by Nick Taylor
Barbara and I wanted to start our two-week trip to Spain at a hotel that would help us acclimate, where we felt less like tourists — even though we were — and more like guests at somebody’s house. Luckily we found a place that fit.
The Hotel Orfila in Madrid just north of the Paseo del Prado and the museum district provided exactly what we needed.
We traveled to Spain in June to explore its legendary south, Andalusia and its famous cities Córdoba, Seville, Málaga and Granada, where centuries of Moorish rule left a legacy of beauty and priceless architecture.
We flew into Madrid two days before we headed south.
Barbara booked the Orfila through American Express even though it looked, on maps of Madrid, a little remote from the places in the city we wanted to explore. We planned to visit the Prado and the Reina Sofia Museum where Picasso’s “Guernica” now has its home. But we like to walk and realized that we could cover the distances easily
The hotel’s Relais & Chateau affiliation indicated a standard of quality and because we booked a month in advance, Barbara’s nonrefundable early payment earned a 25 percent discount that brought the nightly rate below 200 euros.
We knew the Orfila was the right choice almost from the minute we arrived. The Spanish describe it as a townhouse. The 19th Century limestone building sits on a one-block street of the same name and we found the elegant, richly-appointed lobby filled with comfortable chairs, a huge arrangement of fresh flowers and a table stacked with the latest European newspapers and magazines.
A concierge – conserje in Spanish – wearing a formal coat with tails greeted us as we walked in.
The desk staff and hallmen all spoke English and made us feel welcome and comfortable. Once we’d stashed our bags in the large “double superior” room – one of only twenty rooms plus twelve suites — we returned downstairs to take the hotel up on its offer of a glass of cava for arriving guests.
The small open terrace behind the dining room was the perfect spot for this refresher. Then we took the jet-lag nap in a big comfortable bed.
A few hours later, we began to explore a little bit of Madrid. The Orfila occupies a neighborhood alternately called Alonso Martinez for a nearby plaza and Metro station, and Judicia because the Palace of Justice, Madrid’s main court building, and other government ministries as well as embassies and consulates are nearby.
The police stationed around the government buildings made the area feel safe. The houses are solid and large and the streets are calm, tree-lined and feel a little bit like Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
We walked down to the Plaza de Colon and followed the east side of the Paseo de Recoletos past the Archeological Museum to the Ayuntamiento, Madrid’s city hall. We also checked out Calle Serrano, a parallel street, filled with brand name shops, Madrid’s answer to Madison Avenue.
We returned to our room for a second little nap and prepared for dinner Madrid style at 10 p.m. The Orfila’s neighborhood has plenty of good restaurants and we chose Ten con Ten, a few blocks and an easy walk away. More on that in another post.
The next morning, José Martín Sánchez, the front office manager, reserved tickets for the Prado so we wouldn’t get stuck in a long line.
Our only complaint at this point was that the hotel’s buffet breakfast, as lovely as it was, felt overpriced at 40 euros. There were less expensive choices, but we decided to look for alternatives nearby and found two we liked.
At El Abate Pitanzas, down the street and around a corner, you can have a fast and inexpensive breakfast with the government bureaucrats and office workers headed for their jobs.
A couple of blocks away at Crusto, bakers in an open kitchen turn out fresh bread and pastries.
Locals stop for baked goods and pause over coffee with tosta de tomato and other breakfast treats.
After we checked out of the Orfila, we headed south on the AVE express train bound for Córdoba and then Seville, where we picked up a car to tour Andalusia with friends who met us there.
We had a fine two-week trip and had no complaints about our other hotels, most in the heart of tourist districts. But after after joining the crowds in Seville, Málaga and Granada, we remembered the refuge that the Hotel Orfila offered from the noise and hyperactivity.
We booked it again for our final two days in Madrid before returning home. Verónica Garcia Castelo, the general manager, Jóse Martín Sánchez and the night manager Pablo Chamusa greeted us like old friends on our return.
Those two days confirmed our first impression – sometimes you pay more to get a bargain.