When I tacked on a night in Madrid to my Spain trip last week, I pictured sangria in Plaza Santa Ana, strolling through Retiro Park and exploring the world-famous Prado Museum. I was a college backpacker on my last visit and was ready to forget the shady hostel and wobbling around with a 50-pound backpack through the Puerto del Sol. Thanks to a friend's recommendation, I booked the Hotel Ritz Madrid (an Orient-Express hotel), which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary and within walking distance to every wonderful thing Madrid offers.
I arrived at 3:00 p.m. to the sight of afternoon tea in the lobby. At 7:00 p.m., when I left to go hunt for tapas, people were still enjoying their tea and treats. The lobby just screamed out "Sit down! Stop checking your iPhone! Enjoy me! Have a coffee."
Operating for 100 years as a hotel means you have reached icon status in a city. And the Ritz is an icon, as well as the social hub of Madrileno life today. Was that hot Prince Felipe that just walked by? My boyfriend swears he and "Meg Ryan's boyfriend in You've Got Mail" (Greg Kinnear) used the old revolving door at the same time. Anniversary collages showed royal families, heads of state and celebrities like Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Brad Pitt enjoying the Ritz.
When I saw the view of the Prado Museum out my window, it was a moment of traveler euphoria. I am in Madrid and I am staring at the Prado from my hotel room, one of the greatest art museums in the world. Pinch me!! Rooms show off original flair, including heavy keys, floor-to-ceiling closets and original fixtures. But the guests of 1910 wouldn't have seen heated towel racks, free WiFi and DVD players. Be aware: This is what a "king-sized" bed looks like. Prepare to cuddle with whoever you are sharing the bed with.
The Ritz takes "breakfast buffet" to another level and it's one to linger over, as is the terrace restaurant where power lunchers and American tourists enjoy 3-hour lunches.
Paying for a room night gives you a key to the city's history but also its carefree, socially-centered present.
Fun Fact: Mario Batali went to his prom at the Hotel Ritz Madrid!