Gravel crunches softly underfoot, a child plays on a scooter, a couple rest with heads on each other’s shoulders. Here, the trees of the Bosque de Recuerdos take the edge off Madrid’s heat and calm everything down.
Parque de El Retiro is a world away from the crowded and hot Puerta del Sol.
Madrid’s Commercial Centre
Puerta del Sol is the commercial hub of the city. Roads full of shops and buskers stream off in all directions. Legend has it that all roads in Spain lead to the Puerta del Sol, and stood in a hubbub of free city tours, in the way of Instagram poses and life-size Mickey Mouse, Homer Simpson and Mario, it certainly felt like the whole of Spain was trying to shove past me.
To me, the sun-bleached retractable window shades in the plaza looked old fashioned and scruffy. Traffic noise from the flat length of the semi-circular gap in buildings increased the sense of impatience encasing the area.
It was too much for me to even wait to get a decent photo of the famous bear and tree statue, the symbol of Madrid.
Hotfooting it away, my husband, brother and I did the normal tourist thing of checking out the Palace. The white stone building stands the length of a whole street and reflected the heat in all directions. A small park to the side of the building offered shade and the best view. Green trees and standard hedges give way to white building against a blue sky.
Barrio de las Letras
Back through the city, we had lunch in the Barrio de las Letras, where both Lope de la Vega and Cervantes lived and died. Peaceful yet upbeat, but not gentrified, there are enough cafes and bars here to last a week without retrying any.
Plaza del Angel feels a lot cleaner and fresher. Here, the grand buildings are newly painted and everything is tidy. We sat and enjoyed beer and sangria in the square, the kind of place where hours can be spent people-watching.
Crackles finished the weekend, sparks flying from charcoal to metal grill, to salted steak. This is the best steak restaurant I have been to, Casa Julian de Tolosa. One huge chunk of meat cooked how we like it over the fire. The chef cut it to size just before being brought to the table, served with roasted peppers.
Inspired to visit? Here are 7 Things to do in Madrid
Madrid not taken your fancy? Have a look at my recommendations for 4 Alternative City Breaks