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Madrid: Here Comes The Sun

Sep 1, 2011
2011 / September 2011


Photo: Matej Kastelic/Dreamstime.com

Spain was not even halfway through 2011 when bad news about Madrileños’ favorite subjects — money, food and sports — overtook this normally relaxed and lively capital city. Demonstrators, protesting Spain’s financial crisis, filled Madrid’s huge Puerta del Sol square, the largely youthful crowd railing against high unemployment, Spanish bankers and government austerity measures designed to mitigate the country’s ongoing recession.

Spain outperformed its Eurozone partners for 15 out of the past 17 years, but the last two years have shown that the country is not immune to the effects of macro-economics. Government-led austerity measures in Madrid and other cities have kept Spain from following Greece, Portugal and Ireland into a severe financial crisis, but high unemployment is still a concern.

Madrid’s restaurant owners and agricultural export firms and farmers throughout the country balked at Germany’s claim that vegetables imported from Spain led to an E. coli outbreak. And perhaps the most demoralizing event for Madrid was when its national fútbol rival, FC Barcelona, beat England’s Manchester United team to win the UEFA Champions League.

With the onset of summer, however, the good life returned to Madrid as quickly and predictably as the tourists who fill the city’s outdoor cafés, museums, parks and shopping areas every day from June to October. That summer surge, along with a blossoming meetings industry, greatly helped the city’s tourism sector by triggering a 5 percent increase in hospitality jobs and by calming, at least temporarily, recessionary fears.

Adding to the boom, the imported Spanish vegetables were ruled out as the cause of Germany’s food scare, and Madrid’s fútbol fans decided to congratulate their rivals and share in the national celebrations.

The city has finally forgiven the world Olympic Committee for choosing London (2012) and Rio de Janeiro (2016) over beautiful Madrid, and Alejandro Blanco, head of the Spanish Olympic Committee, has set his sights on a bid for the 2020 games.

And, at least for now, the tent city erected in Puerta del Sol by the political demonstrators has been dismantled as Madrileños enjoy the long, warm days of summer and fall.

While economic protests will likely continue in one form or another, the 19 million tourists who visited Spain in the first five months of 2011 — an increase of almost 8 percent over last year — and those expected through the end of the year are bringing much-needed revenue to Madrid and other Spanish cities.

Under its forward-thinking mayor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, Madrid has managed to survive the collapse of a decade-long housing boom while moving forward with budgeted development projects. One of these, Project Calle 30, a massive eight-year urban renewal project, was finally completed, placing a large portion of the old and noisy M30 ring road underground and opening a wonderful green landscape in its place. The new park, known as Madrid Rio, comprises 13 million square feet of parkland highlighted by fountains, sports fields, children’s playgrounds and stylish new bridges over the Manzanares River. The city is turning “green” in other ways as well, replacing its diesel taxi fleet with hybrid vehicles and regulating downtown parking and traffic patterns to relieve auto congestion.

Spain, like its European neighbors, now has a smoking ban in bars, restaurants and cafés, and has deemed smoking illegal in most other public places.

The former red-light district of Ballesta, one of Madrid’s most historic areas, is now a chic neighborhood of art galleries, cafés and boutiques showcasing the latest in Euro fashion. Even one of the city’s more traditional venues, the world-famous Prado Museum, has transformed itself with 12 new galleries and 176 additional works of art, many of which are recent acquisitions never before on exhibit.

Despite the economic slowdown affecting Madrid’s manufacturers, the city’s meetings and conventions sector remains a big revenue producer. In the past year, Madrid climbed from 13th to sixth in a ranking of 1,958 cities by the International Congress and Conventions Association. The city hosted 14,095 meetings in 2010 (up 23 percent over 2009), bringing in more than 1.2 million meeting participants, a 25 percent year-on-year increase.

Direct spending in this sector was over €1 billion, resulting in stable hotel occupancy rates, reliable work for restaurant employees and a steady stream of visitors to Madrid’s many cultural attractions.


Madrid is one of the leading museum cities in Europe, and the Museo Nacional del Prado (Paseo del Prado, tel 34 91 330 28 00, www.museoprado.es) is the city’s most famous cultural institution. View El Greco’s masterpiece Portrait of a Nobleman with His Hand on His Chest, Velazquez’s Las Meninas, Rembrandt’s Artemis, the large permanent Goya collection and many other works of art.
A short walk from the Prado through the Botanical Gardens is the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Santa Isabel 52, tel 34 91 774 10 00, www.museoreinasofia.es). The unusual juxtaposition of two glass elevators on the front of the historic façade, part of French architect Jean Nouvel’s 2005 museum expansion, is worth noting before heading for Picasso’s Guernica and Woman in Blue and to works by Miró, Dalí, Solana and Henry Moore.

CaixaForum (Paseo del Prado 36, tel 34 91 330 73 00,) is a venue filled with more great art, but the building itself, a former power plant redesigned by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, is an amazing piece of architecture, with an 80-foot vertical garden running up the façade and a memorable stainless steel staircase.

The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Palacio de Villahermosa, Paseo del Prado 8, tel 34 91 369 01 51, www.museothyssen.org) has an extensive European collection, ranging from the 13th to late-20th centuries. Its rooftop terrace restaurant, El Mirador del Museo, overlooks the Paseo del Prado and is a great dinner venue.

Madrid has hundreds of fine shops in several city neighborhoods, Salamanca among them, but don’t miss the chance to visit the chic Las Rozas Village (C/Juan Ramón Jiménez 3, tel 34 91 640 49 08, www.lasrozasvillage.com). The outdoor shopping center is located just 12 miles (about 30 minutes) from Madrid by car, taxi, train or Las Rozas Shopping Express bus and features more than 102 upscale European and international brand shops, as well as three restaurants.

If you are in Madrid between September and May, try to obtain tickets to a match at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (Paseo de la Castellana, www.realmadrid.com), home of the Real Madrid fútbol team.

Madrileños and visitors alike take advantage of Spain’s high-speed train service, known as AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) to zip to Seville or Barcelona (about 2.5 hours) or Valencia (about 90 minutes) for day-trips or weekends. RENFE, the Spanish national railway company (www.renfe.com/en/viajeros/index.html), operates AVE service throughout Spain.


Julio A. Olivares
President and CEO, DocPath


There is no doubt that the economic crisis in the United States and Europe is also affecting us. Fortunately, the high-tech industry has its own market that goes beyond borders, and that is helping many firms to not only maintain but also increase their growth during these tough years. Spain has a very well prepared young generation of engineers. At the same time, as a Latin country, we place a lot of value on family life and like to live near relatives. That is why our company installed development centers in Ciudad Real, about 96 miles south of Madrid, where a good university is putting a great number of young software engineers into the local market every year. Our company, and other firms as well, are fortunate that we can maintain a strong workforce in Spain so our employees can stay close to their families.

Business visitors find Madrid attractive because of its great number of facilities and hotels for all needs and budgets, great restaurants, an amazing outdoor life plus great Spanish hospitality. They are amazed to see people strolling in the streets of Madrid at 3 a.m. on weekends. Additionally, we have some very interesting towns close to Madrid to visit, including Toledo, which makes you feel as if you have gone back a thousand years. Segovia and Avila are also important ancient cities to see. I was born in Chile and came to Spain 30 years ago with the intention of staying no more than three months. I fell in love with Madrid and its people immediately. Two weeks after my arrival, I knew that I had become a Madrileño for life.

Info To Go

Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) is located eight miles from Madrid’s city center. Transport to downtown is by Airport Express bus (Exprés Aeropuerto) to Atocha Rail Station and other stops (40 minutes, about $2.80); Metro trains, with stations in Terminals 2 and 4 (15–30 minutes, about $2.80); and taxis (15–30 minutes, about $28–35). All major car rental firms have airport service counters. With more than 300 stations, the fast, efficient and affordable Madrid Metro is a good way to explore city neighborhoods. For more information, visit www.spain.info.

Just the Facts

Time Zone: GMT+2
Phone Code: 34 Spain, 91 Madrid
Currency: Euro
Entry/Exit Requirements: U.S. citizens may enter Spain for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa; a valid passport, sufficient funds and a return airline ticket
are needed. For longer visits, a visa requires an initial criminal record check from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Official Language: Spanish; English is spoken in the business community.
Key Industries: Textiles, banking and financial services, tourism, high-tech industries, trade fairs, energy and chemical industries, construction and food production


Eurostars Madrid Tower
Occupying the first 31 floors of the SyV Tower, this 5-star hotel provides great views, a gourmet restaurant and high-tech amenities. Paseo de la Castellana 259-B, tel 34 91 334 27 00, www.eurostarsmadridtower.com $$$$

Hotel Silken Puerta América Madrid
A different world-famous architect designed each of the 12 floors, perfect for design-obsessed guests. Check out the Italian marble Marmo Bar. Av. de América 41, tel 34 91 744 54 00, www.hotelpuertamerica.com $$$

Hotel Urban
The modern 5-star boutique property, part of the upscale Derby Hotels chain, has a swimming pool, a rooftop terrace and the popular Europa Decó restaurant. Carrera de San Jerónimo 34, tel 34 91 787 77 70, www.derbyhotels.com $$$$


The young and friendly staff patiently explains the gourmet menu and extensive wine list at this updated tavern across from El Retiro Park. Doctor Castelo 2, tel 34 91 557 26 91 $$$$

Olivia Te Cuida
This small, charming lunch place has flowers on the communal tables; a clean, white décor; and flavorful, organic food. Reservations are a must. Santa Teresa 8, tel 34 91 702 00 66 $$

Chef Óscar Velasco continues the legacy of excellent fish and meat dishes at the late Chef Santi Santamaria’s restaurant. Reservations required. Paseo de la Castellana 57, tel 34 91 210 88 40, www.restaurantesantceloni.com $$$$


FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


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