Madrid’s Most Illustrious Neighborhood

Exploring The Storied Barrio De Las Letras With A Trailblazing Spanish Hotelier
Carmen Cordón Muro, co-founder of Hidden Away Hotels.
Carmen Cordón Muro
Co-Founder, Hidden Away Hotels

After completing their studies in Madrid, Carmen Cordón Muro and her now-husband, Ignacio Jiménez Artacho, moved to the Dominican Republic to work for a beachside resort. This youthful adventure would plant the seeds for Hidden Away Hotels, the company they founded two decades later in their hometown of Mallorca. The couple’s hospitality vision was clear from the outset: to find time-worn properties with abundant local character and renew their original splendor. “A hotel has to reflect a city’s authenticity and it has to be an experience in itself, a space where true comfort goes hand-in-hand with luxury and attentive service, the kind that makes one feel like a guest of honor,” says Cordón Muro. Hidden Away Hotel’s second property, the 19th-Century Gran Hotel Inglés, takes the couple back to the city where their shared journey began.

The Echegaray Suite bathroom at Gran Hotel Inglés.
Gran Hotel Inglés

The 1886 Gran Hotel Inglés, said to be the oldest in Madrid, was meticulously restored and renovated by Hidden Away Hotels, a family-owned hospitality group with a passion for discovering unique historic lodgings. Under the artistic direction of international design firm Rockwell Group, it was transformed into one the most sophisticated boutique properties in Spain, with 48 spacious rooms, an elegant library that nods to the hotel’s intellectual past, a residential-style cocktail lounge and a restaurant. Located in the storied neighborhood of Barrio de las Letras, the hotel is moments away from the top museums, plazas and monuments of the Spanish capital.

Local Recommendations

Carmen Cordón Muro, co-founder of Hidden Away Hotels, shares her favorite things to do in Madrid’s Barrio de las Letras

“The neighborhood that surrounds the hotel is a perfect place to just get lost wandering its charming squares and cobbled streets filled with cafes, restaurants and tapas bars,” says the hotelier and writer. As the author of two books and countless essays, Cordón Muro feels a special connection to Barrio de las Letras, Madrid’s literary quarter. During the 16th and 17th centuries, known as the Golden Age of Spanish arts, poets novelists, and playwrights like Lope de Vega and Miguel de Cervantes famously lived and worked there. These days, a new generation of creative professionals call the neighborhood home. “It’s normal to see actors, artists and decorators having coffee with friends or walking back home from the greenmarket,” she explains. “It’s a part of Madrid that has a lot of old-school local flavor, and yet it’s also dynamic.”

Centuries Of Art

Spain’s Rich Cultural Past Lives On In Its Museums

It’s no surprise that some of Madrid’s top museums were established in this historic enclave of creativity. The Museo Reina Sofía (52 Calle de Santa Isabel; +34-917-741-000) is to home to Guernica, Picasso’s masterful mural depicting the chaos of war, as well as a substantial collection of paintings by Picasso and several of his contemporaries, including Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Steps away is CaixaForum Madrid (36 Paseo del Prado; +34-913-307-330), an arts center that holds exhibitions about art, photography and cinema from Spain and beyond. Designed by the award-winning architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, the center’s spectacular façade features part of the 1899 brick-walled power plant that occupied the site and which now appears to float between two futuristic structures. An 80-foot-tall vertical garden with thousands of plants completes the remarkable look. By contrast, the Ateneo de Madrid (21 Calle Prado; +34-914-297-901) looks much like it did in 1884, when the venerable club for artists and intellectuals moved into its current home. Visitors can take a guided tour of the landmarked building, including its library, drawing rooms, and a portrait gallery depicting the cultural and political history of Spain in the last two centuries.

Photo courtesy of Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia.

Made In Spain

Shopping For Expertly Crafted Local Goods

There are a myriad of shops in this centrally located yet relatively tourist-free area, from fashion-forward boutiques to long-established booksellers, gourmet groceries, and antiques dealers. A handful of these are in a league of their own, makers of handcrafted goods that would be hard to find anywhere else the world. At Guitarras Álvarez (7 Calle San Pedro; +34-914-292-033), a guitar shop established in 1945 where Juan Miguel Álvarez del Olmo, a second-generation luthier, makes his instruments solely by hand using decades-old cured wood. He is considered a master, and his top-of-the-line guitars fetch thousands of dollars. Don Flamenco (7 Calle Santa Isabel; +34-914-299-839) specializes in bespoke flamenco and ballroom-dancing shoes, whose meticulous assembly can take up to five weeks. Luckily, their Madrid shop also stocks ready-to-wear options for men and women, as well as accessories like castanets. If you wish to take home a truly special memento, stop by the atelier of Lola Fonseca (20 Calle de Cervantes; +34-913-691-543), a destination for hand-painted scarves and shawls. Lola and her son Claudio, who trained under Japanese artist, Mitsuo Miura, render tribute to nature in their wonderfully detailed fabrics featuring fish, flowers, constellations, and even subatomic particles.

A shoe display at Don Flamenco, the place for bespoke flamenco and ballroom-dancing shoes. Photo courtesy of Don Flamenco.

Market Day

Mingle With Madrileños At These Lively Gathering Spots

Mercado de San Miguel (Plaza de San Miguel; +34-915-424-936) is one of the most popular food markets in the city. This foodie paradise, originally built in 1916, is housed in a beautiful wrought-iron building that was renovated in 2009. Look for the rows of ham legs hanging from the ceiling and ask for a sampling of jamón ibérico de bellota, acorn-fed Iberian ham, arguably Spain’s greatest delicacy. Then wander among the stacks of stalls offering tapas, paellas, local wines, and a colorful array of produce. If you prefer to avoid crowds, head to the lesser-known but thoroughly enjoyable Mercado de Anton Martin (5 Calle San Isabel; +34-913-690-620), a no-frills market where neighbors buy their daily provisions. In recent years, a series of small restaurants began operating there as well. Mercado de Las Ranas is Madrid’s answer to Portobello Road in London or Saint-Ouen in Paris. It takes place on the first Saturday of every month, when small businesses throughout the neighborhood take their wares out to the street, bars offer free vermouth tastings, and cultural institutions put together pop-up exhibitions.

Inside Mercado San Miguel, one of the most popular food markets in the city. Photo courtesy of Mercado San Miguel.

Worldly Flavors

Dig Into A Cosmopolitan Restaurant Scene

Barrio de Las Letras is a great place for “tapeo,” which roughly translates as tapas hopping, especially around Plaza de Santa Ana, a lively square surrounded by old-school bars, cafes and restaurants offering outdoor seating. But don’t miss out on the neighborhood's new dining scene, which is increasingly focused on faraway flavors. At Triciclo (28 Calle Santa Maria; +34-910-244-798), a chic spot clad in multicolored distressed wood, the farm-to-table menu includes nods to Latin America and Asia in dishes like arepas filled with shredded beef or roasted salmon with sweet miso sauce and kaffir lime. Japanese fusion cuisine is the calling card at Umiko (18 Calle de los Madrazo; +34-914-938-706), a minimalist, casual space serving inventive bites paella nigiri and Asian panna cotta, made with aromatic galanga and served over yuzu marmalade. The cozy Chuka Ramen Bar (9 Calle Echegaray; +34-910-835-631), one of the first restaurants to serve ramen in Madrid, melds Chinese and Japanese recipes. Helmed by an American chef who worked at Momofuku in New York and two local partners, the restaurant doles out spot-on bao buns stuffed with pastrami, king crab, or pig’s ear, and various iterations of ramen that change constantly throughout the year.

Chuka Ramen Bar, one of the first restaurants to serve ramen in Madrid, melds Chinese and Japanese recipes. Photo courtesy of Chuka Ramen Bar.