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The Best of Madrid

"When I first came to Madrid, my high heels raised a few eyebrows," Cattaneo recalls. Today, more and more well-heeled Madrileñas are making their way to Lamarca (19 Calle José Ortega y Gasset; 34-91/576-6058). Infinitely smaller than Imelda Marcos's closet, Cattaneo's favorite shoe store supplies the stiletto set with slinky, feminine footwear from the likes of Richard Tyler and Miss Rossi.

Lusting after the latest tasseled Fendi bag or peek-a-toe Prada pumps?Cattaneo says Madrid is often a better bet than Milan, where fashion victims are constantly clearing the shelves. The mere mention of Ekseption (28 Calle Velázquez; 34-91/577-4353) sends Madrid fashionistas into swoons. This minimalist sanctum of style has enough Miuccia footwear to shoe a small nation-state, plus Chlo$91's embroidered jeans and stretchy Gaultier outfits in neo-primitivist patterns.

Tiny, boutique-lined Callejòn de Jorge Juan dead-ends into the arty atelier of Sybilla (12 Callejòn de Jorge Juan; 34-91/578-1322), the only Spanish designer Cattaneo truly admires. "Her clothes are whimsical, wearable, and always original," Cattaneo says of Sybilla's flowing, color-saturated evening gowns, stylishly clunky shoes, and hip girly tops in millennial fabrics. The studio also sells hats, watches, bed linens—even Gaudíesque candles.

The coffee counter beneath a Murano glass chandelier at Elena Benarroch (14 Calle José Ortega y Gasset; 34-91/435-5144) is a magnet for Madrid's film and fashion elite. Even if Benarroch's collection of luxe European couture is beyond your reach, you'll walk away with some Santa María Novella soap and sweetly scented Parisian candles, or for him, a cigar case or cowhide shoulder bag from the young design team of Conde de Cerragería.

When Cattaneo grows impatient with the beige tones and "boring" clean lines dominating Madrid's mainstream fashion, she escapes to the clubby red-walled Delitto e Castigo (3 Calle Villanueva; 34-91/577-7729). The Italian owners' rock-and-roll flair is evident with their selection of Casa Dei red denim stiletto boots and this season's must-have rhinestones and animal-print men's shirts by Roberto Cavalli.

"To appreciate the dramatic Spanish notion of femininity," Cattaneo advises, "you should visit an old-style perfumería, like àlvarez Gòmez." The best branch is at 14 Calle Serrano (34-91/431-1656). Tortoiseshell hair accessories and custom jewelry for majas with cell phones round out the parade of cosmetics sold at this century-old empire.

For serious glitter, Cattaneo suggests Barcena (18 Callejòn de Jorge Juan; 34-91/575-1519), an antique jeweler stocked with Second Empire diadems, Art Nouveau hairpins, Art Deco cigarette cases, and 19th-century Spanish pearl-drop earrings that are as big as grape clusters.

Whether they wear rubies or rhinestones, "Madrileños consider weekend shopping at Corte Inglés a sacred ritual," Cattaneo observes. She recommends zipping into this department store, which has outlets around town, to peruse the classic shoes and bags by Spanish designer Sara Navarro, and children's clothes with goofy circus motifs by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

What does Cattaneo bring on her occasional visits back to Italy?Serrano ham (sorry, prosciutto). "And I love watching how they slice and wrap it," she says. "Madrid shops can turn any small detail into an art form."

After Dark

In Madrid, you lunch at 2 p.m., sleep all afternoon, pretend to go back to your desk, then dress for dinner at 10:30. Reset your clocks, charge your batteries. Nowhere else—except in Dalí's liquid watches—is time more fluid.

"You know you're in Madrid when you greet the day with whisky con cola instead of café con leche," say our guides to the night. Meet the Bardem family, Spain's answer to the Fondas. Actress Pilar Bardem is the grande dame of Spanish cinema, as well as sister of the legendary film director José Antonio, and mother of Javier, who starred in the dark comedy Jamòn Jamòn and Pedro Almodòvar's darker Live Flesh.

When night falls, Javier's sister Mònica draws Madrid's artiest crowds in Madrid with her famous ham croquettes at La Bardemcilla (47 Calle Augusto Figueroa; 34-91/521-4256). The restaurant and bar pays homage to her family's trade with movie stills plastered on the walls, and dishes named after the Bardems' films.

Oh, and let's not forget her brother Carlos, actor, novelist, and maestro of the 24-hour lifestyle. Have a drink at his jam-packed tapas bar, La Carpanta (22 Calle Almendro; 34-91/366-5783), and you'll find yourself at the center of the nocturnal action in La Latina, the fast-gentrifying Castilian area just west of El Rastro flea market.

"Should we tell you about the real nightspots?" Carlos asks gleefully. "You know, the clubs that get going at one—in the afternoon!" Maybe not. Revelers comfortable with the dictionary definition of night will be happy to start after dark, perhaps by surveying the dance floor from the tiered balconies of Club Joy Eslava (11 Calle Arenal; 34-91/366-3733), a theater built in the 1850's. The still-trendy Joy is ground zero among Madrid discos, according to the Bardems, while places like Palacio de Gaviria (9 Calle Arenal; 34-91/526-6069) have been taken over by tourists. (Palacio, originally a 19th-century palace, still merits a quick copa for its stunning interior.) When the younger Bardems aren't at Joy, they join the action at Kapital (125 Calle Atocha; 34-91/420-2906). With seven floors pulsating to disco, house, funk and Latin beats, a cinema, and a restaurant with a retractable roof, it epitomizes Madrid's new fascination with fusion.

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