What to Eat in Madrid

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A couple of weekends ago we escaped to Madrid sans enfants for an early anniversary celebration.  We had a great time and more importantly ate, drank, and slept A LOT.  It was wonderful!  Madrid is a paradise for foodies and we made a pretty valiant attempt at fitting in all the dishes and restaurants we wanted to try while we were there.

As a sidenote, I think Madrid (like most anywhere) is definitely “do-able” with kids.  There are plenty of playgrounds; Retiro park is huge and a fun place to spend half a day; football (soccer) is extremely popular here and it would be fun to catch a Real Madrid match…BUT the restaurant scene might be an issue.  Lunch is a later affair with locals eating around 3 pm, but restaurants do open between 12 and 1.  For dinner many restaurants don’t open until 9 pm so if you’re kids are on a North American schedule like ours, it might be tough.  There are certainly places to eat, they are just more fast food or touristy types of places.  This is mostly why we decided to come here for a quick  grown up getaway and we were happy we did!

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We stayed at the hotel ME Madrid Reina Victoria and it was super fun and hip.  We loved the welcome glass of cava upon arrival, the surprise anniversary gift of cava and fruit along with a sweet quote written on the mirror, the in-room sound system, views of the Santa Ana Plaza, the helpful concierge service, and the rooftop bar.  Didn’t love that breakfast wasn’t included and was 5o Euros per person for the buffet (definitely didn’t seem worth it!) or the long wait and poor service in the rooftop bar on weekend nights but overall it was a great experience and we would definitely recommend the hotel.

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We arrived at our hotel around 9 pm, perfect timing for a Madrid dinner!  We checked in and then made our way to our 10 pm reservation at Casa Lucas, a tapas bar on Cava Baja serving traditional tapas as well as some more imaginative dishes.  The place was tiny and we were so glad the hotel had made a reservation for us at one of their few tables.  The food and wine were amazing and it was a great intro to the delicious Spanish cuisine we would enjoy over the next couple of days.

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On Saturday we spent some time walking through Retiro Park, which was really beautiful with all the changing leaves.  The weather was absolutely perfect while we were there-warm and sunny, but not hot.  Fall is a great time of year to visit!  The park is huge and there are lots of places to stop for a drink or snack.

We enjoyed a late lunch at Inclan Brutal Bar which was just around the corner from our hotel on a little side street and had a fun atmosphere and great food.  And of course we couldn’t come to Spain without having some sangria!

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We walked off lunch wandering around the city through the Puerta del Sol and meandering through the vibrant streets.  It’s a good thing that we walked an average of around 16 km a day since pretty much all we did on this trip was eat!

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For dinner Saturday night we wanted something a bit fancier for a proper celebration dinner and a friend had recommended the restaurant Ultramarinos Quintin.  We loved the food and atmosphere in the trendy Salamanca neighborhood.  The only thing we didn’t like was feeling a bit rushed as we could only get in for an 8 pm seating and there was a 10 pm seating reserved after us.  Despite the fact that we had two hours, the food came out extremely rapidly (which we used to appreciate when we lived in the U.S., but now we like to have long, lingering European style meals!).  Overall, it was a lovely evening and instead of dessert we enjoyed some fab gin and tonics as the restaurant had an extensive menu of gins.img_2539

After dinner more walking and drinks at the hotel’s rooftop bar!

I could totally adjust to the Spanish lifestyle-staying up late, sleeping late-perfect for this night owl!  On Sunday morning (and by morning I mean noon ;)) we headed to the famous flea market, El Rastro.  This flea market is huge and draws hordes of tourists and locals alike.  There are lots of cheap wares, likely from China, but if you escape to some of the side streets there are some more unique goods and antique shops to browse.  We bought a couple of traditional fans for gifts and mostly just enjoyed the bustling atmosphere.

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A laaaate morning desayuno.

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A market on the way to El Rastro

Crazy crowds!

After the market we set out to check another thing off our foodie list…bocadillos de calameres, fried calamari sandwiches!  The best are supposedly around Plaza Mayor, so that’s where we went.

La Campana got great reviews, and since the line was out the door we decided to give them a try.  We loved the sandwiches, but thought they could have used some sauce (which is apparently a hotly debated topic among locals).

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More afternoon wanderings plus a walk out to see the palace.  Had to walk lots to make room for all that food of course!  Next on the foodie agenda was churros and chocolate and the historic Chocolateria San Gines is known as being the best.  We agreed-they were delicious!

After more walking we enjoyed a short siesta because we had big evening plans-more food!!!  We signed up for a tapas and wine tour with Devour Madrid and it was a great way to sample lots of things that we wouldn’t necessarily normally try in places we might not know about.  It was also nice to get some history and stories about Madrid throughout the tour.  Some of the tiny, historic tapas places can be a bit intimidating as novices since they can be crowded, you pay for food and drinks at different bars, and eat standing up or at the counter.  It was nice to have someone to show us the ropes!  The tours are small-ours was 3 couples and a perfect size.

We tried some great food and wine and really enjoyed it!

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Monday morning we explored the Prado museum-it was so nice to explore at a leisurely pace and not have to either skip it or race through with antsy kids!  Loved seeing the art in real life that I learned about in high school Spanish class.

For lunch we went to a couple of tapas bars on the famous Cava Baja, which is a long street loaded with tapas bars.  Our friends who lived in Madrid for a few years told us we had to try huevos rotos-fries with literally “broken eggs” on top.  We did and man were they good!  Perfect after a night with one too many glasses of wine.  A woman who worked at one of the restaurants we went to on the food tour had recommended Casa Lucio so that’s where we went and I’m still dreaming of them!  We also stopped in to this tiny, historic tapas bar to try their anchovies and it felt like we had stepped back in time.  I imagine that not much has changed in this place over the last 50 years.  So cool!

Before heading home on our evening flight, we made our way to the rooftop bar at Circulo de Bellas Artes for some tinto de verano (red wine with lemon-lime soda) and stunning views.

Madrid has a fantastic food culture that we really loved exploring!  We didn’t have a single bad or even merely average meal on this trip, which I think might be a first-but to be fair I also researched quite a bit before we came to ensure we tried the best of what was on offer!  It was lots of food and lots of fun!

A Family Holiday in Menorca

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For our last trip of the summer we spent an amazing few days in Menorca, the smallest of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain.  We booked this trip way back in February mainly because we found crazy cheap tickets on Easyjet, but also because we LOVE Spain and had heard good things about this small, wild island that’s more chilled out than it’s livelier, more famous neighbors, Ibiza and Mallorca.  It wound up being the perfect laid back place to end the summer.

Here’s our guide for where to stay, what to see and do, what to eat, and where to shop to have a perfect holiday on this gorgeous island.

Where to Stay

We stumbled upon the charming agriturismo, Turmaden des Capita, and it was a fantastic find.  With only 6 rooms, Turmaden is a working farm and also a labor of love for the owners Rafel and Marta.  From the moment we arrived, we felt incredibly welcome and they really made us feel at home.  They have recently renovated this past spring and they still have a few minor things they are working on, but by next season this place will be incredible.  From the relaxing pool, suite with gorgeous hillside views, honesty bar, and artistic touches, it was a perfect base for a relaxing few days on the island.  Turmaden is centrally located, about 10 minutes from the nearest beach, and we really liked the ease of getting to places in any direction since the island is so small.

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What to Eat

We loved the typical Menorcan treat known as ensaimadas.  A light, airy pastry that can be sweet or savory and dusted with powdered sugar or filled with various options (the custard creme was delicious!).  We had a few of these over the course of the week, but the best were not surprisingly from the little pastelería called “La Mejor” in Mahon.

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Another great find was this tiny little cafe in Mahon called Pipet and Co.  It was adorable and the menu was eclectic and healthy.  We had a delicious lunch of chilled green apple soup, tasty salad, an amazing salmon burger, and pasta for the kids.  The cheesecake and carrot cake also looked incredible.  What was even better was the fact that we sat outside in a square with a playground…so of course despite the fact that it was boiling hot, the kids had to have a quick play before their food came!

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And finally, you can’t go to Spain without having paella…we particularly enjoyed the one at Binimel-la Beach Restaurant after a morning spent at the stunning Cala Pregonda.  Of course it tasted even better washed down with a jug of cava sangria!  Jonah loved the paella and Mason was thrilled that we finally found a restaurant with chicken nuggets for him.  Everyone was happy!

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What to Do

We loved Menorca for its perfect mix of stunning beaches and charming towns-definitely something for everyone and plenty to see despite the fact that the island is tiny.  We had five full days there and found it to be a perfect length of time.

Beaches

As for beaches you can take your pick-busy white sand resorts with all the offerings, tiny remote coves known as calas, or something in between.  For our first day we wanted something easy to access, but not very big or crowded.  Rafel recommended the tiny fishing village of Es Grau since it was nice for families…this horseshoe shaped cove is shallow far out into the water and very calm, making it a perfect place for the little ones.  There’s also parking right next to the beach (go before 11 and you should find a spot easily) and fun pedal boat and kayak rentals available.

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The next day we went to what was for sure my favorite beach, Cala Pregonda.  Like most good things, it didn’t come super easily as it was about a 30 minute hike to get there, but so worth it!  The red earth and rocks on the way out there felt like you could be on Mars…and once you arrive, the soft golden sand and pinkish orange rocks out in the crystal clear water are just a breathtaking scene.  I’ve never seen a beach quite like this one.

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There is absolutely nothing out here in terms of amenities, so plan accordingly.  There is, however, a restaurant at the neighboring Binimel-la Beach I mentioned above, where you park your car to access Pregonda.  One thing to note is that on most of these beaches there are some topless women and even some naturists enjoying the beach totally in the buff…if this makes you super uncomfortable, you might not like the beaches of Spain!  But as our tour guide on a boat trip we took said “usually they don’t attack” 😉  and it’s not really too big of a deal.  I’m pretty sure our kids didn’t even notice!

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Since we were already on the northern coast, we decided to venture out to the Cavelleria lighthouse.  Gorgeous views, a little cafe, and the kids’ favorite-a cave you could walk into with ocean views at the end.  Definitely a nice stop if you’re in the area.

And just 5 minutes from the lighthouse was another wild and lovely beach that we couldn’t pass up, the Platja Cavelleria.  Only about a 5 minute walk from the car park.  Also beautiful!

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On our last day we didn’t fly out until 9 pm, so we had a full day to visit another beach.  We wanted something easy, with chairs, parking, and restaurants so we opted for the resort beach of Son Bou.  It was crowded and disappointing at first after the more wild and secluded beaches we had visited, but the trade off of all the amenities and a chair for Mason to take a nap on totally made up for it that day.  Plus the beach itself was stunning.  Crystal clear turquoise water and a wide, white sand beach that felt just like we were in the Caribbean!  We rented one of those fun slide pedal boats again and had a great time splashing around in the Mediterranean Sea.

Towns

We adored the charming little towns of Menorca and were really pleasantly surprised by them!  We had a super early flight on the day we arrived so we couldn’t check in until the afternoon.  Since it’s only about a 45 minute drive from one end of the island to the other, we dropped off our bags at Turmaden and then headed to the historic port town, Ciutadella.

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Even in our bleary eyed travel stupor, we adored this town and had fun wandering through the charming old town.  There were lots of cute little shops and restaurants and before we knew it, we had passed into the afternoon and it was time to go check into our accommodation.  And then we spotted a random drum line giving a concert and marching through the streets.  Still not sure what that was about, but it was fun!

One of the afternoons, we drove to the town of Mahón (Mao) to have some lunch and check it out.  We had heard that Ciutadella is a lot nicer, so we didn’t expect much…but it was really cute!  We found that great restaurant, Pipet and Co., for lunch and picked up some ensaimadas for later.  And found lots of beautiful streets and alleys along the way!

We stayed very close to the town of Es Mercadal so we had dinner there a couple of nights.  Another small, but charming town to enjoy for sure!  A nice playground, shops, restaurants, and bars…perfect for dinner and a wander.

As you can see, I love these banners!

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Activities

We took a boat tour with the highly recommended Menorca en Barco one afternoon and really enjoyed it.  We got to see some of the most popular (and packed) beaches of the island and then got to visit a couple of more secluded ones and snorkel.  I was so excited that Jonah was finally able to snorkel with us…and he loved it!  One of the highlights of the trip, without a doubt.

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Another one of my favorite activities was driving up the tallest mountain on the island, Monte Toro to watch the sunset.  Just stunning views in every direction.  There’s a little restaurant up at the top, but it closes before the sun sets so we weren’t able to grab a drink as we had planned.  I’d recommend taking up a picnic and a bottle of wine and enjoying the views!

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What to Buy

I knew before we went that I wanted to buy a pair of sandals called avarcas.  They are hand made leather sandals made in Menorca and in both Ciutadella and Mahon there were tons of shops selling nothing but rows and rows of them.  After much debate, I decided on a brand and a color and went home, super happy with my 25 Euro purchase.  Then this past week, I just happened to see a couple of photos on Instagram of the same shoes…went to the online shop selling them in the US and was blown away by the $85 USD price tag.  The.same.exact.shoes!  Even happier with my purchase now.  🙂

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Gin is quite popular on the island if you’re into that.  There is a local distillery, which we didn’t try but we did bring back a bottle of Gin Mare-a fantastic Spanish gin that we randomly got turned on to in Norway.  And finally, we brought back a bottle of delicious organic wine that we enjoyed at the farm stay and that will bring back many happy memories of blue skies and sandy beaches and an absolutely wonderful trip!