Sometimes, you just want to take the scenic route. And so, every time I return back to the handsome URSO Hotel after a day pounding the calles and plazas, I snub the shiny, newfangled lifts and take the original, wrought-iron elevator up the stained-glass stairwell to our sleek deluxe room.
Madrid's URSO Hotel is the perfect balance of ornamentation and restrained elegance, from its 19th-century neoclassical fa?ade to the clean lines and muted palette of the 78 guest rooms and suites. In between is a lot of contemporary Chinoiserie, its centrepiece a light-filled conservatory where breakfast is served against a backdrop of fabric wallpaper, potted bamboo plants and vertical, grassy knolls. Last year, the five-star URSO celebrated its first birthday, and it's showing no signs of premature ageing.
It's in a classy neighbourhood between the Chamberi, Tribunal and Chueca districts, the Alonso Mart?nez Metro station a five-minute walk away. Summer is ideal for a stroll in the city, not least around the Parque del Retiro, which boasts 350 hectares of public gardens, sculptures, bandstands and a boating lake. Be sure to check out the exquisite glass pavilion Palacio de Cristal, which hosts fine art exhibitions.
Parque del Retiro
Continue the art theme by carrying on to the nearby Prado (museodelprado.es) that's famously festooned with works by the Old Masters. Before chiaroscuro fatigue sets in, be sure to seek out Goya's sombre ?Black Paintings? - ?Half-Submerged Dog? is devastating in its simplicity and a surprisingly fitting segue into contemporary galleries the Reina Sofia (free admission every Monday, Wednesday to Saturday 7pm-9pm, Sundays 1.30pm-7pm; museoreinasofia.es) and Thyssen Bornemisza (free Mondays noon until 4pm; museothyssen.org).
No trip to Madrid though is complete without eating and drinking your way around it, and on this trip, we zoned in on its buzzy food markets. The recently opened Barcel? (mercadobarcelo.es)?is directly the opposite, while in contrast is the historic iron-and-glass Mercado San Miguel (mercadodesanmiguel.es), which has a stomach-growling array of treats, from tapas to sweets to fresh pizzas (my forest mushrooms, spicy gorgonzola, mozzarella and basil concoction at Pizzeria Tonda was sublime), plus vermouth, cocktail, beer, wine and sherry bars. Also great fun is Mercado San Fernando (mercadodesanfernando.es), where live entertainment enriches the masses - we were treated to a local tap-dancing troupe. How's that for a city of diversity?