Enjoy a City Break in Madrid

The Puerta del Sol is more than just the heart of Madrid, it is the hub of Spain.  A tablet in the pavement here, marked Km 0, is the point from which all distances in the nation are measured.  The "Gate of the Sun", as the name translates, is also an excellent location to begin a summer's day in the dazzling city of Madrid.

Madrilenos, the people with the good fortune to live in Spain's capital, pace themselves through each long day and night, and rarely rise early.  You can have the Puerta del Sol to yourself with the first rays dance across the roofs of the handsome old city centre.  The original village was chose as the power base for a united Spain due to its geographic centrality, yet despite being distant from all the Costas, Madrid boasts the nation's finest seafood, best sampled in the most civilised of institutions, the tapas bar.   At venues such as the La Trucha, just off the Plaza Santa Ana, you can graze your way happily for an hour or two towards dinner.

On the plaza itself, ME Madrid Reina Victoria represents the rebirth of a grand hotel as style icon: a venue so imaginative and enticing that it will take a lot to lure you out.  Fortunately, the city excels in both the quality and quantity of its temptations.

Back in 1991, when Madrid became European capital of culture, the star of the show was a former hospital wonderfully converted into a modern art museum: the Reina Sofia, with Picasso's powerful Civil War image, Guernica, at its heart.  The gallery's opening completed the most powerful cultural trilogy in any European city.  The Paseo del Arte ("Art Walk") unites the young Reina Sofia with the solemn Prado, repository for Spain's past glories such as Goya and Velazquez.  Between them, the Thyssen-Bornemisza shows the wonders that can result from a family fortune blended with the finest taste.

Madrid comes into its own in May and June, when you can best appreciate the great outdoors on the city's doorstep.  To the east, El Parque del Buen Retiro is a former royal playground, now democratised and full of interest, including the Palacio de Cristal (modelled on the original Crystal Palace in south London). To the west, the Retiro is balanced by Madrid Rio, the dramatic result of a project to give the city's river back to the people.

The capital's ring road was buried in a tunnel, opening up the west of Madrid and creating a new dimension to reward those of us who are frequent visitors to the city.

Add magnificent architecture, great shopping and friendly locals, and the Spanish capital represents one of Europe's most compelling and energising cities.  Madrid enthrals by day and seduces by night.