city slicker Madrid

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The Independent Culture
Host to this month's International Leather Handbags and Luggage trade fair, Madrid is arguably the Louis Vuitton executive suitcase on Spain's veritable luggage-rack of cities

Location: It's no accident that the Spanish capital sits bang on the bull's-eye of the Iberian dartboard, some 300 kilometres from the sea. Today's Madrilenos can thank King Felipe II for choosing this 650m-high plateau as an effective position to govern his disparate kingdom back in 1561 - hence the saying "aqui no hay playa" ("there's no beach here, mate").

Almodovarmania: Film fans go Pedro Almodovar-spotting at the smart terrace bars which line the Paseo de Recoletos. Act out the hilarious taxi-driver scene in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown by hailing one of Madrid's legendary "white devils", or find out exactly where Antonio Banderas held Victoria Abril hostage in Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down while walking through Madrid's vibrant streets.

Crazy shops: If Madrid's shops were a reliable key to its inhabitants, Madrilenos would be the laughing stock of the world. One emporium shamelessly displays incontinence bags strapped to shop dummies, another sells bras and knickers big enough to go camping in, and the collection of berets, deer-stalkers, panamas and plumed helmets in the Plaza Major, once scene of the Inquisition, defies even the most willing of heads.

Wacky royals: Stir-crazy King Juan Carlos has been known to leap the palace gates to have a drink in the local bars, while some Madrilenos swear to have seen the affable monarch tearing along the Gran Via on a motorbike, disguised only by a crash helmet and goggles.

Old paintings: Goya, Velazquez and Rubens hang in The Prado, Picasso, Dali and Tapies at the Reina Sophia and German industrialist fat-cat Baron Thyssen houses his A-Z of art at the Thyssen-Bornemisa. Would-be Baron Thyssens start by visiting the Rastro Sunday market in La Latina, where copies of Little Boy Crying or Someone's Grandmother are propped up against the wall behind the ubiquitous headless plastic dolls and well-thumbed porno mags.

On the menu: A vegetarian's nightmare as local dishes include chorizo (spicy sausage), albondigas (meatballs), callos (tripe), and for the braver carnivore, an entire roast suckling pig. Late-night clubbers restore their bodies' sugar content with chocolate con churros at the Chocolateria San Gines, while teenage Madrilenos go for American-style hamburgers.

Philip Stark's cool interior of Theatriz, a converted theatre with spectacular loos, offers relief from the brash, noisy restaurants elsewhere.

Football: The legendary Di Stefano, Puskas, Michel and Butragueno all played for Real Madrid. The white-shirted champions still regularly stuff their Spanish league opponents at the San Bernabeu, while humbler neighbours Atletico de Madrid, known as the colchoneros (mattress-men), occasionally pull off a surprise result, depending on who the current manager is.

Top terrace tip - don't mention Barcelona.

Open all hours: The motto here is "work hard, play hard" and no self-respecting Madrilenos will hit the bars or bodegas until the time when we in Britain are tucked up in bed with Newsnight. La Mercha (the crack) is never hard to find, and at weekends revellers sit in cars, bumper-to-bumper at 4am, while moving from one discobar to another. Don't be surprised to see groups of boisterous youths in cafes pretending the night is still young while you are nursing a mid-morning cafe con leche - they might even be going on somewhere else.

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