The headquarters of the Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles (Spanish Railways Foundation) is a beautiful and surprising mid-18th-century palace located in the heart of Madrid, near the Reina Sofía Museum that many locals have likely passed hundreds of times without realising the wonders the lie behind its doors. Built as a home for Blas Jover (Council secretary for Fernando VI) on a plot of old fields that belonged to the Santa Isabel convent, today its one of the best-preserved palaces in Madrid (as well as one of the city's best-kept secrets). It's changed hands many times, and in the mid-19th century it was expanded to give it a romantic look that it still has today.
Open to the public as a study centre with interesting activities, a library and a shop, this palace was one of the three properties of this type that the powerful Manuel Godoy, a favourite of King Carlos IV, managed to accumulate in Madrid. Although he did live here and the palace bears his name, the truth is that it wasn't built expressly for Godoy but as a residence for the First Secretary of State, the Marquess of Grimaldi. The work was commissioned to the great Francesco Sabatini, and the palace's golden era was, of course, when Godoy was living his luxurious and eventful life there.
Built in the 18th century by the Marquess and Marchioness of Guadalcázar on land that belonged to a Jesuit order (Noviciado de la Compañía de Jesús), the Bauer Palace is one of those treasures in Madrid that's quite the sight to behold, but that is often overlooked. And that's surprising, considering it's right in the San Bernardo neighbourhood, next to C/Pez, where pedestrians pass by every day. Perhaps we're passing by too quickly. Now it's time to stop and take in this historic monument, which has been owned since the late 20th century by the Bauers, a family of Jewish bankers, and is now a wonderful school for singing and vocal training (Escuela Superior de Canto).
Currently known above all as a big space for weddings and other events, the Casa Grande really offers a magnificent lesson in Spanish history that you shouldn't miss. During the reign of Felipe II, the Empress María de Austria founded the Colegio Imperial in Madrid, which was left in the hands of the Jesuits. The three holdings that the Jesuits established were in Torrejón de Ardoz, Arganda del Rey and Valdemoro. When Carlos III expelled the order from Spain, the land in Torrejón had already become one of the most extensive and fruitful in the region. The Casa Grande was then auctioned and was owned by a string of proprietors, until it was expropriated during the Spanish Civil War by the General Union of Workers (UGT) to use as a militia headquarters.
Right in C/Mayor, very close to the Royal Palace and in front of the Plaza de la Villa, stands the Italian Institute of Culture. In addition to being a beautiful space where you can sign up for Italian classes or have a coffee in the cafeteria with designer chairs (Italian, of course), it's a palace in its own right. If you take a moment in the nearby alley, under glass you can see the remains of what was the first parish of the Villa de Madrid, found in 1998; the church of Nuestra Señora de la Almudena, germ of the cathedral you see today.
The Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) is the coolest place to study fashion and design. But its Madrid headquarters are much more than that. Designed by Ventura Rodríguez, it's a palace (not just anyone gets to study in a building that was among one of the most beautiful in 18th-century Madrid). According to the news of the time, the palace was so striking that Carlos IV was jealous that would overshadow the Royal Palace and ordered the resources be cut off for the residence of the Count and Countess of Altamira. As a result, the large building with an elegant façade and a beautiful staircase never grew and was just another palace in the Court.
Even if you're not staying in the NH Palacio de Tepa, you can always stop in for a meal in the restaurant (decorated by Ramón Esteve), and discover this little-known Madrid palace. Though if you do stay here, it is quite something to sleep in a building that was a project of Juan Villanueva's, the architect who collaborated on the façades of this once-semi-abandonded structure. Built in the 18th century and located in the always-bustling Barrio de Las Letras, the palace underwent renovations and the intent was to preserve its original appearance and classical style. With over 6,000 square metres, the palace was created as a residence for the Count of Tepa, but then became a house with two apartments per floor.
Facing the historic Plaza de Vistalegre is one of the prettiest palaces in Madrid, which, although it's been forgotten by a large part of the Administration, the neighbours want to claim as public space, although at the moment, unfortunately, their petitions have fallen on deaf ears. This palace complex, which was a Royal Site, as it was the summer residence of María Cristina de Borbón, dating from the time of Fernando VII, was a famous place of recreation for the Madrid aristocracy of the 19th century, with river and gardens included (you can see something similar in the Parque del Capricho, on the south side of the city).
Today there's a trend toward vintage décor, but in the 19th century it was all about the influence of faraway lands, such as Oriental and Arab designs. During the reign of Isabel II, rooms decorated like the Alhambra were a must, such as the Salón Árabe you can still see in the Palacio del Marqués de Salamanca in Vistalegre, and in the Palacio de Laredo, in Alcalá de Henares, though other elments were unfortunately destroyed in the mid-20th century. Painter, restaurateur, architect, decorator and mayor of Alcalá Manuel José Laredo y Ordoño was the brains behind this small palace (from the outside it looks more like a small castle), from the late 19th century with Gothic and Moorish styles. The false doors, mirrors and stunning rooms provide a welcome surprise for visitors.