Welcome to our Get to Know Your Guides blog series! In each post, we’ll chat with one of our talented Spain experts and tell you their story.
From a food-obsessed family in Scotland, Ewan fell in love with Spanish food, history and art five years ago when he first arrived in the bustling Spanish capital of Madrid.
Since moving to our beautiful city he has become an adopted Madrileño and it’s easy to see why! With a passion for art and history and not to mention his love of Spanish gastronomy, he is a favorite with locals and guests alike. He’s also the first in the team to offer great restaurant recommendations! When he’s not wandering around Madrid’s stunning Prado Museum, you can find him in any one of the amazing old bars dotted throughout the city, drinking Spanish wine and munching on some delicious tapas!
We caught up with Ewan—mid-eating of course—and got the lowdown on some of our burning questions so you can get to know him!
Ewan, it’s so great to get to chat, eat and drink with you! Let’s go on some of our questions, shall we? So, what brought you this wonderful city, and when?
I originally came to Madrid almost five years ago for a relationship, but to be honest I had always told myself that I wanted to live abroad one day. The relationship ended, but I decided to stay anyway—and I haven’t looked back!
Well we are very glad that you did—and so are all of our lovely guests that you have shown around town too! What do you like most about living in the city?
Madrid has a unique energy that can be hard to put your finger on: it’s a huge city, but it also feels like a village a lot of the time. People are spontaneous, it’s common to talk to strangers on public transport and in waiting rooms, and it’s easy to get around the city center. It basically has all the advantages of a big city with its incredible culture, food and nightlife—but without the hardness of a lot of other places.
Agreed! How is Spanish life different to where you grew up?
I’m from Scotland, so the food and weather is obviously the biggest change! Before I came to Madrid I lived in London for several years, and the warmth of the people here and general quality of life is worlds away from there.
So you caught the Spanish bug, just like us! Have you always been a massive foodie? Or if not, when did you realize that you loved all things delicious?
Food has always played a central role in my family, and I learned to cook with my mother at an early age. Even as a teenager I was already hosting elaborate multi-course dinner parties for my friends! Eating and cooking—especially in good company—has always been one of my great joys in life.
That is amazing! Everyone we know would have loved to be at one of those dinner parties, Ewan! We will just have to settle for an invite to your next one, deal? So talking about food and specifically food in Madrid, what is your top can’t-miss foodie stop in city?
Ooof, hard to mention just one! La Latina on a Sunday is a bit of a Madrid ritual, and I especially like the area around Calle Calatrava, which is a bit less packed than the main drag on Cava Baja. Taberna Calatrava (Calle Calatrava, 22) is my happy place! They have the best revuelto de morcilla in the city—blood sausage mixed up with eggs, red peppers and fried onions. Almacén de Vinos (Calle Calatrava, 21) is also another phenomenal place, a local neighborhood wine and cheese bar.
We’re starving just thinking about that! Okay quick-fire, vermouth or cider?
I’m a bit of a traditionalist in that I mainly drink vermouth as an aperitif or early on a Sunday, and cider when I’m in an Asturian bar where they don’t mind the floor getting wet (I don’t have the best coordination, which makes the overhead pouring tricky). In the main, I’m a wine guy, so the growth in the last few years of bars where you can get great, interesting wines by the glass has been a great boon!
Okay, so tell our readers this, aside from being an amazing tour guide, how else do you spend your time?
Like a lot of foreigners in Madrid, I started out teaching English, but I’m doing less of that these days. A lot of my times is spent doing a degree in psychology—in Spanish! I also do some freelance writing, translation and teaching work. Also, I love film photography, and now that I’ve got my own place I’m going to finally ship my vinyl collection over and get back into DJing! I used to run a club night with my friends in London.
No way! That’s fantastic! Wow, you really are multi-talented, Ewan. Well, we are guessing if the vinyls are coming to Madrid, you’re definitely here for the long haul. When did you realize that Madrid would be your forever home?
Funnily enough, I actually briefly moved back home a couple of years ago. As soon as I got off the plane I realized I had made a mistake, and after a few months in Scotland thinking it over I decided to change plans and move back. From that point on it’s been pretty clear that this is where I want to be, for good.
Well, we are delighted! Now down to the secret stuff please. What’s Madrid’s best-kept secret?
Far from the main museums, the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida (Glorieta San Antonio de la Florida, 5) has fresco ceilings by Goya, and is also where he’s buried. It’s free to enter and you can combine a visit with an obligatory lunch of Asturian roast chicken and cider at Casa Mingo (Paseo de la Florida, 34) next door and a walk along the river. Otherwise, I’d say the great markets beyond the most famous ones of San Miguel and San Antón: each one has its own vibe and something different to offer.
We do love a good market! These are great tips, but if you had just one tip for people coming to Madrid what would it be?
Coming to Madrid isn’t really about ticking off must-sees from a list. Don’t plan too much, and let yourself be spontaneous: get off the beaten track, jump into the nearest bar when you’re feeling hungry and see what happens.
To see the real Madrid you need to adapt to the rhythm of the city and not worry too much on following TripAdvisor recommendations! One of the joys of living here is that it’s very hard to eat badly, and some of my favorite places are old man dive bars I discovered by chance.
And on that note, one thing visitors can’t leave the city without doing?
I’m an art freak, so I’d say the Prado is pretty unmissable. And of course, visiting it with me and having an incredible lunch at the infamous Botin afterwards is even more unmissable! Going to a few old-school standing-only bars with dirty floors and brusque service is essential if you want to feel the character of the city. And a lazy stroll on a sunny day through the Retiro, ideally arm-in-arm with an attractive Spaniard, is perhaps my quintessential Madrid.
We have to agree with you—in fact your previous guests would also echo those sentiments. You have a pretty impressive amount of TripAdvisor reviews under your belt! We’ve also noticed that many of these mention your dad. Care to explain?
Haha thank you! It’s great to see your guests review their experience and that they enjoyed it. That’s what we try to do on every tour. And yes, there is a reason. My dad still obsessively checks TripAdvisor every day to read my reviews. He loves to see how I am doing here, or checking up on me! Either, or!
We love that. He sounds pretty great. So talking about your tours, what is your favorite memory while on tour?
Hard to mention just one, but nothing makes me love my job more than the moments on the Prado-Botin tour where art clicks for someone in a way it hasn’t before. Being able to open that window for someone is an incredible feeling.
And on the subject of memories, what’s your favorite memory in city?
I was visiting Madrid in July 2012, before I decided to move here full time. On the Saturday of my visit was Gay Pride, the largest in Europe with millions on the street. On Sunday, Spain won the Eurocopa and people flooded the streets again, spontaneously shutting down the whole city center. And then on Monday was the official parade for the Spanish football team on their return from the cup, with hundreds of thousands on the street again. Never let it be said that this city doesn’t know how to party.
Okay, now we understand why you stayed! You seem to have done and seen so much here in Madrid. But is there anything left on your bucket list of things you have yet to do?
Madrid is spoilt with day trip options, and I still have a lot to tick off. I’ve never been to the palace and gardens in Aranjuez, or to the Gredos mountains out west. Within the city limits, like most art fans I dream of getting in to the seat of the House of Alba in the Palacio de Liria to see their collection of Goyas, but it’s rather tricky to get in!
Well we will cross our fingers for you for that one! Unfortunately, we are almost at the end of our questions for you. Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us and give our readers all of these great nuggets of information and tips. You are so conscientious, and organized—we really are impressed. However, we do have one more question which we really want to ask. Have you ever had anything embarrassing happen to you while on tour?
I can be a little despistado at times—forgetful or clumsy. Which means I’ve had a few occasions of guests pointing out that I’ve left my bag or scarf behind in a bar, or have only just avoided spilling a glass of wine on the table, and just last week I managed to step straight into a big puddle I had just warned my guests to look out for!
Oh no, Ewan! Well, we are sure that it was still a fabulous tour! And so finally, is there one thing you couldn’t live without as a tour guide?
I try and make some time every week for online research about the history of Madrid or about Spanish art. I never want to just be dryly reciting off a script that I’ve memorized, so it’s really important to keep things fresh and have new stories or facts up my sleeve. Plus I’m a total geek, so it makes things more interesting for me, too!