Madrid’s Palacio Real, the Rastro and Buen Retiro Park
During my double-decker bus sightseeing tour of Madrid yesterday I had already got a good overview of the city. Today it was time to deepen my knowledge of Madrid, and I decided to do so with the help of a local. After an early rise I had a simple breakfast at a restaurant at the corner of the Plaza de España and then made my way to a local business called Bravo Bike Tours to embark on a bicycle tour through Madrid. The owner, Kaspar Winteler, is a former banker from Zurich and has lived in Madrid since 1972. When he retired from banking, Kaspar decided to create a bicycle touring and rental business, and he now offers bicycle tours in Madrid as well as in other parts of Spain, Switzerland, France, Croatia and other destinations throughout Europe.
Kaspar takes me on a bike tour of Madrid
Bravo Bike’s Madrid tours are anywhere from three hours to a full day. The company also offers guided and self-guided tours of the Saint James Way, the famous Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage Route. Other Spanish bicycling destinations include a tour of Andalusia, a tour of the Wine Route in La Rioja, and the Conquistadores Route through the lesser visited regions of Spain. In addition, the company also offers multi-day cycling adventures through various European countries with accommodation in local hotels, breakfast and optional half-board, luggage transfers, maps, reduced admission to museums and ferries, tours of local attractions and bike rentals. Guide services are available on some of the tour dates.
Our bike tour took us to the Templo de Debod
Now equipped with comfortable bicycles, we started our cycling trip at the Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple that was originally built in southern Egypt in the 2nd century before Christ and was moved to Madrid in 1968. From this location we had an awesome view over the landscapes west of Madrid. Down the hill we went into the Paseo del Pintor Rosales rose garden and to the Goya Pantheon, the church were famous painter Francisco de Goya is buried. The church itself is adorned with frescoes by this illustrious artist.
The Paseo del Pintor Rosales rose garden
Further down the street we stopped at the historic Prinicpe Pio railway station which has been refurbished in recent years. Known originally as the Estación del Norte, this used to be an important interurban train terminal while today it is a hub for commuter trains. Then we started to climb back up the hill, and I had to do my very best to keep up with Kaspar. We even stopped in at the Otero Bike Shop which has been in operation for 88 years and is run by his friend Jesus. The shop indeed has many old bicycles on display including a tandem bike from 1929.
Kaspar with his friend Jesus from the Otero Bike Shop
Back up on the hill we rode into a neighbourhood called the “Madrid de los Austrias”, the old centre of Madrid which was built during the reign of the Habsburg dynasty. The Habsburgs ruled Spain during its Golden Age when the kingdom amassed immense riches from its colonies in Latin America. In this atmospheric neighbourhood we stopped at “El Madroño”, a historic Madrid restaurant that serves fantastic tapas. It also features many tiled paintings depicting scenes from Madrid’s history.
One of the many colourful tile paintings at El Madroño
After a brief tortilla and churro snack at El Madroño at we continued on to the “Restaurante Sobrino de Botin”, which, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the world’s oldest continuously operating restaurant. Started in 1725, this unique place specializes in preparing suckling pigs, a Spanish delicacy. Sopa de ajo, garlic soup, is another specialty at the Sobrino de Botin. Francisco Goya even worked here as a waiter while he was waiting to be admitted to Madrid’s Royal Academy of Fine Art.
Suckling pigs at the famous Restaurante Sobrino de Botin
Our next stop was on the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s impressive main square, which measures 129 by 94 metres. Construction started in 1620 under the reign of King Philip III. Kaspar explained that the plaza was originally used as a bullring. The Casa de la Panaderia (“the Bakery”) anchors the square and houses various municipal offices and cultural organizations.
The Plaza Mayor in Madrid