I recently discovered that it is possible to have a chic AND affordable break in Spain’s sexy capital city. Firstly, did you know it costs only 2 euros to catch a bus from Madrid airport to Atocha train station in the centre of the city? Well it’s true. In only 40 minutes and a couple of quid later you can find yourself in the heart of this tasty metropolis. A mere 5 minute roll from here and you’re at the glass doors of Chic & Basic Atocha. Step through these doors and you’re greeted by a stark white reception desk bordered by an exposed brick wall, both of which are offset by a warm smiling welcome from the staff.
Chic reception at Chic & Basic Atocha
The Chic & Basic hotel group has one very simple and obvious concept – to provide a place to stay that is both stylish and affordable. On the reception desk of Chic & Basic Atocha sit fashion books and a bowl of candy – so far so chic. The bedrooms are a completely white heaven, spotless, like a modern art museum. The floor, walls, shelves, desk, sheets, funky sponge head board – all white. All this white frames the view from the window wonderfully, a blue sky and terracotta buildings observed from a pearly white perch.
Like a fashionista on a budget this place knows what it can afford to forgo without compromising on style or function. Take, for example, the mini bar, something which is expected as standard in a hotel room, yet avoided like the plague for fear of the unknown (expected to be astromonically high) charges. Chic & Basic (let’s call them C & B!) doesn’t bother putting one of these in your room. Instead you can purchase any sweet treats or alcohol temptations from the reception desk, at any time of day, for a decent price. Likewise with breakfast. C & B doesn’t bother providing a stale continental breakfast for set times which no one ever wakes up for, rather they provide fresh tea, coffee, fruit and biscuits – all day, everday, free of charge. I played around with the filters and fresh leaves of various flavours; my friend attempted her first ever iced coffee on account of the tropical temperatures outside and free provisions inside. Each morning we would make our respective beverages, dunk some biscuits, fill our bags with fruit, and our bottles with iced water and set off for the day knowing we could later splurge on a great Spanish brunch completely guilt free.
Helping ourselves in the Chic & Basic common area
There is certainly plenty of choice for such a thing on the doorstep of C & B. Close to everything essential and yet far enough removed so as not to be kept up by revellers all night – C & B has location, location, location. Walking one block behind the hotel you will find yourself in the night spot of Huertas, a cobbled maze of streets full to the brim with restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs. Whatever your musical preference – Jazz, flamenco, R n B, 80′s – Huertas has got it all. Huertas is also the spot where you might accidently end up indulging in a spot of Karaoke, we sung ‘That don’t impress me much‘ to the Spanish locals and their reaction said pretty much the same thing!
Following the street C & B is on towards Madrid’s centre brings you to Plaza Mayor – not a particularly spectacular square but like a homing device for lost tourists one is drawn there. Take the alley to the left of the square and indulge in some budget shoe shopping. From only 5 euros per pair you can trot away in some Spanish style espadrilles. Don’t stop to eat here though as only 2 minutes away is the joy that is Cava Baja – with equisite tapas from only 1 euro 40 per piece you can afford to try a few. (See previous post on Eating Madrid for more details.)
Approaching Plaza Mayor
It’s not all about food and drink in the hotel’s locale. C & B is also directly opposite the Reina Sofia art museum – home of Picasso’s Guernica, work byMiro, Dali and so much more. Modern Art afficiandos will swoon and even sceptics will salivate. Time your visit well and all this can be yours for free – Saturday afternoon between 14.30 and 21.00 there is no entry charge. Another free treat are the ornate rooms of the jaw-dropping Royal Palace. We visited on a Thursday afternoon and were able to take a peek into a fraction of the 2500 opulent rooms for free just by showing our passports.
Picasso's questionable looking models
Picassos famous Guernica – the highlight of a visit to Reina Sofia
Across the road from the hotel is Retiro Park. A popular spot for locals to cavort on the weekend, the highlight of a visit to Retiro is rowing your own boat across the park’s lake. It costs less than 5 euros for 45 mins on the water, squeeze a couple of people on board and that’s only a few quid each. On a Sunday you can flex your bartering skills in El Rastro, one of Europe’s largest flea markets. Whether rooting for vintage finds or simply attending to catch a glimpse of the locals trading football cards, El Rastro is a Sunday institution in Madrid which can be as cheap or costly as you decide!
Rowing in Retiro Park
It's quite big! The Royal Palace
The ability to walk to all these locations from the hotel only serves to aid the budget. For those trying to stick to something really basic the C & B provides the perfect location for bargain sundowners – the rooftop terrace. On this (all white) furnished suntrap the hotel’s free wifi is also available. You can grab a baguette and beer cheaply from the local shop and blast out your bad music all afternoon – or at least that’s what we did! If you’re ready to move the partying up a notch hop in a taxi (6 Euros from the hotel) to Chueca the gay heart of Madrid and home of yet more bad music. After making friends with some locals we found ourselves in an underground cave of a club called ‘Why Not’ and didn’t emerge for many hours later. On the cab journey home we treated the taxi driver to a generous tip, he had put up with us singing Enrique songs loudly and out of tune the whole way home!
Rooftop Terrace at Chic & Basic Atocha
Many find it hard to believe that a European city such as Madrid can be done stylishly whilst on a budget. The Chic & Basic Atocha proves not only that accomodation can be done elegantly, simply and cost effectively but it is in the perfect position to let you discover the bargains throughout Madrid too. Time your visits to the big sites well and the free entry offered will leave you even more pennies to splurge on shoes and tapas!
I would like to thank Chic and Basic Atocha for their hospitality whilst in Madrid. My stay was partially sponsored by the hotel but the opinions, as always, are my own!