What I saw

The Prado, of course. I spent a happy morning wandering around its galleries, taking in Bosch’s fantastically trippy The Garden of Earthly Delights, Goya’s peeking dog and Velázquez’s mournful Mars, with his droopy moustache and helmet askew. Next on the list was the Royal Palace, decorated in lavishly curlicued Italianate style by its first occupant, the Bourbon Charles III. Today, it’s used only for official functions, so visitors are free to explore many of its 3,000-odd rooms. As the sun sank beneath the hills outside the city, I made my way to the Mercado de San Miguel (www.mercadodesanmiguel.es), a historic covered food market, where I extensively sampled the sherry and jamon Iberico on offer. Did I buy? You bet I did!

Where I spent my evenings

Corral de la Moreira (00 34 913 658 446; www.corraldelamoreria.com) is the most famous flamenco tablao in the world. With a glass of Spanish red in my hand, I watched star performers Ana González and Francisco Hidalgo stomp and scowl magnificently, accompanied by traditional cante singing and guitars. The King of Spain himself has been known to make an appearance, so make sure you dress to impress. Once a theatre, Teatriz (00 34 915 77 53 79; www.teatriz.com) is now a spectacular, Philippe Starck-designed venue, popular with inter-national foodies and well-heeled madrileños. Don’t skip pre-dinner drinks-the innovative cocktails, prepared on the stage by expert
mixologists, are the stars of the show.

How I got about

The Old Town, Madrid’s historic heart, is a joy to explore on foot. I ambled down narrow side streets and across echoing squares as Rosa, my indefatigably cheerful guide, pointed out colourful fresco façades, a nunnery that sold sweets and Botín, the world’s oldest restaurant. To get the most out of the experience, consider joining one of the guided walks organised by the tourist board (www.esmadrid.com)-the Essential Madrid tour departs daily from the Plaza Mayor (the city’s grand main square).

How I travelled there

Major carriers, including easyJet (0843 104 5000; www.easyjet.com) and British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.britishairways.com), fly direct to Madrid from London several times a day, with a flight time of just under two hours.

Where I stayed

At the five-star Villa Magna (00 34 915 871 234; www.hotelvillamagna.com) on Paseo de la Castellana-Madrid’s equivalent of Bond Street. The hotel has recently reopened following a total renovation, and its sophisticated interiors provide the perfect backdrop to a deluxe city break. Everywhere you look are thoughtful little touches-one night, I arrived back in my suite to find a tray of macarons baked that afternoon by the hotel’s pâtisserie waiting for me. Later, nibbling these in my suite’s lagoon-sized bath, I reflected that, really, it doesn’t get much better than this. Villa Magna is 15 minutes’ drive from Madrid-Barajas Airport, and offers rates from £225 (€270) per room per night, based on two people sharing.

What I ate

At Estado Puro (00 34 913 30 24 00; www.tapasenestadopuro.com), just across the road from the Prado, I tucked into tapas with a 21st-century twist-think deconstructed tortilla and crisp, creamy croquetas served in a white-china container designed to look like a plastic cup. Tse Yang, tucked away inside Villa Magna, brought Cantonese cuisine to Madrid back in 1972, and is still leading the way today. I was presented with a feast of dim sum, Peking duck carved at the table and the most delicious prawn toasts I’ve ever tasted.

How I unwound

Villa Magna’s in-house spa, Club Wellness by Kiara Kare, pampers guests in a soothing sub-terranean setting. I booked in for the An Apple a Day treatment, which incorporates green-apple extract and vitamins A, C and E. After a blissful 75 minutes of being buffed, cleansed and massaged, I emerged refreshed and smelling pleasingly of orchards-just in time for lunch.

What surprised me most

Madrid’s newest green spaces are a revelation. The Rio Project has transformed what was once
six miles of industrial nothingness next to the Manzanares River into a lush waterside park, complete with sports facilities, children’s play areas and an urban beach, to which the city’s landlocked residents decamp when the sun comes out. Since 2008, more than 25,000 trees have been planted there, and the bridges over the river have been lovingly restored-including the
16th-century Puente de Segovia, the oldest in Madrid. It’s a wonderful place to walk off the weekend’s gastronomic excesses.

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