I specialise in writing about Spain for national papers and magazines, including the Telegraph, Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Conde Nast Traveller, Elle and National Geographic. This gives me a great excuse to mooch around the country, talking to everyone from Michelin-starred chefs to old codgers in mountain villages.
I have been living in Madrid on and off for the last 25 years, since I went there to improve my Spanish after finishing my modern languages degree. Soon I was teaching English, translating for art magazines and galleries and researching for television programmes. That was only meant to last a year or two, but I had made so many great friends, quite a few of whom were instrumental in the cultural explosion underway at the time, that it would have been daft to leave. Almost without noticing, I started writing about what was happening in Madrid.
I am passionate about Spanish food and wine, and love trying the local specialities wherever I go. In Madrid, I eat out nearly every day in a quest to track down the best restaurants and tapas bars. My UK base is on the Gower coast in South Wales.
Where I always grab a coffee: Pepe Botella in Malasaña (Calle San Andrés 12), with its marble tables and red velvet banquettes, is the perfect place to read El País with a café con leche.
My favourite stroll: I love walking through Los Austrias, the medieval part of the city, for the combination of history, tradition and contemporary life. I always see something I’d never noticed before.
Fiction for inspiration: Benito Pérez Galdós was a sort of Spanish version of Dickens or Balzac. A lot of his novels are based in Madrid - including Fortunata and Jacinta, Miau and Misericordia – and many of the locations still exist, relatively unscathed.
Where to be seen: Le Cabrera for cool cocktails after shopping in the chic Las Salesas area (Calle Barbara de Braganza 2, www.lecabrera.com).
The most breathtaking view: You can see right across the city trom the roof of the Círculo de Bellas Artes (Calle Alcalá 42, www.círculobellasartes.es).
The best spot for some peace and quiet: Madrid is incredibly noisy, but the Retiro Park is perfect for picnics, quiet reading at outdoor cafés, rowing on the lake or just strolling around.
Shopaholics beware!: The outlet shoe shops on Calle Augusto Figueroa in Chueca are difficult to resist.
City soundtrack: Fito & Fitipaldis seem to be blasting out in every bar.
Don’t leave without...Having a vermut at the Mercado de San Miguel before lunch. It’s the best way to get a handle on what the city is all about (Plaza de San Miguel, www.mercadodesanmiguel.es).
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Why go to Madrid? Because you never know what's going to happen next.
A few hours in this exhilarating, upbeat city will remind you how much fun you can have when you kick back and just go with the flow. This is a place where the best laid plans are likely to go astray - no matter how carefully you research and map out your trip.
Could your life do with a burst of spontaneous vitality? Come to Madrid.Read more...