BY TRAVELIN’ GAL MAXINE ALBERT
Tapas, flamenco and reveling till the wee hours in those cool Madrid bars, no wonder everyone takes a siesta in the afternoon. The fabulous nightlife is just one reason to be enthralled with this happening and sophisticated city. There’s the extraordinary Prado Museum where you can get up close and personal with Spanish Masters – Velazquez, El Greco and those wondrous Black Paintings of Goya.
Madrid is a foodie paradise and the bustling Mercado de San Miguel offers a dizzying array of yummy specialties. Savor all varieties of artisanal ham, cheese and fine little things to nibble on while enjoying a tasty drink - it’s a party. For amazing tapas like cod fish balls, octopus and smoked tetilla cheese risotto and Iberian ham croquettes head to Estado Puro on Plaza Canovas del Castillo. Try suckling pig at the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin, on Calle de Cuchilleros, then off to nearby Villa Rosa for superb flamenco.
Fashionistas love the boutiques of barrio del Salamanca. On Sundays, everyone goes to check out El Rastro Flea Market for everything from clothing to antiques and collectors items.
Best of all, just stroll the streets of Madrid, take in the architecture, art galleries, cafes, bars and jazz clubs, the shops and winding pathways of the Literary Quarter, pulsing Santa Ana Square, vibrant Chueca and authentic LaLatina. There’s something magical about Madrid; it’s in the air.
The luxury boutique Hospes Hotel, situated in Madrid’s central Plaza de la Independencia with views overlooking Retiro Park, features forty one spacious, elegant rooms and suites stylishly decorated with sleek silver and white marble, with large beds, plush linens and wrought iron balconies. Their Bodyna Spa, which offers a complimentary twenty-minute massage for each guest, has the best practitioners of any place I have been. After an amazing shiatsu session with Susana, I swanned into their Senzone Restaurant where chef extraordinaire Andrew Bryson enthralled me with his gourmet culinary creations paired with fine wines. Sublime acorn ham croquettes, octopus with Romesco, shellfish fregola and out-of-this-world ham-wrapped deer loin with apple and chocolate sauce were unsurpassed. Bravo Hospes, but you’ve made it so hard to leave.
For an airport pick up in stylish car and excursions in Madrid and throughout Spain:
A flight of just over two hours from Madrid takes you to the land of eternal sunshine. The Canarians have great cuisine, excellent local wines and a culture closely connected with South America and Cuba, apparent in their carnivals and salsa music. Volcanic in origin, this Spanish archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa boasts lovely beaches, a perfect subtropical climate and striking natural attractions. This makes it an ideal destination for both the leisure and business traveler. Tenerife, the largest island, hosted nine hundred sixty seven business related events last year - meetings, conventions, incentive travel, organizations and training sessions, with some fifty eight thousand attendees. Magma Events Center in Costa Adeje, stunning and fabulously high tech, sets the bar for anything business related. They will customize any requests such as a recent team-building program that took place on a banana plantation, and a Mardi Gras themed corporate promotion.
In addition to beaches, including some nude ones, Tenerife’s varied terrain is lush and green in the north with plentiful palm trees and the endemic dragon tree and arid in the south. The unique landscape boasts myriad craters, lava fields, volcanic cones and caves. Meandering through Teide National Park with fantastic reddish and green rock formations is like walking on the moon. Thrill as you ascend Mount Teide, the highest point in Spain, by cable car, then trek onward if you dare. The panoramic vista is breathtaking. Don’t miss the stargazing. With no light pollution in the night sky you may even see the rings of Saturn.
I had my first Mojo, a savory Canary spread made with oil, peppers and other spices, when I lunched on tasty roast black pig and local wine at Bodegas Monje in Sauzal. Santa Cruz, with its parks and tree lined avenues is home to the world famous Tenerife Symphony. At World Heritage City La Laguna, glimpse olden buildings, courtyards large enough for horses and the historic town square. The whale and dolphin cruise aboard the Nashira Uno at Los Gigantes Marina with the playful creatures swimming alongside the boat was a highlight – and so was luscious paella at Casa Pancho by the beach.
There are many luxury hotels on the island for business travelers as well as nature and sun worshippers. Below are some of my absolute favorites.
Abama Golf & Spa Resort:
This 5 star hotel features luxurious accommodations, swimming pools, its own beach, golf course, a spa with Turkish hamam, and entertainment at the Morocco Club. Ten dining options include MB, the Michelin starred signature restaurant of renowned Basque chef Martin Berasategui, and El Mirador featuring superb seafood and local fare.
Gran Melia Palacio Guia de Isora Hotel:
A lavish luxury resort with dazzling lobby, nightly water show, swimming pools, stylish accommodations, spa with water ritual center, and disco. International gourmet restaurant options include the al fresco Market Grill with live Cuban/Latin band of amazing musicians.
Iberostar Gran Mencey Hotel:
This business-friendly hotel offers spacious accommodations, pool, comprehensive gym, spa with thermal circuit and casino. Dining options include cooking studio where guests watch master chef Juan Carlos prepare gastronomic specialties like octopus ravioli and Iberian pork.
A short ferry ride from Tenerife takes you to the small, quaint island of La Gomera. This verdant paradise of lush rolling hills offers nature lovers deep ravines, dramatic cliffs, secluded beaches and beautiful sunsets. You can hike in Garajonay National Park, a World Heritage Site with exquisite evergreen laurel forest and rich flora and fauna. Visit the picturesque town of Agulo with magnificent ocean views, cobbled streets and tiled houses, then continue to El Cercado village where ceramics are still crafted by hand, without a potter’s wheel. Stroll the capital, San Sebastian, with its old quarter and famed Aguada House, where you’ll see the actual well from which Christopher Columbus drew the water he used on his journey to the New World. This was his last stop before he set sail.
Listen for the sounds of El Silbo, an ancient language that is whistled rather than spoken. It’s a hallmark of La Gomera’s unique culture, still used and taught in all public schools. For exceptional traditional cuisine head to Casa Efigenia La Montana, a charming restaurant run by Efigenia and her son Sergio. Savor out of this world vegetarian dishes and salads fresh from their garden, like gofio (a tasty grain) with mojo, vegetable stew and delectable almogrote (artisanal cheese paste). •
Parador La Gomera:
On a mountain with marvelous views, this luxury hotel features gardens with subtropical plants, pool, Castilian and Isabelline interiors and gastronomic specialties.
La Gomera Tourism: