Context Tavernas and Tapas, a culinary tour through the bars of Huertas


If you’ve done any traveling lately, you might have noticed that food tours are rapidly becoming a global trend. Companies around the world now offer guided visits to restaurants, bars, and markets, promising to let you in on culinary secrets or show you how to eat like a local. Madrid is no exception. In fact, this city has more than its share of options, thanks to its vibrant dining scene and world-famous cuisine.

I recently had the chance to participate in a food tour for the very first time, thanks to Context Travel. The company offers “tours for the intellectually curious” in cities across the world, including several in the Spanish capital. Many are focused on history or art, but this one was especially intriguing: Savoring Madrid: Tavernas and Tapas.

According to the Context website, the goal of this culinary tour is to define the concept of tapas through tastings at tavernas in the city center. Like all of their Madrid tours, it’s meant to offer an in-depth look at local culture, customs, and in this case, cuisine. But considering the dozens of bars, restaurants, and specialty dishes that are scattered throughout the city, how could it be possible to cover such a broad topic in just 3 hours? That’s what I intended to find out.

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Intricate mosaics decorate the exterior of one of the many historic bars in Huertas.

Hungry for history

The tour began at 7pm outside the Westin Palace hotel, close to many of Madrid’s main tourist attractions. Context limits the size of their tours to create a personalized experience—this one consisted only of me and a couple who were on vacation.

Our guide was Tessy Carrada, a culinary journalist of Mexican origin who moved to Madrid a few years ago. She started off by explaining the basics, with the help of maps and diagrams: what are tapas, where did they come from, and how are they eaten? What makes Spain’s cuisine unique? What can you expect when you go out for tapas in Madrid?

Next she told us how the tour would work. We’d visit three or four places, all in the Huertas neighborhood (also known as Barrio de las Letras). The idea was to show us non-touristy spots, the kinds of places locals go, where we’d get a true taste of the local culture. At each place, she would order a few tapas to share, taking into account our preferences, interests, and appetites. With the ground rules laid out, we set off into the city.

Cervecería Cervantes

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First up was a true classic, a place that was packed with customers even at the early hour of 7:30pm. We ordered drinks, and Tessy explained the particularities of Spanish brewing as we admired the collection of beer cans displayed on the restaurant’s walls. The waiter brought out a plate of giant olives and mussels, exemplifying the tradition of providing something to snack on along with every drink.

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Tessy then ordered several raciones to share: ham croquetas with padrón peppers, manchego cheese, and jamón ibéricoAs we ate, she offered insight on each and every item: how to make croquetas, what makes Spanish ham so special, and how to distinguish true manchego from imitations.

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I’ve lived in Spain for a while, and I’ve eaten (more than) my share of all of these classic tapas, but I’m not exaggerating when I say this might’ve been the best ham and cheese of my life. It took a lot of self-discipline to restrain myself and save room for the next destination…

La Fábrica

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As soon as we entered this colorful, crowded locale we were welcomed with the sights and smells of seafood. We gathered around an old barrel-turned-table and ordered albariño wine to accompany the salpicón (a kind of seafood salad) and boquerones (marinated anchovies) that Tessy suggested. I was quickly reminded of one of the most pleasant discoveries I’ve made in Madrid: despite my preconceived notions about slimy, stinky seafood, here it’s a true delicacy.

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The salpicón consisted of shrimp, mussels, and octopus swimming in olive oil with tomatoes, peppers, and onions. It was fresh, light, and incredibly delicious. A loaf of crusty bread was brought to the table, and Tessy encouraged us to break off pieces and soak them in the flavorful oil.

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The boquerones were perfectly seasoned and accompanied by olives and crispy potato chips. We were also served a small plate of cheese and chorizo—but it couldn’t compete with the perfection we’d already experienced at Cervantes. The star here was most certainly the seafood.

La Vinoteca

Although we attempted to find a spot at the renowned Casa Alberto, at 9pm on a Saturday night it proved difficult. Instead we went to La Vinoteca, which had a much more modern and upscale atmosphere than the previous bars. We ordered wine and cava from an impressively long and detailed list.

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To round out the night, Tessy ordered patatas bravas (fried potatoes smothered in slightly spicy sauce) and two pinchos (small toasts): one topped with spinach, goat cheese, and caramelized onions, and another with potato cake and duck magret.

Although the ambience here was lovely and the wine exceptional, I have to admit that the tapas weren’t quite as impressive as their successors. That being said, they were still delicious, and certainly provided a well-rounded sampling of some of Spain’s most famous specialties.

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For the last course of the evening, Tessy chose a layered trifle of chocolate and cream, as well as a sort of mini apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream. Although these were pretty standard sweets that didn’t exactly scream “Spain,” it’s hard to complain when there’s chocolate involved. After devouring dessert, we parted ways for the night with full bellies, satisfied palates, and a whole lot of newfound knowledge.

An interesting aftertaste

For me the best part of this tour, surprisingly, was not the food itself (although of course it was incredible). As a resident of Madrid, I can get authentic tapas whenever I want, on nearly every street corner. What this experience offered me was the chance to engage with the food I was eating on an intellectual level: to learn why tapas are called tapas, what distinguishes jamón ibérico from jamón serrano, and so much more. It was a lesson in being conscious of what I eat and the history and culture it reflects.

For travelers who only have a few days to sample the best of local cuisine, who don’t speak Spanish, or who simply don’t know where to begin, Context provides an ideal solution. Tessy’s insider knowledge and impeccable taste made for an interesting, entertaining, and thoroughly authentic journey through the taverns of Huertas.

Whether you’re a tourist who wants to experience the tapas culture firsthand, or a seasoned local who wants to learn more about the city you love, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the Context Tavernas and Tapas tour.

To learn more about Context or book a tour, click here.




Take a Peek Inside 5 Historical Madrid Bars


Madrid is full of amazing bars that have played a role in Spanish history. Whether it’s art, literature, or the Spanish Civil War, these bars hold some sort of significance to Spain’s past and are definitely worth the visit.

Here’s a sneak peek into the stories behind our favorite historical Madrid bars.

Fatigas del Querer

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Located in Sol is a restaurant with an exterior as beautiful as its interior dating back to the 1920s. This restaurant will grab your attention with its beautiful Andalusian tiles dedicated to Spanish painter Julio Romero de Torres. Even one of his paintings is depicted on these beautifully detailed tiles.

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Typical free Spanish tapa

Not only is this bar related to historical Spanish art, but it also has an impressively large menu of Spanish dishes such as setas empanadas con alioli. These fried mushrooms with alioli sauce would go great with one of the many vermuts that Fatigas del Querer has to offer.

  • Address: Calle de la Cruz, 17
  • Metro: Sol
  • Phone: +34 915 23 21 31

La Casa del Abuelo

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Just by the name alone, it’s clear that this bar has stood the test of time and still remains a Madrid classic.

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Established in 1906, La Casa del Abuelo has seen Spain at the best of times and the worst of times, including the Spanish Civil War. During this time, La Casa del Abuelo only served garlic or grilled shrimp paired with a Spanish sweet wine due to the food shortage. Since then, this bar’s gambas al ajillo and gambas a la plancha have become a delicious specialty.

  • Web & Facebook
  • Address: Calle de la Victoria, 12
  • Metro: Sol
  • Phone: +34 910 00 01 33

La Venencia

During the height of the Spanish Civil War, this bar was one of the few spots where Republican soldiers and other anti-fascists, such as Ernest Hemingway would go. Taking photos has been prohibited since the 1930’s just in case there were any fascist spies around.

Nevertheless, this bar is incredibly beautiful with its antique bottles and large barrels of wine that haven’t changed since this historical time period. And if you’re a sherry lover, known as Jerez in Spanish, this bar has an amazing variety to choose from.

  • *Cash only
  • Address: Calle Echegaray, 7
  • Metro: Sol, Sevilla
  • Phone: +34 914 29 73 13

1912 Museo Bar

Westin Palace Hotel

Located inside the Westin Palace Hotel is the perfect bar if you’re in the mood for an elegant night out. Rumor has it that this high-end bar has had a fair number of influential guests such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Ernest Hemingway.

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Established in 1912, this bar still maintains a museum-like appearance with old photographs of the history of the hotel and life in Spain. The bar itself has some of the most high-end alcohols that you can find here in Madrid. Although this place is a little bit on the pricey side, you won’t be disappointed by the service or the selection.

  • Address: Plaza de las Cortes, 7
  • Metro: Banco de España, Sevilla, Antón Martín
  • Phone: +34 913 60 80 00

San Ginés

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And if you’re looking for a break from all the alcohol and tapas, this chocolatería is the perfect place to switch it up. San Ginés has been a Madrid classic since 1894 and is easy to miss while walking through the crowded center of the city. It had even been named “La escondida”, or “the hidden one” by some during the Second Republic of Spain. Regardless, this café has gained a lot of fame over the years and has even been mentioned in great works of literature, such as Ramón del Valle-Inclán’s Bohemian Lights.

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Original image by: @carlas.abreu via Instagram

San Ginés has by far the best chocolate con churros in Madrid. The menu also consists of porras, known as giant churros, a variety of coffees, and even chocolate liqueur. So if you haven’t already, head on over to San Ginés and get your sugar fix.

  • Web & Facebook
  • Address: Pasadizo de San Gines, 5
  • Metro: Sol
  • Phone: +34 913 65 65 46

You might also like: 5 authentic Madrid bars loved by locals




5 Authentic Madrid Bars Loved by Locals


If you came to Madrid for some homemade croquetas or high quality jamón ibérico, you want to make sure that you’re going to the best places. In Madrid, like any other major European city, it can be difficult to distinguish the local favorites from the tourist traps. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to venture off the beaten path to find traditional Spanish delicacies.

To save you the trouble, here’s a list of some of the most authentic bars that can easily be found in the center of the city. So get ready to discover Madrid, one tapa at a time.

1) El Madroño

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This restaurant screams authenticity with its interior and exterior tile decorations that depict Madrid’s history and culture. When walking in, the first thing that will catch your eye is the homemade pastries and cakes that you’ll be anticipating throughout your meal. Once seated, it’s no surprise if a free tapa is brought to your table before even ordering.

El Madroño is the perfect place to order a glass of vermut paired with the delicias de bacalao con mermelada de madroño. These cod bites are fried to golden perfection and served with a side of madroño jam, the fruit from Madrid.

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Delicias de bacalao con mermelada de madroño

  • Address: Calle Latoneros, 3
  • Metro: La Latina
  • Phone: +34 913 64 56 29

2) Bar la Campana

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If you’re looking for the perfect bocadillo de calamares, look no further because La Campana is hands down the best place. Right next to Plaza Mayor, this bar is always crowded with locals, no matter what time of day it is. My personal favorite is a calamari sandwich paired with una cerveza con limón, otherwise known as beer with a splash of lemon. And if you’re feeling extra hungry, you can’t go wrong with an order of patatas bravas or patatas alioli.

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Bocadillos de calamares con patatas bravas y patatas alioli

  • Address: Calle Botoneras, 6
  • Metro: Sol
  • Phone: +34 913 64 29 84

3) Casa Toni

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Found on Calle de la Cruz, this small restaurant definitely stands out against the others, with its worn out awning and window where you can see the chef hard at work. The first thing that you’ll notice while walking into Casa Toni is the chef grilling up portions of pimientos and oreja to a charred perfection. In my opinion, this place has the best sepia ever. This grilled cuttlefish topped with fresh herbs and served with a side of mayo should be enjoyed with a Madrid white wine.

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Sepia con vino Madrileño

  • Address: Calle de la Cruz, 14
  • Metro: Sol
  • Phone: +34 915 32 25 80

4) Casa González

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This half-bar half-artisan store located off of Calle Huertas is the perfect place to enjoy a light round of tapas, and maybe take a few of the goods home with you. Casa González is a cheese lover’s dream with its delicious raclette tosta and variety of other European cheeses to choose from. My personal favorite take-home item is the queso de arzúa, which is a fresh cheese from the north of Spain. After enjoying a nice glass of wine and a tapa or two, don’t be afraid to bring home a bag full of artisan goodies with you.

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  • Web
  • Address: Calle del León, 12
  • Metro: Antón Martín, Sol
  • Phone: +34 914 29 56 18

5) Bodegas Ricla

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About a 5-minute walk from Plaza Mayor is where you can find an old-fashioned bar decorated with bottles of wine that definitely gives a classic tavern feel. You can even take one of those bottles home with you! Just ask anyone behind the counter and they will be happy to help. Besides the amazing Spanish wines, Bodegas Ricla has a pretty good vermut de grifo (vermouth on tap) that goes perfectly with a side of albóndigas, otherwise known as meatballs.

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  • Address: Calle Cuchilleros, 6
  • Metro: La Latina, Tirso de Molina
  • Phone: +34 913 65 20 69

Also check out: What to see in Barrio de las Letras




Café del Rey, an unexpected restaurant behind Príncipe Pío


Situated on an unassuming street behind Príncipe Pío lies Café del Rey, a modern restaurant that’s totally unexpected. Although it’s a five-minute walk from the train station, as well as the Royal Palace, Templo Dubod and Plaza de España, the street it’s located on is quite off the beaten path.

James and I went on a Saturday night when the center was uncomfortably crowded, as per usual. Dodging pedestrians left and right, we headed down Cuesta San Vicente. Just before reaching the station, we turned right onto a quiet street called Paseo del Rey and bam! We’d completely escaped the city’s hustle and bustle and could finally breathe again.

Two minutes later we arrived at the restaurant, whose stylish decor stands out among the surrounding residential buildings. What is this modern restaurant doing here? It looks like it should be in Malasaña, Chueca, or even Salamanca. That said, we were happy it wasn’t located in those neighborhoods because it gave us the chance to try something new and head in a different direction.

cafe del rey front bar

photo from their Facebook, as are all the high-quality pics below!

The front part of the venue is a casual bar, delicatessen and shop. You’ll find sandwiches on baguettes, mouthwatering cakes and other treats on display, plus a great beer selection and wine list. We went for dinner so we sat in the dining area in the back, also chic and with plenty of space to remind us we weren’t in an itsy bitsy bar in La Latina (which we love, just sometimes we crave some leg room).

inside cafe del rey

As we were eating dinner, we couldn’t help but talk about how oddly situated the restaurant was. How could anyone find it if they weren’t looking for it? Bottom line is you couldn’t. That’s kind of why we like it. While in the summer I’m sure it’s always packed because of its beach-themed outdoor terrace, during the wintertime I imagine the clientele is more from the neighborhood, as well as people coming in from Principe Pio or after spending the day along Madrid’s river. They also hold events like wine and beer tastings that bring in patrons.

Café del Rey Madrid by Naked Madrid

Back to our dinner: James got a burger (which the waiter recommended) and I went with the salmon with vegetables (I’m on a bit of a health kick these days), accompanied by a few glasses of red wine.

Café del Rey Madrid by Naked Madrid

The table next to us was having a true feast and I must say the pasta and tuna dishes they ordered looked huge. We enjoyed our meal and the price range was reasonable. For example, the burgers cost €8-11. We didn’t end up trying their famous cakes which I honestly regret. That’s their specialty – the red velvet and carrot cake in particular – and they looked incredible!

cafe del rey cake

cafe del rey cakes

The wait staff were also very friendly and attentive. Since Café del Rey serves breakfast and brunch menus too, we’ve got plenty of reasons to go back. I also can’t wait till summer to check out their outdoor seating areas.

Info

 




La Falda, a cheeky new wine bar and restaurant in Lavapiés


When a restaurant welcomes me with a wine list featuring labels like ‘The Madman’s Inn’ and ‘The Perfect Boyfriend’, I’m intrigued. When they accompany it with a quality Thai-Spanish tapa and Motown, I’m hooked.

A deliciously smooth glass of Delito Garnacha

A deliciously smooth glass of Delito Garnacha

La Falda de Lavapiés is just the kind of tongue-in-cheek tavern that the neighborhood needs, offering quirky bites and a one-of-a-kind wine list to the wide variety of patrons that Calle Miguel Servet attracts. I’ve stopped in for a bite a few times since it opened in early October, and each time the menu, which only features about ten dishes, has been edited to include the week’s freshest ingredients. Aside from the ever-evolving menu, they also feature a distinctive menú del día plus daily specials that range from ramen to callos, highlighting the kind of international versatility that is all too often hard to find in Madrid.

On my most recent visit, we were offered secreto ibérico in sweet and sour sauce as our free aperitivo as we browsed the menu. The Thai flavors and fantastic cut of Spanish pork paired nicely with the Delito Garnacha wine we had chosen, and by the time we waved down the waitress to order, our appetites were more than piqued.

We chose four small plates to share between the two of us, testing La Falda’s version of the Spanish classics of jamón croquettes and cured beef, or cecina, and their ability to fuse Castillian products with Asian flair in their pork spring rolls and octopus sandwich.

Mouth-wateringly marbled cecina

Mouth-wateringly marbled cecina

Vietnamese pork spring rolls

Vietnamese pork spring rolls

The cecina was some of the best I’ve tried in Madrid, and I consider myself something of a cured beef expert, ordering it any time I spot it on a menu. While all of the flavors were impeccable, the winner had to be the octopus sandwich with its mixture of Thai herbs and Spanish paprika.

Thai-style octopus sandwich

Thai-style octopus sandwich

We only stopped ooh-ing and ah-ing over each bite to sing along with the Motown greats that enveloped the room, and reluctantly put our forks down to watch in awe as the couple next to us jumped up to ballroom dance to James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World.”

La Falda is the perfect example of what makes Lavapiés so special: it puts quality at the forefront and serves its food with a wink, but recognizes that in the end, it’s only a space for the vibrant community to enjoy life, and does everything it can to facilitate that. Go for a drink or go for a date. Go, eat, watch the people and leave content in mind, body and soul.

Info

  • Facebook
  • Address: Calle Miguel Servet 4 (Metro Lavapies or Embajadores)
  • Phone: 911 688 096

 




La Latina's 'seafood party' in Mercado de La Cebada: The place to see and be seen!


Mercados are the heart and soul of any Spanish city. If you want to get under the skin of the place you’re visiting, make a beeline for the city’s biggest food market. Wander around each section (meat, vegetables, fish, etc.) and you will instantly see what the region’s all about. Then make your way to the mercado’s busiest bar, order what everyone else is drinking and demand your rightful complimentary tapa. If it’s something you’ve never clapped eyes on, even better.

La Latina’s Mercado de la Cebada is no exception. The place encapsulates Spanish culture to almost cliché levels: the heart and soul of Madrid is right here.

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Every weekday, Mercado de la Cebada will sell you fresh produce from all over Spain. There’s also a good selection of local bars in the labyrinth of alleys both upstairs and downstairs, and even a few clothes stalls, toyshops and cobblers for some of the market’s more devout punters.

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But then, every Saturday at lunchtime, Mercado de la Cebada transforms into what I will describe as nothing less than a seafood party.

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The atmosphere is electric; iced molluscs and pulpo are flowing, and groups of friends doing what they do best: sharing food and belly-laughing, plastic cup of valdepeñas in one hand, half-eaten shrimp in the other.

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Grab a few friends and get there no later than 2:30pm. Find one of the aproned chaps hovering in front of his stall, affectionately touching everyone with his fishy hands, and place your order per ración or by weight.

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Before you take your polystyrene plates to the nearest paper-covered stack of crates, don’t forget to pick up your complimentary bottle of wine or cans of beer. Yeah… COMPLIMENTARY! Due to licensing rules, these shops can’t sell drinks. I imagine there’s a slight markup on the prices of seafood but, having said that, the prices are some of the lowest I’ve seen in Madrid, and the quality is some of the best.

There are cups, serviettes, toothpicks and mussel ‘spives’ (spoon-knives) strategically strewn around the stalls – a seafood spectacular with no frills, and all the better for it.

Info

Web – Facebook

Address: Plaza de la Cebada, La Latina, 28005

Metro: La Latina (right outside)

Opening hours: Mon – Fri 9am-2pm / 5-8:30pm; Sat 9am-3pm

Another soulful neighbourhood market, not too far away, is Mercado de San Fernando in Lavapiés

 

 




Stunning Local Olive Grove Tour, in English! – Proyecto Los Aires


In 2013, biologists Guillermo and Laura – Spain’s newest generation of olive farmers – took over the family business and embarked on an innovative mission: to connect the local countryside with the city of Madrid and make farming a sustainable way of life once again.

How it all started:

Over a century ago, in a small town in the region of Toledo, Guillermo’s great grandfather planted his first grove of around 200 olive trees, and between the evenly spaced olive saplings grew rows of sun-drenched grapevines.

A hundred odd years later, only the footprints of the old vines are visible, but the olive trees have grown beautifully gnarled and twisted, with silver miniature leaves and shiny hard fruit, ready for the annual harvest of some of the tastiest organic extra virgin olive oil in Spain.

The centenarian olive trees

Guillermo and Laura’s story:

Olive farming has been in both of their families for generations, inspiring them to study biology at university, which is where they met. From early on, they drew sketches on scraps of paper illustrating grand ambitions to re-bond our booming capital with its rural backyard, enthusiastically telling anyone who will listen about the genius that is the organic farming ecosystem (it’s genius).

By mid 2014, their dream had gathered enough steam for them to quit their jobs and make Proyecto Los Aires their life, and for being in the midst of an economic depression, it’s incredible how much they’ve already achieved.

The tour:

On Saturday, we headed out to their stunning olive grove in Arcicóllar, about an hour south of Madrid. When we arrived, we met up with our fellow tour buddies and set off on our educational meander through the olive trees.

Guillermo and Laura led us around their oldest plot and explained the process of creating olive oil: from planting and harvesting to filtering and bottling. Their scientific angle on the entire practice is fascinating, but I won’t say any more – the oohs and aahs are all part of the fun!

The walking tour begins

Taking a closer look at the trees

After the walking tour (and tanning opportunity), we sat down at a shaded table nestled idyllically among the centenarian trees. It was time for the tasting. This involved professionally sampling several olive oils in little blue glass cups, and learning how to tell the difference between generic supermarket oil and top-quality organic oil such as theirs.

And then came the food and wine. Through local connections and friends and family, Guillermo and Laura brought together a plethora of Iberian foodie gems for us to eat. A mercado on a table came to mind, and our tour companions’ similarly delighted reactions included lots of “mmm”s and “oh my God”s and jokey squabbles over who liked the pumpkin morcilla most. We chatted, talking about Guillermo and Laura’s endeavours as well as our own, then gratefully accepted Guillermo’s offer of a top-up of wine to accompany our final wander through the trees (and take a few grove-selfies). Finally, we had the opportunity to buy some of the delicious products we tasted that day.

The tasting (and eating and drinking)

The quaintest little market stall in the world

After an eye-opening and mouth-watering experience, we said our goodbyes to the lovely Guillermo and Laura and hopped on the bus back to Madrid, desperate to get the word out to you!

The project explained:

Proyecto Los Aires aims to promote local agriculture by running educational tours & tastings on their farm and forging a direct link between urban consumers and the rural economy. Their oil (Los Aires Extra Virgin Olive Oil) can be found in gourmet shops such as Oleoteca Murúa at Mercado San Antón. Guillermo and Laura also regularly sell their oil in markets across Madrid such as Mercado de Motores, Mercado Central de Diseño, Nómada Market and Gastro Market. Next time you’re there, go and say hello!

Los Aires olive groves

How to get there:

The meeting point for the tour is the bus stop in the town of Arcicóllar (see location here). Regular buses (see timetable here) will get you there from Madrid’s Méndez Alvaro bus station in just over an hour. If you’re driving, it takes around 50 minutes from central Madrid.

Details & Contact Info:

Tours run year-round on any day of the week or weekend and must be booked at least 48 hours in advance.

Facebook & Web

The website is in English and Spanish! For more information about the tour, pricing, and to book, click here.




Cosy Wine Bars in La Latina (with gluten free options!)


If you´re looking for some dark and cosy wine bars to enjoy a glass of fantastic Spanish wine and some delicious tapas, then head to La Latina. Known as Madrid´s tapas district, this neighbourhood is famous for its lazy Sunday afternoon tradition of tapas-bar-hopping, up and down the winding streets of Cava Baja and Cava Alta.

But first, the history of Cava Baja has more to do with foreigners in Madrid than you might think.

Originally a deep trench that ran along the outside of the medieval city walls, Cava Baja protected the city from bandits and scoundrels, and allowed the people of Madrid to come and go freely without using the city gates. Soon the city boundaries spread, and local taverns sprung up along this stretch to lodge (and feed) travellers and farmers, who came to Madrid to sell their wares at market; You can still see the street sloping downhill and curving to follow the path of the old city wall.

This means that, for expats and visitors to the city, enjoying a glass of local wine and food amongst the higgledy piggledy bars and old taverns of Cava Baja is to not only enjoy La Latina, but also repeat the history of many a travelling peddler visiting Madrid.

El Tempranillo

For people that like Spanish wine: El Tempranillo. From the moment that you see the entire wall of wine bottle racks behind the bar, you know that you are in the right place.

Chic and modern from the outside but small and traditional on the inside, El Tempranillo has the perfect mix of low lighting, muted conversation and good Spanish wine- and a table to sit at if you order some tapas.

Compared with other wine and tapas bars in Cava Baja, El Tempranillo has something unique that is difficult to put your finger on.

Right in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Cava Baja, it is comparatively understated- but quietly confident. It has a real buzz of people under the dimmed lighting, but is surprisingly quiet. This muted conversation gives a sense of privacy in which you can enjoy your glass of wine, share a few tapas and have a meaningful conversation with good friends- without having to raise your voice.

The tapas at El Tempranillo are addictive. Try the ´revuelto de champiñones salvajes´ (mushroom omelette), or the tostas. You might have to wait a little to order at peak times during the weekend or evenings, but the dishes come out quickly once ordered and are worth the wait.

Then, the wine. Order from the chalk board, which has an impressive selection of wine that comes from almost all the wine regions of Spain. Most exciting, though, is their larger than average selection of good Spanish wines available by the glass, with prices starting as low as 2,50€ and 2,70€. Arrive a little early, set up your company at a table, and enjoy some good wine.

Tempranillo wine bar in La Latina
Calle Cava Baja, 38

Juana La Loca

Juana La Loca makes a nod towards Juana, the ´mad queen of Castile´, who although was probably just another misunderstood female royal, still makes for a good story and name for a wine bar.

Juana La Loca, Madrid wine and tapas bar

Small, dark, cosy and kinetic, Juana La Loca is perfect for a glass of Spanish wine and some delicious tapas.

Tightly packed inside, with small tables edging around the long bar, Juana La Loca mixes the worlds of both restaurant and wine bar into one dynamic space. With both bar and table enjoying tapas and wine, just with each enjoying more of one than the other, the two functions blend harmoniously into one shared space.

To start with a glass of wine, choose from the wine board behind the bar. Although the choices are slightly restricted and slightly pricier by the glass, the quality of the wine makes up for the lack of selection. If you like deep, complex red wines, try a Ribera del Duero Crianza or Reserva.

Without a doubt, the most famous dish served at Juana La Loca is the tortilla de patatas: a buttery, melt-in-the-mouth tortilla, finished with a crispy outer layer and served on top of a slice of bread. If you are being visited by friends or family in Madrid who have not yet tried tortilla de patatas, this is the one to debut.

The ´huevos rotos´ are also to-die-for, either to share or as a ración for yourself: crispy, chewy, buttery fries topped with melting fried egg, small salty strips of jamón, salted pimientos de padrón and a shake of paprika, all served on a long plate.

Very well accompanied by a glass of fresh wine to clean your palate and a bowl of Juana La Loca´s moreish olives, these delicious options can also be served gluten free if you ask the waiter. The prices may be a little higher, but the quality of the wine and food are a step above the rest.

A little tip is to bring cash with you, as they do not accept cards. The small wine bar-restaurant also fills up quickly in the evenings; after 20:30 tables are only for a meal of tapas (plus wine) and bar spots are only for wine (plus a tapa). Arrive early enough to enjoy some good wine and conversation amongst the relaxed atmosphere, and feel the bar fill up with the buzz of evening service.

Juana La Loca, La Latina tapas and wine bar in Madrid

Plaza Puerta de Los Moros, 4
www.juanalalocamadrid.com

La Concha

If you like sherry, cava or vermouth, then you are in luck. This tiny mismatched bar with painted wood panels and creative details offers a great selection of Spanish fortified wines and sparkling cava from Cataluña. A refreshing take on the usual full-bodied red wine offered in La Latina, come to La Concha for something a little different.

La Concha wine vermouth and cava bar in La Latina, Madrid

La Concha has a nomadic feel, keeping in tune with the street´s history of travelling visitors, and offers both the upstairs bar for drinks and downstairs seating area for tapas.

If you have yet to try vermouth, a fortified wine infused with various roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs and spices, La Concha has ´Vermut Miró´, a Spanish vermouth from the northern Spanish city of Reús.

La concha also has a selection of Spanish Sherries, or ´Jerez´ in Spanish. Hailing from the D.O. wine region with the same name, Jerez de la Frontera, Jerez is unique in its elaboration; you cannot find a fortified wine like Sherry anywhere else in the world.

La Concha wine, vermouth, cava and tapas bar, in La Latina, Madrid

If you like bubbles: Cava. Spain´s answer to champagne, this bubbly sparkling wine can come in 4 different kinds: Cava, Cava Reserva (minimum 15 months ageing), Cava Gran Reserva (over 30 months ageing) and Rosé. La Concha has more than one of each kind, from different wineries, to try. Order a glass with one of their tapas. Although Cava traditionally matches well with fish or sweet fruity flavours, this is not necessarily the case; a Brut Nature Gran Reserva would go well with meat dishes, roasts or spicer foods.

On a week night you will easily find a spot here. Just head down the kooky stairs and order from their small tapas menu, which is also available completely gluten free.

La Concha wine vermouth and cava bar in La Latina, Madrid

Calle Cava Baja, 7
www.laconchataberna.com

Extra notes

If you would like to know what to look for in these wine and tapas bars, or are not sure what kinds of wines you like yet, you can also do some wine tasting in Madrid.

Wine word

Maridaje – food and wine pairing

 

Here are a few more articles you might like:

Madrid’s 3 Best Wine Shops

Taberna Lamiak, another wonderful bar in La Latina

Madrid’s Best Cafe-Bookshops 




Best Cafe-bookshops in Madrid, Round 2!


Welcome to round two of Madrid’s best cafe-bookshops! As you may have noticed in round one, Madrid’s central neighborhoods boast quite a lot of quaint coffee shops and bars that encourage drinking and reading under one roof. While most specialize in their literary offerings, others provide a random selection of paperbacks and hardcovers. But to be honest with you, I don’t go for the books; I go for the ambience.

There’s something about drinking coffee amidst a sea of books that puts me at ease and lends me a feeling of utter comfort. So, whether you’re like me or actually want to dive into a good read, here are five more wonderful bookshop cafes in the Spanish capital that you’re bound to fall in love with.

1. La Central 

La Central cafe bookshop in Madrid by Naked Madrid

La Central cafe bookshop in Madrid by Naked Madrid

La Central is a trendy bookshop near Callao and hands down the most modern of all on this list. It boasts three floors, a happening bar with a full menu and a selection of much more than books on offer. At La Central, you can find funky mugs, quirky bags, useful calendars, board games, wrapping paper, you name it. Thus, it’s also a great place to get gifts in Madrid.

Address: C/ Postigo de San Martín, 8
Metro: Callao

2. J&J Books and Coffee

J and J's Books and Coffee Madrid by Naked Madrid

J and J's Books and Coffee Madrid by Naked Madrid

A long-time staple among Madrid’s expat community, this corner bar has a downstairs bookstore selling a large selection of primarily used English-language books, including ESL resources. Up at the bar, you can get craft beer, wine, coffee, bagels and other things to munch on. Also check out J&J’s free events that bring together an international crowd. For example, they hold language exchanges on Wednesday nights at 8pm and pub quizzes (trivia nights) on Friday nights at 11pm. Lots of fun!

Address: c/ Espiritu Santo, 47
Metro: Noviciado
 

3. italiana_madrid

italiana_madrid caffee librería by Naked Madrid

italiana_madrid caffee librería by Naked Madrid

This Italian café and bookshop is located on one of Madrid’s most vibrant streets — Corredera Baja de San Pablo — which is lined with fun bars, cafes and restaurants. Coincidentally, another one of our favorite Italian joints, Aió, lies just a few doors down. At italiana_madrid, you can get a strong espresso or aperol spritz, plus a wide selection of Italian reads ranging from cookbooks to children’s books.

Address: Corredera Baja de San Pablo, 10
Metro: Gran Vía 
 

4. Monpassa

Monpassa Cafe bookshop Madrid

Monpassa Cafe bookshop Madrid

Situated on an assuming street near metro Antón Martín, Monpassa is a travel bookshop that boasts high ceilings, wooden beams, brick walls and mismatched furniture. You can tell the building that houses Monpassa is quite old. The tall windows and tiny stools turn it into a fine place for a coffee and an afternoon chat with a friend.

Address: c/ Costanilla de los Desamparados, 13
Metro: Antón Martín
 
 

In case you missed round one, here’s the original article: “6 Best Cafe-Bookshops in Madrid




Let's visit the wine region, Ribera del Duero, from Madrid!


We all know that we owe a lot to the Romans- the feats of engineering, the inventions, the creation of basic law, the art. But in the case of Ribera del Duero, we owe them the discovery of the perfect place to grow the tempranillo grape, and the beginnings of the Ribera del Duero wine region.

Do you like full-bodied red wines, exploring ancient ruins and travelling through stunning landscapes? Then Ribera del Duero could be your next destination. To give you a head start, here are some useful tips from inside the wine industry, including where the region is, why it is famous, my favourite winery and how to get there from Madrid.

The scoop

Ribera del Duero is talked about as being one of the most prestigious wine regions in Spain. It is renowned for its full-bodied, elegant and complex red wines, which are of an extremely high quality (the region’s regulatory body only allows a certain amount of grapes to be produced per harvest- meaning that quality is in, and quantity is out).

In fact, in 2012 Ribera won a Wine Star award for being the best wine region in the entire world (which in the wine world is the equivalent to winning the Oscars).

Roman Gods and Medieval fortresses

Ribera del Duero became an official D.O. (Designation of Origin) region in 1982, but wine has been produced here for over 2,000 years. We know for sure that the Roman people of Ribera del Duero made wine, because they left behind mosaics of the Roman God of wine, Bacchus.

Bacchus was, amongst other things, the youthful, beautiful and (somewhat) androgynous God of harvest, wine and general all-round debauchery (he was actually the half mortal son of Zeus, so who can blame him). You can still see a 66 metre mosaic tile floor dedicated to him and his frivolous escapades at the Baños de Valdearados, a small pueblo right in the centre of Ribera del Duero.

The Romans produced wine in Ribera to send to their troops fighting to expand the empire

The Ancient Romans believed that wine was a ´daily necessity´ and produced wine in Ribera del Duero for everyone in society- men, women, slaves, aristocrats and peasants

In fact, Ribera del Duero gets its entire name from the Romans and their love of wine; they were also so thankful for the blessing of the river on their vineyards, that they personified the river as Durius, a River God (who, we can only assume, was working in cahoots with Bacchus).

Ribera del Duero continued to make wine long after the Romans left- all throughout the Visigoth, Muslim, Christian and medieval eras, right up until today. This means that Ribera del Duero not only has beautiful vineyard landscapes shaped by thousands of years of wine making, but also a winemaking tradition as old as the Coliseum.

If you are interested in medieval history or have a penchant for fairy-tale architecture, Ribera del Duero also has an incredible collection of Middle Age castles. On my last trip, I visited the official ´National Monument´ of the castle of Peñafiel, which is located where all good castles are- on top of a hill.

The castle of Peñafiel

The castle of Peñafiel

Geography

Ribera del Duero is a long and narrow wine region shaped to follow the path of the Duero river. Ribera del Duero is effectively an extended area of vineyard river bank, which is why the word ´Ribera´ (river bank) is used in its name.

Ribera del duero wine region map The Ribera del Duero the wine region includes parts of four regional territories– covering the south of Burgos, extending west into Valladolid and encompassing sections of Segovia in the south and Soria to the east.

There are 4 main municipalities: Peñafiel, Roa, Aranda del Duero and San Esteban de Gormaz. These are surrounded by rural areas of vineyards and wineries, churches, castles and beautiful valleys.

My favourite winery

There are almost 300 wineries spread over the river banks of Ribera del Duero, a combination of hundred-year-old traditional family wineries and modern corporate giants, but for me, the winery Pago de Carraovejas is a real diamond- a shining example of how to keep Ribera del Duero´s wine traditions alive, but not be afraid of modern innovation.

Back in the 1970´s, a curious young sommelier José María Ruíz had a dream that he would one day own his own restaurant, where he would serve Segovia´s most traditional dish, ´cochinillo´ (roast baby piglet), which would be paired with his own Ribera wine.

Years later, and just 3km outside Peñafiel, Ruíz´s impressive winery is in the perfect location in a sunny valley, protected by the hills from the North Wind and close enough to the river.

The vineyards of Pago de Carraovejas in its special valley this summer 2014, with views of Peñafiel castle in the distance

The vineyards of Pago de Carraovejas in its special valley this summer 2014, with views of Peñafiel castle in the distance

On my last trip to Ribera, I took part in the unveiling of Pago de Carraovejas´ new wine tasting technique: the peeling and tasting of the skin, pulp and seeds of the grape before tasting the wines. This is a prime example of Carraovejas´ innovative approach to wine and ability to think outside of the box, as is their research with Universities to create their own natural yeasts and bacteria specific to the land.

Pago de Carraovejas in winter, photograph taken by my colleague, wine expert Raul Buendía. It is beautiful to see the landscapes changing according to the seasons

Pago de Carraovejas in winter, photograph taken by my colleague and wine expert Raul Buendía. As the seasons change, so do the landscapes- with so many vineyards, each season brings unique stunning views

If you tour their winery, not only will you taste their fantastic red wines throughout the tour in different winemaking rooms (a refreshing take on the traditional end-of-tour wine tasting), but you will also get to enjoy 3 delicious tapas dishes (including ´cochinillo´) that have been carefully elaborated in Ruiz´s dream restaurant to pair with the wines.

One of the delicious tapas served in the barrel room on my last visit- a tuna, sautéed pepper and vegetable stack, with edible flower

One of the delicious tapas served in the barrel room on my last visit- a tuna, sautéed pepper and vegetable stack, with edible flower

If you have a food allergy, Pago de Carraovejas are up to the job. They can adapt their tasting menu to gluten free and lactose free diets if you let them know in advance- and they will even serve gluten free bread. You might also want to let them know if you don´t want to eat ´cochinillo´ (baby piglet fed only milk and slaughtered at 15-20 days old), if you are a vegetarian, vegan or have certain meat eating beliefs.

Which wineries?

To see a list of all of the wineries registered in the region, go to the official Ribera del Duero D.O. website.

If this seems too overwhelming and you aren´t sure which winery to pick, or how to organise numerous visits that fit together, you could organise a wine tour of Ribera del Duero from Madrid. You could even visit a winery that produces one of your favourite wines!

How to get there

Ribera del Duero has so many places to visit that you could leave Madrid in a number of different directions, depending on where you are headed. Here are two routes to the wine towns Peñafiel and Aranda de Duero.

By car:

I would recommend travelling to Ribera del Duero by car so that you can see Ribera´s landscapes as you travel up from Madrid. This is all part of seeing Ribera- the land, the vineyards, castles and landscapes have all been shaped by wine making. You will also have the freedom to move about the region once you are there- you could stay in a wine town and drive to rural wineries and castles during the day, returning to eat delicious local food in the town at night.

You can see which companies rent cars in Madrid by going to our previous Travelling by car in Madrid: renting cars, car sharing or carpooling article.

Route: Madrid- Peñafiel
Duration: 2 hours approx.
Tip: Combine this route with a stop at the beautiful UNESCO city of Segovia on the way

Route: Madrid- Aranda de Duero
Duration: 1 hour 45 approx.
Tip: You can find recommended Aranda de Duero scenic driving routes for once you have arrived in the area, on the official Aranda y Ribera guide website. Useful for a weekend trip.

By bus:

It is possible to travel to a few of the wine towns by coach from Madrid. This would be a good option if you would just like to visit the main wine towns.

Route: Madrid- Peñafiel
Depart from: Moncloa
Duration: 3 hours approx.
Price: 17,00 approx. single
Company: The official Peñafiel website cites travelling with La Sepulvedana

Route: Madrid- Aranda de Duero
Depart from: Avenida de America
Duration: 2 hours
Price: 12,00€ approx. single (24,00€ approx. return)
Company: Alsa 

Wine word for your trip

El sarmiento– the little young, green vine shoot