Art, Palaces and Cathedrals in Madrid and Toledo
By Ellen Sack, The Barge Lady
My husband Nick and I recently enjoyed three VERY packed days in Spain. Nick had never been to Spain and I was determined to see, experience and taste as much as possible! Our trip began in Madrid where we stayed at the Hotel Ritz by Belmond. Because I represent five Belmond-owned and beautifully operated barges in France, it was easy to choose this this hotel – as well as for the perfect location next door to the Prado Museum and within walking distances of many top sights. The Ritz epitomizes old-world elegance, reflecting its interesting history: Built in 1910 to accommodate King Alfonso VIII wedding guests. The Ritz still looks and operates as if it were still receiving royal guests. Every day I ate breakfast in a salon lined with tapestries and on some nights returned to eat dinner in the hotel’s romantic courtyard restaurant. Service was strategic and friendly, particularly at the front door. Here I am with my favorite doorman.
Madrid is a large (population over 3.2 million) and spread out city. Thus it was very helpful to begin with two comprehensive city tours on the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus – which we picked up right outside the hotel. Once we understood the major locations (museums, squares, royal palace, shopping streets), it was easy to plan our stay. Another great help was the Madrid Card, which allowed immediate entry to the museums and other main sights. Thus equipped we were able to easily visit the Prado every day and gorge our eyes on the greatest collection of Goya paintings in the world, as well as other masterpieces of European art. Our other favorite was the opulent and well-preserved Royal Palace of Madrid. Our tour included a dining room and throne room still used by the Spanish royal family.
I thought that instead of eating dinner in restaurants, we would use that time for typical Spanish experiences. The dinner and flamenco show at the very welcoming venue of CORRAL DE LA MORERIA was outstanding (It is typical of me, perhaps, that I remember the elegant chocolate dessert just as much as the dancing!). On another night, we enjoyed a food tour called Tapas, Taverns and History – a very fun way to enjoy both the local scene and typical Spanish cuisine.
There were many day trips out of Madrid. We chose to explore Toledo because of our interest in Jewish history and culture, although there has been no Jewish population in Toledo since the Expulsion in 1492. We hired a private guide which meant that we could accomplish a lot in one day. Here are Nick and I, pictured above, overlooking this ancient town. We visited two synagogues – one of which is owned by the Spanish government and the other by the Catholic Church – as well as walked the town with our guide who introduced the former Jewish Quarter and many buildings and personages now lost to history. An unexpected highlight was the Holy Cathedral of Toledo, one of the greatest Gothic structures in Europe and boasting two paintings by Goya among its many treasures. It was interesting to compare the two tiny and simple synagogues to the Cathedral and to discuss the values represented in these buildings.
So, this was Spain: A feast for the eyes, the appetite and the senses. Below are the sources I used to plan and execute this incredible, but all-too-short, trip:
Sources for Madrid and Toledo
Hotel Ritz by Belmond
Plaza de la Lealtad 5, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Tel: +34 91 701 67 67
Madrid Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
Madrid Day Tours
To book the Flamenco dinner and private airport transfer
Madrid Food Tour
Jewish Toledo Tour