North, but Toledo vineyards have history and the passion of family producers who have been harvesting for generations on their side. We visited one such vineyard, whose methods have changed little since the 18th century, when prestigious French architects were brought over to design the perfect winery. The fruits of their labour have been enjoyed by royalty, politicians and celebrities, and today by our little group of wine lovers. After a fascinating tour by wine expert Jorge, we are treated to glasses of 3 fantastic reds, the great value of which was such that several couples decided to buy additional suitcases for the journey home to accommodate as many bottles as possible!
Back to the Future
This evening’s meal saw us discovering the very best of Madrid’s new wave of modern, quirky cooking and tantalising twists on the classics. Abraham Garcia, the eccentric and very talented owner and chef, took us on a taste safari, from curried lentil and crab soup, through decadent porcini and foie sauce with freshly grated truffle, all the way to white and dark chocolate panna cotta with coconut and rum sauce… and even more in between! All washed down with fabulous local wine and a glass of cava and lemon sorbet – perfection!
The Last Supper
Our final day was a chance to explore independently, with some choosing to visit Madrid’s iconic “Big 3” art galleries, whilst others strolled the bustling streets of unusual shops and lively bars. Our farewell lunch took place at a proper Spanish hour – 3pm. We headed for another great restaurant institution of Madrid, where the walls are crammed with bullfighting paraphernalia and family photos, and the atmosphere is like a large but cosy dinner party. The traditional jamón, Manchego cheese, rich croquettas, and gigantic, succulent steaks are like gourmet comfort food – it’s enough to make you feel like a true Spaniard! And hopefully, that’s exactly what the group came away with – a little taste of the real Spain, and in particular, Gourmet Madrid.