It’s really all about the ham. Some people may come for flamenco, others so they can sticky beak on bull fighting.

But for a real taste of Madrid, you have to get stuck into the jamon.

The human body is supposed to be 80 per cent water. After 24 hours in Madrid, there’s a good chance that the other 20 per cent of mine is purely made up of cured meat- and a splash of pink wine.

12.30 pm – Arrive and dump your bags

We arrive on a Saturday morning after a two hour Easy Jet flight from London, where the cattle smush to claim a seat provides some revealing insights into the dregs of human nature.

We make a list on the plane on must-dos: Tapas. Some art. Churros. Jamon. Some shopping. Luckily I did the research ahead of time – so you don’t have to.

The logistics: It’s a quick 20 minute (24 Euro taxi) to our hotel just off the Gran Via – the ornate main shopping artery that bisects central Madrid. Our room at the ‘High Tech Cliper’ hotel is functional and fine- the ‘high tech’ seems to derive from a flat screen television which mysteriously turns itself on at 7.14 am and a shower that takes a technical architect to decipher. The sheets are clean, the room is warm and there’s intermittent wifi. What else do you really need?

There’s no instant topographical landmark of Madrid. There’s no harbor or majestic river to orient yourself by. As for Madrid’s weather; the highest city in Europe, set smack bang in the middle of Spain knows what seasons are. Summer can scorch, and the winter wind can still sting. In late November it’s near zero. We bundle up and brave the elements.

High Tech Cliper Gran Via
Calle Chinchilla | Esq. Gran Via 29, 28013

1.30 pm- Lunch Estado Pura

Fifteen minutes walk from the hotel up the Gran Via and it’s time for lunch. Estado Pura is a tapas bar that’s decidedly contemporary. The chef, Paco Roncero trained at El Bulli. If the weather’s warm there’s a lovely terrace outside. If it’s cold enough for you to covet fluffy ear muffs then inside you’ll find a bar and dining space that’s pleasantly warm and modern.

You can sit up on stools at communal benches or hugging the window. Under the watchful eye of the a mural- captured lass pouring Mahou beer onto a table it’s time to relax into the weekend with a glass of vino rosado or vino tinto. Don’t feel like you’re being cheated or you’re a chump if they give you a menu in English. It’s also not an indictment on the authenticity of the food, just on the professionalism of service.

A menu in English will also help you choose what’s good. And there’s lots that’s good. Beneath a gently crumbed crust the ham croquettes ooze and squish. The patatas bravas come as seven little roasted new potatoes in a row, their bellies filled with spicy tomato. Despite the aggressive translation ‘Meat bombs’ are comforting balls of sausage meat and potato. There are mini hamburgers, and a toasted jamon and manchego sandwich is the Prom Queen of ham and cheese sandwiches.

Estado Puro
Hotel NH Paseo del Prado, Plaza Cánovas del Castillo, 4,
Open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

2.30 pm- Dash of culture at Museo del Prado

Just across the road from Estado Pura is the Museo del Prado. It’s free. It’s got a gluttonous collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings from the 12th century to the early 19th. It’s based on the former Spanish Royal Collection. And besides, a little dash of culture and a walk helps burn off lunch.

Museo del Prado
Ruiz de alacon
Open Tue-Sun 9am-8pm

4.30 pm- Quest to find the best churros in Madrid

Nothing fills the hole between lunch and a late Spanish dinner like a sneaky serving of churros con chocolate. These long donuts are shaped like the shadows of stars. You dip them in hot chocolate has the texture of the insides of a molten chocolate pudding- sticky and rich.

The best churros in Madrid are half an hour walk from the Museum up past Puerta del Sol . The best ones aren’t sickly sweet and the chocolate doesn’t glug with an excess of cornflour. Chocolatería San Ginés was founded in 1890. Madrid locals have been thronging to the calm marbled interior, just down past the San Gines church for churros since then, and at most hours of the day (it only shuts between 6 and 9 am). You can sit down and wait for table service, but it’s swifter and easier to stand at the bar. The coffee isn’t that bad either.

Chocolatería San Ginés
Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5 28013
Open Mon-Sat 9am-6pm

5.30 pm-Meander

Wander back to the hotel, meandering through the Plaza Mayor and Sol. Take some time to do a bit of shopping on Gran Via if you want. Yes, the Zara is better in Spain. Have a nap. Dinner is late. It’s Spain.

7.30 pm -Pre dinner drink in La Latina

Wander down towards La Latina. It’s where the young and groovy are and it’s only a 20 minute walk from the hotel. Wander into any tapas bar that takes your fancy. Try not to inhale too much second hand cigarette smoke with your cerveza. Order some pimentos de padron if they have them on the menu. They’re bloated green chillis that are fried and topped with salt. They’re the Russian Roulette of pre dinner snacks. Most are sweet like capsicums. About one in 10 are mind blowingly hot. They go particularly well with a beer.

8.30 pm-Wine bar dinner at Matritum

Most residents won’t eat dinner until 9.30 or 10pm, but it’s worth risking being a geek and going a little early just to get a seat at Matritum. It’s a cosy wine bar on a side street of La Latina, which is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Madrid. Matritum is all amber walls and dark wood panelling. If you get there early enough, you’ll get a seat. The menu is in Spanish, there’s minimal English in the floor staff, but you’ll get along fine. The wine list is achingly long, but a go for a glass of Rioja or whatever is listed as a specials board.

Picks from us were the mini tortillas of crab which come lined up like pieces of toast, cooling in a rack. There’s a sweet peach and mango relish which is playful as hell. The croquettas are also phenomenal – savoury, crunchy and gooey all at the same time. For those craving some real meat there’s a darn good entrecote steak with sauces. For dessert there’s a tiramisu in a glass based on Oriol Balaguer’s recipe (in 2001 his seven textures of chocolate won the accolade of best dessert in the world). Trust me when I say you should not miss this tiramisu.

10:30pm-Explore La Latina- stumble back to hotel when your eyelids are heavy.

9.30 am-Museo de jamon

It’s time to talk about the jamon. Spanish jamon is no ordinary ham. It comes from black Iberican pigs. The happier the pigs, and the more acorns they feed off, the more expensive it’s going to be. The more expensive it is, the sweeter and nuttier it’s going to taste. Aged Jamon Iberico Bellota like nothing else you’ve ever put in your mouth. I promise.

There are four Museo del Jamon’s within sprinting distance of Sol and the Gran Via hotel. Yes, you read that right, Museo del Jamon. It’s not really a museum, more a cafeteria crossed with a butcher or charcuterie store. Here you’ll find one of the cheapest, best breakfasts you’ll ever have. Stand at the bar. Marvel at the scores of hams hanging from the ceilings like overlapping tiles. Choose something from the laminated sheets affixed to the mirror. It’s very hard to go past warm baguette, with smushed tomato and layered with pieces of jamon; Iberico pan tumaca. Sometimes the simple things really are the best.

Museo del jamon
Calle Mayor, 8, 28013
http://www.museodeljamon.es/

10.30 am-El Rastro Markets

Wander another 10 minutes down to the La Latina station. Prepare yourselves for an epic street market experience. El rastro is a street market of medieval origin where one can find practically anything. The trees join over the top of the streets and the crowds can seem to heave.

Watch your wallet- pickpockets about. The market spreads out like a spiderweb along the adjoining streets, downhill towards Puerta de Toledo. Leathergoods, second hand clothes, antiques, jewelry, paintings, electronics and kitchen ware. It took all of my strength and willpower not to return home with a specialty ‘jamon holder’. But there may be a baby pink leather bomber jacket, for the princely price of 20 euro that come home with us.

12.30 pm – A quick bite

Grab a quick bite of tapas from somewhere in La Latina that takes your fancy- many are open on Sundays. If you haven’t had tortilla yet, try and order some. It will change how you feel about omelettes. Head back up the hill to the hotel.

Grab your bags. Head to the airport. Loosen your pants slightly. Relax.

They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through their stomach. It seems Madrid used exactly the same tactics on me.

First published on www.trespassmag.com