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Welcome to TPG‘s newest series, Second Cities. The series is designed to help travelers find smaller or less-popular-but-equally-amazing places to visit no more than a few hours by air or land from your original destination so you can maximize your itinerary.
Kicking off the series, I’ll be starting with Madrid, Spain, my home of 11 years. Easily accessible from a variety of US hubs on airlines like Iberia, Delta, United and American, Madrid is a regal and authentic city that’s definitely worth some time. But it’s not a bad idea to tack another Spanish destination onto your itinerary, so here is a selection of my favorite possibilities when heading out of Madrid for a few days.
Sunshine always seems to shine down on this lively Andalusian city. Seville is warm and inviting with a vibrant southern Spanish charm.
Getting there: Seville is one of the easiest cities to visit from Madrid, thanks to the high-speed AVE train that runs between the two places in about two and a half hours. (Once RENFE launches a high-speed train between Madrid and Granada on June 26, 2019, Granada will become much easier to reach too.)
Where to stay: The Hotel Alfonso XIII is a Marriott Luxury Collection property requiring 60,000 points per night for an award stay. The historical landmark was commissioned by King Alfonso to host important guests and royalty during the 1929 World’s Fair.
What to see and do: Visit the Real Alcázar, which may look familiar if you’re a Game of Thrones fan — some episodes were filmed there. The palace is a mix of architecture with construction dating back to Arabic rule and also showing modern Christian influences. Beyond the walls, the gardens are a colorful paradise of orange trees, blooming flowers and even one of the few still-functioning water organs in the world.
Seville’s cathedral, one of the largest in the world, is rumored to contain the remains of Christopher Columbus. Trek up the 35 or so ramps (built as ramps so horses could make the climb up) to the top of the Bell Tower for epic city views.
The city is known for its tapas culture. The gourmet tapas at Brunhilda make for the perfect lunch. For dinner, hopping from spot to spot for a vino and tapas at each is a fun way to get to know the city. One of my favorite spots is Bar Baratillo for hearty rations of the city’s most famous tapas: solomillo al whiskey (a delicious sirloin marinated in whiskey), as well as fried fish and crispy fried cheese. Break up your tapas bar crawl by strolling along the flowing Guadalquivir River, crossing one of the bridges over to the Triana neighborhood. Stop for a bite and a drink at Las Golondrinas, which dates back to 1962.
Make sure to catch the sunset at Plaza España, one of the largest and most impressive squares in Spain. The square has a moat, fountain, bridges, towers and even 48 small squares decorated in colorful tiles representing the country’s provinces and island groups. Getting to the square, which is alongside the Marìa Luisa Park and slightly out of the historic city center, is best done via bike.
Seville’s location in the south of Spain is also ideal for visiting other Andalusian gems such as Granada, the beautiful sandy beaches of Cádiz, the famous gorge in Ronda, Córdoba’s mosque or the whitewashed villages that are scattered throughout the region.
Salamanca is known as a city of students, home to the country’s oldest university. But the city’s historic center has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features several different architectural styles such as Baroque, Gothic, Moorish, Renaissance and Romanesque. Relatively untouristy, Salamanca is known as La Dorada (The Golden City) as the sandstone architecture has a special golden glow to it.
Getting there: Salamanca is a drive of slightly more than two hours from Madrid. You can also take a train, which takes just under two hours.
Where to stay: If you’ve ever dreamed of staying in a restored convent, here you can. The Hospes Palacio de San Esteban is a Marriott Design Hotel requiring 25,000 points per night. You can almost feel the history steeped into the thick, stone walls from the 16th century.
What to see and do: Walking the historic city to admire all the incredible buildings is a must-do in Salamanca. Start with the cathedral, which is actually two cathedrals attached to one another. Then check out the Casa de Concha and its unique facade decorated with over 300 shells. Don’t miss the city’s emblematic Plaza Mayor with 247 balconies overlooking it. The Roman Bridge is one of the oldest attractions, dating back to the 1st century AD.
Salamanca is known for its spectacular meats and cheeses, so you can happily munch on cured Iberian hams, cheeses and farinato, a type of sausage infused with butter, bread, flour, pepper, anise and onion. Pair your embutidos (sausages) with a strong glass of red wine for the perfect Salamantino meal.
But central Spanish cuisine goes beyond just meats and cheeses. At Vida & Comida, you can dine, or participate in different food experiences and tasting menus. Don’t forget to select something off the dessert cart, which is particularly elaborate. For a more traditional tapas experience, visit La Oficina. It’s actually the furthest thing from your office you could imagine and offers hearty traditional tapas and raciones.
This town is not necessarily one you’d think to visit during your Madrid vacation, but it’s right in the heart of one of the most famous Spanish wine regions, La Rioja. Known for its delicious wine and mouthwatering tapas, the city, and of course, the surrounding vineyards and wineries, are well worth a visit.
Getting there: The best option for arrival from Madrid is by car. This way, you can explore the areas beyond Logroño’s city center and taste wines throughout the region.
Where to stay: For the ultimate opulence, wine lovers should head to the Frank Gehry-designed Marqués de Riscal Hotel, a Marriott Luxury Collection property in Elciego. The hotel, which has giant sheets of colorful metal in waves across its facade, is about a 25-minute drive from central Logroño and located on the grounds of Marqués de Riscal vineyard and winery.
What to see and do: A trip to Logroño isn’t complete without a visit to the wine region that surrounds it. A day visit to Haro, a small town, for wine tasting and lunch, is a perfect plan. Park the car and start with some of the wineries in town like Ramón Bilbao or Virgen de la Vega. Just outside of town, Bodegas Bilbainas, Muga and Roda are worth a stop. Usually, each winery will offer a tour and tasting, as well as the opportunity to buy wine afterward. Make sure to check each winery’s operating and tour hours and reserve ahead if necessary.
While the allure of Logroño is partly the attraction of its surrounding region, the city itself is known for its tapas and pintxos culture. Start along the famous Calle Laurel (or the more local Calle de San Juan), and pop into bar after bar, sampling the best of the region’s culinary offerings like el champi — grilled mushrooms topped with shrimp and garlic sauce — or el picadillo con huevo — minced sausage with egg.
Make sure to break up your drinking and eating with a visit to admire the two towers of the Logroño Cathedral. The Museo de Rioja, which has free entry, features a collection of historical and cultural artifacts.
If your goal in life is to be sprayed with a fire hose shooting out red wine, visit in June for the Haro Wine Fight, where everyone dresses up in white and drenches each other with vino tinto.
Featured photo of Seville by Pierre Maheux / Getty Images.
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