Marvelous Madrid in Retrospect

Feature Stories

Marvelous Madrid in Retrospect

Marvelous Madrid in Retrospect
Apr 06, 2018

TCLF’s eight-day early Spring tour of Madrid and its environs was heralded by the almond trees in blossom along the Calle del Prado, the street that led from our hotel to the great Prado museum. The tour featured elegant royal palace gardens, inspiring contemporary landscape architecture, exquisite private art collections, and superb meals at private estates and hunting pavilions …and more. As with TCLF’s inaugural overseas tour to Japan in 2017 organized by Susan Gullia at Protravel, this recent excursion was brilliantly curated and provided exceptional access to unforgettable cultural treasures. Sofia Barroso, the President of Around Art, was our indefatigable (and very well-connected) guide throughout the entire excursion, and her extensive knowledge of Spanish culture was integral to its success.

Mario Nievera and Chris LaGuardia at the Royal Palace of Aranjuez - Photo by Charles A. Birnbaum, 2018

The first destination, designer Barbara Pan de Soraluce’s tantalizing multi-level home and garden, was emblematic of what we would see the entire week. It prompted one in our camera-snapping group to exclaim: “This place is like a super model – you can’t take a bad photo.” Along with the garden, visitors were entertained by the home’s wet bar and a video installation by Daniel Canogar in the guest bathroom that featured a projection in the sink depicting people being sucked down the drain. The day also featured a visit to the Chapel of San Antonio de La Florida, which is decorated with frescoes by Goya, and concluded with a cocktail reception at the home of our guide, Sofia Barroso.

The following day began at the Royal Botanical Gardens, which is next door to the Prado. The garrulous retired garden curator, Antonio Regueiro, attired in an elegant Spanish cape, provided a detailed and colorful tour of the twenty-acre garden established by King Carlos III in 1781. The day concluded with a visit to the 51st floor of a new I.M. Pei-designed tower, which features the private collection of Spanish and Italian Old Master paintings—including works by Goya, Titian, Ribera, and Zurbarán—owned by billionaire Juan-Miguel Villar Mir.

That evening, the talented and influential architect and designer Teresa Sapey opened her art-filled apartment overlooking Retiro Park (Madrid’s Central Park). A wall filled with colorful Warhol images of Marilyn Monroe provided a stimulating backdrop to rich conversation and delicious food.

Friday featured a tour of the corporate campus of Santander bank, with architecture by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, and landscape architecture by Luis Vallejo. The site has an extensive collection of olive trees—in one area near a man-made lake, the trees provided habitat to storks. Some trees are more than 1,000 years old, having been transplanted from elsewhere in Europe and North Africa. The campus also includes a golf course and clubhouse (where we had a wonderful lunch) and an extensive art gallery.

Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia, Spain - Photo by Charles A. Birnbaum, 2018

The weekend kicked off with an extended walk through the gardens at the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso near Segovia. The early-eighteenth-century estate was the summer palace of the King of Spain beginning with the first Spanish Bourbon monarch, Philip V, in the 1720s. The 1,500-acre site includes an array of ornate fountains featuring mythological scenes. The lightest dusting of snow (resulting from chillier than normal temperatures) beautifully articulated the bone structure of the design by Frenchman Rene Carlier.

The Vicounts of La Nava del Rey hosted the group for a sumptuous lunch at their nearby historic hunting lodge (where two roaring fires helped warm some cold hands and feet). After a studio visit with painter Carlos Leon, the day concluded with a trip to the contemporary hilltop home and studio of the bespoke textile firm Abbatte, located next to the remnants of the Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria de la Sierra.

Gardens of the Marquis of Marañón, Toledo, Spain - Photo by Charles A. Birnbaum, 2018

Sunday saw a visit to the gardens of the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, whose origins date back some 500 years. Dr. Ana Luengo, an expert on cultural landscapes who did her doctoral thesis on this UNESCO World Heritage site, provided an incisive and inspiring tour. Lunch was provided at the elegant (and endlessly photogenic) home of the Araoz-Marañón family in Toldeo, the Mudéjar Palace of Galiana. The palace complex, which dates to the thirteenth century, blends Muslim and Christian architectural styles and is surrounded by tower cypresses that create an intimate and verdant escape (and shield the view to the rail station with service to Madrid—25 minutes door-to-door). After a short drive along a winding hillside road with exceptional views of Toledo, we arrived at El Ciggarral de los Menores, the private monastery and gardens of the Marquis of Marañón. The Edenic setting, dotted with sculpture and the city of Toledo in the distance, is a historic site chronicled as early as 1621 and one of a handful of surviving examples of this type of country estate in Toldeo.

The next morning featured a tour of the Prado Museum’s greatest works—enjoyed before the museum opened to the public. From Rogier van der Weyden’s magnificent Deposition to Hieronymus Bosch’s spell-binding Garden of Earthly Delights, along with works by Spanish masters like Ribera, Zurbarán, and Goya, and of course Velaquez’ mesmerizing Las meninas … it was an art tour de force.

Group photograph at the studio of Fernando Caruncho - Photo by Charles A. Birnbaum, 2018

We traveled to the studio and garden of famed Spanish landscape architect Fernando Caruncho, outside of Madrid. The voluminous studio is largely subterranean and includes vast, elaborately detailed hand-built models of at least half a dozen projects. Following a delightful buffet lunch and a screening of a short film about his work, Caruncho, his son, and wife, sat down for an extended and illuminating conversation/Q&A about his life and career. 

The final full day began with a tour of the home/museum of the great late-nineteenth/early-twentieth-century Impressionist painter Joaquín Sorolla. The effervescent Andrew Shields from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía  led the tour through Sorolla’s home and studio, which includes masterworks from throughout the artist’s career, along with the garden he designed. Sorolla, we learned, had a close connection with Archer Huntington, founder of the Hispanic Society of America, where a 1909 Sorolla exhibition drew nearly 160,000 visitors in little more than one month. We then proceeded to see three private town gardens by landscape architect Javier Mariategui.

Palace of Liria, Madrid, Spain - Photo by Charles A. Birnbaum, 2018

The evening was a noble (even royal) affair and began with a visit to the Palace of Liria, the Madrid home of the Duke of Alba (as in the ‘Goya painted his relatives’ Duke of Alba). The impressive manse was targeted during Spain’s Civil War in the 1930s and the impressions left by cannon fire can still be seen on one wall in the ornate garden.  The first floor includes the library, which houses glass vitrines with rare books and artifacts, including 21 letters signed by Christopher Columbus. The second floor boasts room upon room of Italian, Dutch, and Spanish Old Masters paintings (including a Goya). A short walk away was the home of the Marquis of Santa Cruz. The Marquis, a former ambassador to the United States, provided us with a warm welcome and entertaining tour of his home; we then proceeded to have a sumptuous dinner.

Postscript: Thanks to Stewardship Council Member John Danzer, we met Spanish landscape architect Susana Canogar, who studied at the University of California, Berkeley. We learned from her that there is great affection and pride for cultural landscapes in Spain, but the profession of landscape architecture is largely invisible. Susana joined us at various points during the eight-day tour and we are pleased to announce that she has also joined TCLF’s Stewardship Council. And, if all goes well, there will be a What’s Out There Weekend Madrid on the horizon.