Madrid always surprises, with visitors expecting a bustling city, but discovering the serene atmosphere of a city lounging in the past. Lunch time regularly extends until 4 pm, maze-like central lanes are great when you do not have a map, and the outdoor scents move from coffee to red wine as the day progresses. This is a city that lives outside, with chatter emanating from al fresco terraces, and the sense that what could be done today can be left for tomorrow. This laid-back style makes Madrid an excellent starting point, particularly if you are prone to jet lag. There is something going on at all hours of the day and something to enjoy whenever you are exploring.
You are greeted at the airport, and it is a short, chauffeured transfer into the city, where your hotel is nestled in the city’s old quarter, within a five-minute walk of the Plaza Mayor. The afternoon is at your leisure, and the central streets make for easy exploration. Then it is the scents that guide you through the evening, as a private tapas tour introduces the gastronomy of a country. Juxtaposed bars are run by chefs from distinctive regions. Sample octopus from Galicia, sea urchin pintxos (small plates) from Basque, hams and cheeses with regional flavors, and a simmering chorizo stew that sends its fragrances far down the street. Tapas is an accompaniment, of course, served with a drink.This tour of gastronomy also incorporates the wines of the country, starting with a Cava, moving through La Rioja, culminating with Ribera del Duero wines.