Madrilenõs have many reasons to be grateful to King Charles III, who was born 300 years ago and is now being commemorated with a variety of events. During his reign, far-reaching urban developments were carried out, notably the transformation of Paseo del Prado into an elegant boulevard lined with educational institutions. One of these was a vast building devoted to natural sciences, which now houses the Museo del Prado.
There you will find the work of Francisco de Goya, so synonymous with the city, on all of the museum’s three floors, as well as The Art of Clara Peeters (until 19 February), an exhibition of fifteen works by this extraordinary 17th-century Belgian still-life painter, whose known surviving oeuvre numbers barely 40 paintings.
The Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a contemporary art museum, occupies a hospital that was also part of Charles III’s grand plan. There is still time to see its excellent Marcel Broodthaers retrospective (through 9 January), which includes more than 300 works. While at the museum, stay for lunch at the renowned Arzábal restaurant or have a drink and a bite at the stylish NuBel in the Reina Sofía’s Jean Nouvel-designed wing. And though it might be tempting to linger there, head back to Paseo del Prado and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza to see Renoir: Intimacy (through 22 January), a show that aims to create a sensual, rather than purely visual, experience.
Spain’s lack of central government since December 2015 has delayed the opening of the Museum of Royal Collections, behind the Palacio Real, for at least two years, even though the building has already been completed. Still, parts of the museum will be open for short periods in 2017, offering exhibitions and guided visits.
February is a frenetic month on the art front, with events buzzing around ARCOmadrid, the international contemporary art fair that takes place at the IFEMA exhibition centre (22–26 February). The fair organisers always like to promote the art of a chosen country, and this year, it’s Argentina. More Latin American art features in other venues around the city, including works from the Coleccíon Isabel y Agustín Coppel at the Fundación Banco Santander; the Lima, Peru-based Hochschild Collection at Sala Alcalá 31; and the Costantini Collection at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
Art Madrid, at the Galería de Cristal at the CentroCentro cultural centre in Plaza de Cibeles, runs at the same time as the ARCO fair and hosts more than 50 galleries showing the work of both new and established artists. For its part, JustMad8 (21–26 February), at the COAM architectural centre, focuses on emerging art.
It’s not just the art world that is thriving in the Spanish capital: its restaurant scene is easily the most exciting in the country at the moment. Now that star chef David Muñoz has opened his spectacular StreetXO bar and restaurant in London’s Mayfair, presumably even more people will be trying to land a reservation at Madrid’s DiverXO, the only restaurant with three Michelin stars in the city. If you can’t get a table, try Muñoz’s zingy Asian-fusion dishes at his StreetXO bar in the Gourmet Experience section of El Corte Inglés on Calle de Serrano – if you don’t mind a bit of queuing.
Even though it has now been seven years since the Mercado de San Miguel near Plaza Mayor kicked off the trend for delicatessen markets, the concept shows no sign of running out of steam. While most are revamped food markets, Platea takes the idea up a few notches: it is a sleek gastronomic hub located within the shell of a huge movie theatre. Ramón Freixa, whose main restaurant at Hotel Único has two Michelin stars, runs Arriba on the first floor of the former cinema, while tastings and live music on higher tiers keep the space buzzing at all times.
Another chef with two stars, Dani García from Andalucía, opened the vast, brasserie-style BiBo on Paseo de la Castellana in the autumn. His contemporary versions of classic tapas are served in a striking space created by the interior designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán, who is also behind one of several chic hotels to have opened in Madrid in the past year.
At the Only You Hotel Atocha, Rosa-Violán has gone for midcentury modern style – a bit more restrained than the Andalucían exuberance of BiBo. Situated opposite the AVE high-speed train terminal at the Atocha railways station, it is less than ten minutes from the Reina Sofía, Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums.
The Tótem, another new hotel, stands on one of the most elegant corners in the city’s Salamanca district. It has a clubby New York feel, while its bar and restaurant, Hermosos y Malditos (The Beautiful and The Damned), has instantly become a favourite haunt among art world denizens, who meet there for lunch or spend the evening with gin and tonics relaxing in inky-blue sofas.
Near the Teatro Real opera house, the Gran Meliá Palacio de los Duques exudes discreet 19th-century glamour. Shimmery metallic tones create a contemporary luxe vibe throughout the hotel, accentuated by large reproductions of Velázquez paintings. Uptown, the Barceló Emperatriz hotel was inspired by Eugenia de Montijo, the 19th-century beauty who was a staunch supporter of equality for women and became the last Empress Consort of the French when she married Napoleon III. The Museo Lázaro Galdiano, which has one of the best art collections in the city, is a short walk away, as is the Museo Sorolla, where an exhibition devoted to the Valencia-born artist’s time in Paris is on view through 19 March.
Although Madrid is a dense capital city, it is surprisingly accessible. Wherever you stay, you can usually walk to the major museums and still happen upon a lesser-known collection or gallery just around the corner. And one thing is for sure: there is nearly always an appealing tapas bar nearby, too.
Annie Bennett writes about Spanish culture, travel and food for national newspapers and magazines. Her books include Blue Guide Madrid and National Geographic Traveler Madrid.
Lead Image: © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo