The summer issue

Our summer-packed January issue is out now - featuring our guide to summer rieslings, strawberries and seafood recipes, as well as a look at the best of Bali.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller for just $6 an issue - offer ends 29th January, 2017.

Gourmet digital

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad or Android tablet.

Star attraction

After a serious nip and tuck, the chic Villa Magna hotel in Madrid is doing famously, writes Kendall Hill.

A hotel, like a book, should not be judged by its cover. Especially not the Villa Magna in Madrid, a five-star grand luxe hotel that does an excellent job of concealing its many charms behind a bland façade. Perhaps the politest thing to say about its pink marble exterior is that it captures the joylessness of Franco's Spain, circa 1973.

But just as Spain has experienced a renaissance since those dark days, so too has the Villa Magna. In January it emerged from an 18-month, $86-million makeover to claim the mantle of Madrid's most contemporary - and most expensive - accommodation. In July it received the ultimate celebrity endorsement when Madonna, in town to perform as part of her Sticky & Sweet world tour, chose to sleep here over any of the city's breathtaking Art Nouveau hotels. Penélope Cruz and Leo DiCaprio joined her post-concert for a nightcap in her ninth floor Real Suite, Spain's most expensive hotel room at $26,000 a night (butler and Maserati inclusive).

Set in upscale Salamanca on the grand Paseo de la Castellana boulevard, midway between the city's corporate heart and its retail soul (Giorgio, Louis et al are a mere handbag's toss from the foyer), Villa Magna's location is ideal for work or play or exploring the city's blockbuster art galleries and museums. The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza are a stroll or short taxi ride away.

Its 150 rooms include 50 suites, the highest ratio in the capital, decorated in an appealing classic-meets-modern style by local architect Thomas Urquijo. His bespoke drapes, carpets and fabrics and hand-picked art lend a distinct, individual character to the rooms. The hard furnishings are a studied blend of Louis XVI, Chinese and Portuguese inspired screens and rosewood consoles complemented by the latest technology - WiFi, DVD, CD, iPod docks and striking "magic mirror" televisions. These vast flat-screen TVs are so cunningly disguised as wall mirrors that Villa Magna's reception desk frequently fields calls from bewildered guests wondering where to point the remote.

The beds are, in a word, superb, while the grey marble bathrooms feature rain-showers that feel more like monsoons, and luscious toiletries custom-made by French perfume house Blaise Mautin.

The public areas include a lobby café and terrace where Madrileño magnates like to wheel and deal, the casual but hip Magnum bar, and a basement spa and salon where hairdresser Carlos has been styling the city's elite since the hotel opened in 1973. He has become so indispensable to the beauty regimens of Salamanca senõras that when the hotel closed for renovations he had to be relocated up the road to the Intercontinental.

There is a Cantonese fine diner, Tse Yang, favoured by the Spanish royal family, but the real draw is the hotel's eponymous flagship restaurant where 32-year-old Michelin-starred Basque chef Eneko Atxa experiments with "olfactory sensations" as well as exquisite tastes. His amuse-bouche of jellied ham, potato foam and spring flowers was the best start to a meal I've had in ages. Despite its technical wizardry, honed in Atxa's Basque laboratory, it amused my bouche immensely and had me fawning over the rest of his "Evolution" dégustation menu. Highlights included the deliciously pretty and poetic squab on a cherry branch, and roast lobster caged in a glass cloche with smoked tea and a "hash of refreshing herbs" that had a nose suspiciously like marijuana. But appearances can be deceiving, as Villa Magna knows well.


Thai Airways flies to Madrid via Bangkok from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Economy return fares from $2104. 1300 651 960

Rack rates at Villa Magna start at $640 (off-season rates can be as low as $456). The Leading Hotels of the World, (02) 9377 8444, 1800 222 033, New Zealand 0800 441 016


Thai Airways flies to Madrid via Bangkok from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Economy return fares from $2104. 1300 651 960

Rack rates at Villa Magna start at $640 (off-season rates can be as low as $456). The Leading Hotels of the World, (02) 9377 8444, 1800 222 033, New Zealand 0800 441 016

Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for ways to make the most out of seasonal produce? Want to find a recipe perfect for a party? Or just after fresh ideas for dessert? Either way, our recipe collections have you covered.

See more
2017 Restaurant Guide

Our 2017 Restaurant Guide is online, covering over 400 restaurants Australia wide. Never wonder where to dine again.

See more

You might also like...

Best of Italy

Rome, Florence, Naples, the Amalfi... the list of our favour...

Best New Hotels 2009 slideshow

We’ve got the keys to the most fabulous new hotels in the wo...

Burgundy, France: Top soil

“Water can rust iron. Imagine what it does to your insides. ...

Bali's new high

It’s no secret that recent times have been tough for Austral...

New South Wales South Coast

Unsung hero Flashier holiday spots may steal the limelight, ...

Gourmet Barcelona

From the city's best sandwich bar to its favourite charcuter...

Greece's Mani peninsula

Greece’s rugged and bloody Mani peninsula was once a no-go z...

Venice in pictures

Read our story on what to do if you only have 24 hours in Ve...

Great Brittany gallery

Take a walk on the wild side. Follow Brittany’s windswept co...

South African safari lodges gallery

Travelling from the Great Karoo to the Kruger, Emma Ventura ...

Iceland photo gallery

Erase the images of that volcano with the unpronounceable na...

Happy holidays

They’re following the sun and chasing the snow, staying clos...

Kyneton and Castlemaine

Kyneton and Castlemaine were born out of the gold-rush era, ...

Insider's guide to Manly

Breath of fresh air The classic Sydney beachside neighbourho...

The best of New Zealand

Choosing from the bounty of New Zealand's holiday destinati...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.