While some tourists do Madrid on a shoestring, a select few see a side to the city well beyond the reach of the masses.
Luxury tourism is now an activity that might include a visit to the Prado Museum cleared of fellow visitors, cooking classes with a famous chef, a private bullfight, paying the best jamón carver in the world for a romantic dinner, and going for tapas with the king’s cousin.
Recognized in the industry as a high-net-worth visitor, the luxury tourist will be waited on hand and foot after arriving on a private jet and will enjoy door-to-door transportation with a private chauffeur.
Maite Pinedo, a history of art lecturer, will never forget taking a New Yorker on a private tour of the Prado for a cool €4,300. Her charge spent the entire time in front of Velázquez’s Las Meninas – a picture she had dreamed all her life of seeing up close. In the event, she burst out crying.
Pinedo also took film director Martin Scorsese around the Prado; he wanted to see nothing more than three crucifixions – one by Velázquez, one by Goya and one by El Greco. He spent just five minutes looking at each one and was back on the street in 15 minutes. Pinedo also recalls a wealthy Chinese collector who stood in front of each and every painting in the gallery. “Including those by Guido Reni!” she says. “And everyone gives those a wide berth!”
Not far from the Prado is The Westin Palace hotel. One week in its royal suite costs €18,000. The price covers picking the guest up in a private jet and bringing them to the hotel, dinner at a two-starred Michelin restaurant and the services of a stylist who will do their hair and makeup daily.
According to Virginia Irurita, founder of the luxury travel agency Made for Spain and Portugal, Madrid is about to become the go-to destination for the high-end traveler. “2020 will be its year,” she says. “They are opening the Four Seasons, the Mandarin Oriental – previously The Ritz – and the W. And almost certainly the Museum of Royal Collections will be inaugurated next year. The luxury package is expanding.”
Film director Martin Scorsese spent 15 minutes at the Prado, where he just looked at three crucifixions
Irurita offers bespoke holidays in the true sense of the word. At the request of a Jewish couple wanting their children to learn about some of the heroes that came out of the Holocaust, she arranged a meeting with the granddaughter of Ángel Sanz-Briz, the Spanish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from death in 1944. Meanwhile, one US multi-millionaire spent a day playing dominoes with locals in a town between Seville and Granada, where she also spent hours on the slot machines. “It was one of the five best days of my life,” she later wrote in a description of her vacation.
Other attractions include master classes with famous chefs and ham connoisseurs. And, for those who are eager to rub shoulders with the nobility, Irurita organizes a tapas night with a member of the Borbón royal family for €1,000.
These high rollers have an annual income of at least €197,000, according to the Spanish Luxury Association, and usually fall into one of the following five categories: Senior Bombers – active seniors; Adultescents – Peter Pan types; Nouveau Riche; Bobos – from the French “bourgeois bohèmes”; and Dinkys – a couple with two salaries and no children (an acronym for “dual income, no kids yet”).
For those fascinated by Spain’s bullfighting tradition, there is also the possibility of visiting ranches such as the Matías Carretero finca. On one occasion at least, visitors have wanted to see a bullfight in private. If the visitor has experience in the ring, as is the case for one Mexican tourist who turns up every year, they can don a cape and pit their wits against the animal.
One US multi-millionaire spent a day playing dominoes with locals in a town between Seville and Granada
This could cost around €1,800 for a young bull, though the most extravagant private bullfight was organized 10 years ago for a couple of Russian businessmen who paid €36,000 to watch the proceedings in El Casar bullring in Guadalajara. The spectacle was rounded out with a live band, a couple of Civil Guards and a crowd for atmosphere. “The place filled up with pensioners and people who were just curious,” recalls the bullfighter Jesús de Alba, one of the two who performed that morning.
Also on the luxury agenda is Florencio Sanchidrián, who wields his knives with all the passion of a bullfighter. Considered the best ham carver in the world, he frequently entertains wealthy tourists who want to savor Spain’s world-renowned delicacy and has earned a certain celebrity status himself by cutting ham for Obama and the Pope, with one of his tastings costing between €3,000 and €4,000. He will also cut for couples wanting a romantic dinner, with different cuts of ham accompanied by different wines.
“It is an intellectual tasting,” he says. “It’s technical. Bringing out the aroma of the ham requires all five senses.” One day, when he believed his work was not up to scratch, he asked his clients’ forgiveness. “I was not up to the standard of the ham,” he recalls.
English version by Heather Galloway.