Madrid, a New Old City
Madrid, a New Old City
City on the verge
An empty street glazed with drizzle at 2am. You stare at the shuttered storefront thinking this can’t be right. They said Bar Cock is “a must”, and you skipped the childish joke about the name. Now, facing heavy metal blinds, you wonder what got lost in translation. But the door is ajar, warm light within and, you figure, what’s the worst that could happen?
Push past that off-putting intro into an Almodóvar film: a baronial hall glowing like amber, nocturnal creatures whisper in pairs in deep club chairs and dark wood that has surrounded Salvador Dalí, Ava Gardner, Hemingway (of course), and George Clooney, to name a few. Founded in 1921, and it feels it when the bow-tied waiter serves your martini.
That dissonance between what you’ve heard and what you see happens again and again in Madrid. Questioning the brutalist block that hides plush Hotel Villa Magna. Hunting conceptual art down an alley behind Atocha station, or a minimalist boutique in opulent Salamanca. Finding five-star Gran Hotel Inglés on a street clamoring with youth hostels. You’ll start to doubt Google Maps.
Outwardly austere, Madrid is easy to miss. On the avenues, temples cap monumental banks, imposing apartments and grand hotels. Behind them, shops huddle in ashy side streets beneath prim Juliette balconies and conservatory windows. If Barcelona feels flirty, feisty, Madrid is her stoic sister. Which doesn’t mean she’s dull—she just makes you earn it.
“It’s very Castillian,” says Javier Bone-Carbone, art curator and Taschen editor, referring to the culture of the Spanish heartland surrounding Madrid. Moorish modesty overlaid with Hapsburg grandeur lend the city a severe formality. But break that surface tension and you’ll discover its interior riches. “Madrid isn’t like Paris, with a checklist of landmarks to see,” explains Bone-Carbone, “it is about interaction.”
Two of Madrid’s best-kept-secret hotels exemplify its inward-facing character.
Since the 1970’s, Villa Magna is the choice for heads of state, movie stars and others wishing to fly below the radar. Built by a family on the site of their 19th-Century mansion, its modernist architecture is a departure, but one that casts the traditional style and warm hospitality within in an even brighter light. Later Turkish, Portuguese, and now Mexican owners added their own touches—a marble-lined hammam in the spa, new gardens—and expanded the art collection. Just 150 Empire-style rooms, villa-worthy bathrooms, and two penthouse apartments with vast terraces and views to the mountains feel like a well-staffed home. Shopaholics will appreciate the private passageway to a designer-curated outpost of El Corte Inglés. And don’t miss We Collect, a gallery and art club nestled in a Zen garden around the outside.
Surrounding Salamanca is Madrid’s “uptown”. Luxury-brand flagships line Calle Serrano and independent designers sprinkle the leafy backstreets. Taste traditional flavors at intimate, age-old La Parra—divans and Moroccan tile under candle-light and the hushed voices of old-Hollywood types. Or discover new ones at Amazonico—starlets and soccer stars picking at piquant hamachi and rare beef rodizios under cascades of jazz and tropical foliage.
A few blocks south, Gran Hotel Inglés opened in the 19th Century as Madrid’s first luxury hotel. Its return to five-star status signals the revival of artsy Las Letras, Madrid’s medieval heart. An extensive lobby library, including rare volumes of Don Quixote, pays homage to the area’s roots. Cast-iron columns mix with Chesterfields and Oriental rugs for a SoHo vibe. The rooms span old and new. Smartphones guide you around town, while deep, clawfoot tubs soak sightseeing-weary bones before heading out for an infamously late Spanish night.
A wave of restaurants, luxury stores and hotels welcome you to a “new” Madrid rising in the old city-center: glitzy and extroverted, not ashamed to shine. “The middle and upper classes used to be very pijo, a bit stuffy” says Kiko Buxo, fashion designer and founder of minimalist brand Shon Mott. “But the younger generation are more experimental.” Europe’s third-largest city is quickly catching up to its peers. Think laid-back London, or brash Berlin.
Trend spotters long know that Madrid’s creative edge cuts through Chueca. Once a down-and-out barrio, it is back with a by-now-familiar urban mix of goths, gays and gallerists sipping craft beers and coffees on the sunny plazas. Here you’ll find Isolee, Madrid’s first concept store, and Lab Lamarca, its most recent. Specialist shops offer handmade papers, Japanese ceramics and retro-pop foods. Or feast your eyes at established white-cube galleries like London’s Marlborough, and local groundbreakers like Travesía Cuatro.
Now that vibe is moving further south. Construction cranes over Gran Via announce the arrival of brand name luxury condos above a multi-story shopping arcade sure to bring some of Salamanca’s style downtown. Students and backpackers still flock to Puerta del Sol for selfies on the well-trod tourist trail between the royal palace and Prado—Goya, check. El Greco, check. Velazquez, check. But above their heads a real estate boom is transforming the old tenements around Madrid’s old theater district.
So while Spain’s capital is hardly off the beaten path, it rewards the curious who push past first impressions. Plenty of folk will stroll Paseo del Prado, spin through the museums, taste tapas and sangria on Plaza Mayor—and not have seen a thing. No wonder Almodóvar chose Madrid for his seething tales of love and madness. But it’s all about to erupt. Expect a star performance.
Taking in unobstructed views of the Northern Lights in the Arctic. Relaxing on a private island in the Pacific. Sipping wine in your 18th century villa overlooking the rolling hills of Tuscany. These are what dream trips are made of. And we want to make your dream trips become reality.
Our team of expert advisors has traveled to all corners of the Earth—Australia to Antarctica, South Africa to Greenland. And they’re here to share some of their most memorable experiences with you, whether you’re looking to celebrate a milestone moment (the honeymoon, the well-deserved promotion) or take your traditional travel up a notch (hello, private jet).
From luxurious locations to jaw-dropping amenities to exclusive access you won’t find anywhere else, the great ideas and hand-curated itineraries you’ll find here are just the first spark in creating the trip of a lifetime—and the big adventure you’ve been waiting for.
Botswana, Call of the Kalahari
Botswana, Call of the Kalahari
With luxe Botswana lodges, Belmond Safaris take you into the heart of Africa.
When your small plane glides low and slow enough over the green savanna to observe migrating herds, when the rhythm of singing voices and clapping hands brings joy to your daily rituals, when constellations take on new depth and noises take on new dimensions in the lightless night, you realize, no matter where you’re from, that this place is where you’re of. No wonder Harry and Meghan keep coming back.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
Botswana has the world’s largest population of elephants. Why? Because Botswana alone among its neighbors avoided armed conflict in its half-century of independence. The wars in Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique had nothing to do with elephants (though they gave poachers cover). But simply bearing witness was enough. As Rudyard Kipling wrote: “The elephant’s a gentleman.”
Sitting around the Boma, you’ll learn of the myriad ways our lives interweave with theirs. Much more than a campfire, the Boma is where elder tribesmen have received one another with feasts and folk tales, dance and song since long before colonial times. Elephants, music and history will be your constant companions at Belmond’s Botswana lodges. A oneness that begins with the melodious voices of the staff who greet your jeep bouncing up the red-earth track.
Some enchanted eden
Belmond’s Savute Elephant Lodge sits in Chobe National Park, Botswana’s first. The Chobe River flows into the Zambezi and thunders over Victoria Falls into a deep crack on an otherwise uninterrupted expanse of African mesa—an ocean of land teaming with wildlife. At the lodge, herds of elephants and buffalo gather at the stream beneath your terrace pool. On game drives at dawn and dusk, see zebra and giraffe graze on the grasslands, hippo and crocodile wallow in the watering holes, and follow leopard and lion stalking their prey through the brush. Every outing is different, and none predictable.
Victorian-era travelers believed that consuming copious amounts of gin and tonic protected them from malaria (hmm—likely story). Enjoy yours with fellow guests presuming to be Dr. Livingstone lounging beneath lazy fans before dinner, contemplating the sunset over a horizon of low treetops. The lodge’s chef prepares gourmet interpretations of barbecued meats and other regional specialties, paired with fine wines and champagne. For more intimacy, a butler can serve dinner suite-side.
Recently renovated, Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge lends a modern style to skills that define the architecture, furniture, and cosmopolitan and traditional objets d’art. The twelve large, bright, thatched and tented rooms can be as open or sheltering as you wish: French doors, netted canopy beds, air conditioning, and airy bathrooms go well beyond glamping.
Islands in the stream
For a change of scenery, climb aboard a 12-seat Cessna and follow the sun westward to Eagle Island Lodge, another of the Belmond Safaris experiences. Enjoy the isolation of a private island in the unique setting of an inland river delta where the Okavango evaporates into the sky above the Kalahari rather than meet the sea.
By canoe and powerboat explore channels that cover 5,800 unpopulated square miles—roughly the size of Connecticut—classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, along with Mount Kilimanjaro, the Nile and Sahara. In addition to the by-now ever-present lions, elephant and zebra, you’ll see flocks of wading heron and flamingo, and ostriches strutting through hip-deep grass.
With accommodation similar to Belmond’s Savute Elephant Lodge, Eagle Island adds a twist of sensual style—somber mineral tones, private plunge pools outside each room, and sculptural, monolithic, black bathtubs—that melds into the sage-scented morning mists.
“There’s no better way to understand how connected we are with all this,” says F1RST’s Erika Reategui, an Africa veteran. Her experience in luxury conservation excursions includes work with the Jane Goodall Institute. “Something like 77% of wildlife has disappeared since mankind came to be—10% of that just since 1990. There’s no better way to understand how precious this is than to feel it for yourself.”
Unlock the algorithm that turned a millennium-old village into the city of the future.
You travel around Tokyo as if in a Matrix. One minute you’re jostling through Shinjuku under giant TV screens. The next, the neon maelstrom pixelates like a rip in the code. It crystalizes again in a garden court at Meiji Shrine, surrounded by swooping greens and soft blossoms. And then again amid the futurist fashions, luxurious mineral and metallic hues of Omotesando. All before lunch.
Surprise the senses
Welcome to Asia’s original megacity—the style-scrambling model for Singapore, Seoul, Shanghai, and others to come. You are gaijin, a foreigner. You vaguely recall the familiar (dis)pleasure of air travel, baggage claim, customs from not long ago. A white-gloved cabbie. After that, things get blurry. (Must be the jet lag.) But there’s a soothing sense that protocols here known only to locals keep the turbulent life of Tokyo running smoothly beneath the surface.
In the pink and blue dawn, forklifts bang and whirr at Toyosu Market delivering sofa-sized tuna and 400 other saltwater delicacies bound for Japanese kitchens. The daily auction proceeds amid metallic clamor with the solemnity of a Sotheby’s art sale—and prices to match. Beneath Shibuya’s stacked glass-box malls, determined tides of shoppers and commuters flow and merge in a seamless choreography with little more than an electrostatic hum. In the labyrinth of brutalist concrete streets so complex that people give maps instead of addresses, tiny, warm-wooded soba shops glow with rice-paper doors and deep porcelain bowls of rich umami broth.
Above it all, the Park Hyatt Tokyo hovers like a faceted spacecraft visiting from yet another dimension. Brought to fame by Sofia Coppola’s 2003 Oscar-winning Lost in Translation, the hotel stands shoulder-to-shoulder with more recent arrivals in terms of both style and service. The Park Hyatt can claim, in all modesty, to be the standard by which top-end Tokyo hotels are measured.
The attentive, caring staff will welcome and help orient you in this strange, new world. Whether at arm’s length, taking in the panorama of the city’s algorithms from The Peak bar, or in the field on a tailored tour through Ginza’s galleries and luxury flagships. Or into Roppongi’s frenetic, nighttime underbelly. Or something else entirely: to learn calligraphy, say, in a school situated where laundry lines windows and few foreigners go, to see how Tokyojin live behind the scenes.
Savor the service
In between, come back to yourself. Soak in the view of Mt. Fuji and Park Hyatt’s penthouse pool and spa. Wander the recesses of your mind and the cosseted library. Feast all your senses at afternoon tea in the bamboo garden or on fine dining—haute French at Girandole, contemporary Japanese at Kozue, and Kobe beef at the appropriately 52nd-story New York Grill and jazz bar.
“There’s a soul to the place,” says F1RST founder, Fernando Gonzalez. “From the General Manager all the way to the bellboys and housekeeping. The lighting, the books and art in the rooms—it all tells you there’s an incredible depth to the place.”
Subcultures and superlatives
Beyond, lies a city of “mosts”. The world’s most populous—as big as California. Its safest too. With the most Michelin stars—twice those of Paris. An economy the size of Italy. A budget bigger than Saudi Arabia. No surprise then that this vastness offers a ward for every subcultural fetish. Akihabara for geeks and gamers. Harajuku for pink pop punk. Asakusa for the 7th-Century Sensoji Temple. Pokemon kawaii cuteness on billboards, roadblocks and bullet trains to everywhere. The offer will soon expand even more with new neighborhoods built into Tokyo Bay to cater for the 2020 Olympics.
Welcome to the fishing village that became the greatest city on earth.