Trips of a lifetime: an Iberian adventure from Barcelona to Madrid

Barcelona and Madrid have much to offer visitors and one of the best ways to travel between the two is via train. But don’t simply visit those two cities – stop off en route at Zaragoza and visit its incredible 11th-century palace. Once you arrive in Madrid, branch out beyond the city and discover a nature reserve with its own microclimate. Add in cultural hotspots, hitting the shops and incredible food from Michelin-starred chefs, and you have a wonderfully diverse holiday on your hands

Explore the heart of Barcelona


Immerse yourself in modernist Barcelona from the very heart of its quintessential neighbourhood, Eixample, where Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona is located. The hotel, right on the Passeig de Gràcia, has views of one of Antoni Gaudí’s most recognisable buildings, Casa Batlló, and is the ideal base for exploring the so-called ‘Golden Square' of major galleries here. The artistic movement and the architectural gems are part of the story of these streets and the buildings that served as residences for the early 20th-century Catalonian bourgeoisie, including another Gaudí masterpiece, the imposing La Pedrera.

After a stroll through the local heritage sites, stop in at Boo and explore its range of sustainable, locally produced fashion companies, including Spanish brands such as Elosegui, Steve Mono and Urdina Islandwear, whose fabric is made from recycled ocean plastic.

Back at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona, dine at Moments, where you can sample the culinary talents of Carme Ruscalleda. Ruscalleda is the only female chef globally to have achieved seven Michelin stars, which are held across her establishments in Spain and Japan. She is at the helm of this two-star restaurant, together with her son Raül Balam, which offers the best of Catalonian flavours and shares the passion of this family of chefs for produce from the region.

See the palace of Zaragoza


 The high-speed AVE train departing from Barcelona-Sants Station passes through the city of Zaragoza en route to Madrid. Do more than just sail through, and take advantage of the route to stop here, an hour and a half into your train journey, at the capital of Aragon and explore its Aljafería Palace, located conveniently close to Zaragoza-Delicias station.

Known as the ‘Alhambra of Zaragoza’, together with the Mosque of Córdoba and the Alhambra of Granada, it forms the great triad of taifa art in Spain. A Muslim fortress built in the second half of the 11th century, the palace was the residence of kings. Later, it was used as a residence by Christian royalty, including the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, and today it’s home to Aragon’s regional parliament, but still allows public visitors.


Enjoy Madrid and its wider surrounds
Back on the AVE train, It’s an hour and a half from Zaragoza to Madrid-Atocha. The Paseo del Prado starts at the station’s exit. The boulevard par excellence in Spain’s capital passes through the Royal Botanical Garden and the Prado Museum, before reaching Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid, which reopened in 2021 after a complete refurbishment, and comes complete with an elegant marble spa. Nearby, you’ll also find the Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Reina Sofia museum, the Royal Observatory of Madrid and the city’s beloved Retiro Park.

The wider Madrid region is surprisingly diverse, and includes the Hayedo de Montejo, part of the Sierra del Rincón biosphere reserve. The humid microclimate in this mountain-adjacent region has created a large, lush, tall-treed forest. From here, it’s also easy to chart a route through charming towns such as Buitrago del Lozoya, El Berrueco and Sieteiglesias. If you’d like to hire a car, look out for the Hertz offer through your free Fans of M.O. membership.

Any Madrid adventure that doesn’t take in the city’s celebrated culinary scene would be incomplete. Quique Dacosta, the chef who has overseen the food on offer at the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid knows this well. Deessa, the most ambitious undertaking of the famous chef – who has earned five Michelin stars across his various projects – is a trip through Dacosta’s history, from the dehesa de Extremadura (cured Ibérico pig), where he was born, to the Levantine coast, where he grew professionally. Try imaginative dishes such as the chilli pepper and smoked eel soup or the Iberico presa pork cut, then head over to lively cocktail bar Pictura for the rest of your evening.