Ron Santiago's guide to Madrid

Where to go, what to drive, how to get there, where to stay, what to do, how much to spend.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I prefer BA from Heathrow to Madrid's Barajas airport. I use Iberia as a back-up. The flight's about two hours.

Taxis cost about £15 and take 25-45 minutes. The metro from airport to town takes about 30 minutes and costs Eu1.15.

My first choice is the Hotel Hesperia (Paseo de la Castellana 57, tel 00 34 91 210 8800, All rooms have wi-fi and the service is excellent. If I'm going to a trade show, I stay at the modern Foxa M30 (Serrano Galvache 14, tel +91 384 0400, off the M30 motorway), close to the main exhibition centre. It's also near the airport. The rooms are large and pleasant, and hotel guests can use the gym next door. Third choice is the Melia Castilla (Capitan Haya 43, tel +91 567 5000), which is convenient to the office. The rooms are OK, and it has a good location.

At the Melia, ask for a room high up. You don't want to be facing the road. In Madrid, people tend to use their car horns a lot - they'll be tooting their horns until 3 or 4am. At the Foxa, avoid rooms on the motorway side.

I like Castellana 179 (Paseo de la Castellana 179, tel +91 425 0680). It offers modern Spanish cuisine and a good atmosphere and is popular with locals. It has a great wine list and sommelier. Its large round tables are good for business dinners. Spain does great roast pork and lamb, especially in the 'asador' restaurants, named after the asador oven. One of the best known is Asador de Aranda (branches around the city). The Melia Castilla has a great paella restaurant, L'Albufera (tel +91 567 5197). If I wanted to impress, the Michelin-starred Santceloni restaurant in the Hotel Hesperia is good (tel: +91 210 8840). If you have time, visit Segovia, a medieval town an hour north-east of Madrid. I recommend the Jose Maria restaurant (Cronista Lecea 11, Segovia, tel +92 146 6017), which has some of Spain's best roast suckling pig and lamb. It's always busy, so book in advance.

Madrid's museums are fantastic. The Prado (Paseo del Prado, is quite traditional. Nearby is the pleasant Parque del Retiro. More contemporary is the Reina Sofia (Plaza Santa Isabel 52,, which has a great Miro collection. The shopping is fantastic, particularly around the Salamanca area north of the Parque del Retiro. Madrid also has lots of different architecture on show. My best tip is to walk around with your eyes wide open so you don't miss anything!

Relationship building is highly important, and Madrilenos love to do business over a meal. They enjoy long lunches and you can expect to eat late, perhaps 2 or 3pm for a two- or three-hour lunch. They will take you out for dinner or on excursions. They like to be hosts and they do it extremely well. Allow time for that and be interested. Try to know a bit about their history, wine and food. Speaking the language is also a plus. Madrilenos tend to work long hours, contrary to opinion. If they have a long lunch and siesta, they will go back to the office and work until 8 or 9pm. They're also big on golf, so it's possible to do business on the golf course. But it is still a man's world. I have met few female executives, and the boardroom tends to be all men.

It's hard to travel to and from Madrid in a day, especially with the hospitality factor. Try going the night before, do the dinner, do some business, and then have a quicker lunch the next day before flying back at about 4pm. Even if you don't arrive in Madrid until 9.30pm the previous day, that's fine because they start dinner around 10pm and you'll have done a full day's work in London.

Ron Santiago is VP of international sales and marketing, EMEA, for National Car Rental.

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