Very few tourists know that violet candies are the most iconic sweet treat of Madrid, and there is only one place in Madrid to get the most authentic of this very traditional of Madrid sweets: La Violeta.
In the busy plaza of Canalejas, just outside the Puerta del Sol – the center of Madrid and furthermore Spain – lies a tiny wooden framed candy store, that often goes unnoticed by those that pass it by. Pressing one’s nose against the glass, and the color violet will make itself known, just as this primary color of a rainbow would reach you when least expecting it.
It is said that King Alfonso XIII often bought violets and violet candies for his “official” wife, Queen Victoria Eugenia and also for the “second” one, Carmen Ruiz Moragas, from this very shop. Today the shop is run by Maria Gil, the third-generation descendant of the founder of the company.
In 1915, Mariano Gil Fernandez opened this shop in its current location, Plaza de Canalejas, 6. He was born in Madrid and belonged to a family that consisted entirely of bakers, but he tried something different: sweets made of violet essence. It was a success from the very beginning. Nobody knows why he decided to make this special kind of sweets, but probably because there are many violets in the mountains located north of Madrid.
La Violeta specializes in violetas, as well as many other sweets like typical bonbons, marrons glacés (candied chestnuts) and caramels of assorted flavors.
There are other shops in town that also sell this type of product, but the original violet sweet can only be found in La Violeta, so why bother with a copy when you can get the original. They sell their sweets by weight, usually to regular clients including many celebrities and politicians, and they have extravagant packaging including custom-made porcelain bowls and cut-glass vases in case you really want to impress someone.
As I was about to fly home from Madrid, I took the opportunity to pick up the most iconic Madrilian souvenir possible, and I stocked up on some tiny, 3€ decorated boxes of candies.
When I got home, the reaction to the candies was mixed.
To me, they start out a bit like licorice and then gradually get sweeter.
An acquired taste? Perhaps. For the generation of elderly Spaniards, a time-warp to their childhood? Yes. A constant stream of locals and tourists, packing into the store just as tightly as the sweets themselves are tucked into their antique pill boxes or white to-go rectangles? Also yes. But does old have to mean over worn, outdated and obsolescent? Time will tell, but for the meantime, if you are curious at all to try one of Madrid’s famous and quintessential food stories, pick up a box and try for yourself. If all else fails, you could always carefully re-wrap the package, ever so gently retie the bow, and re-gift to your grandmother.
This was just one stop on my self-guided, 24-hour tour of Madrid.
Through my research, I found:
— The monument to the Rock-n-Roll grandma
— La Violeta candy shop
— Restaurante Botin
— Old Atocha Train Station
— The Statue of the Fallen Angel
— The Monument to King Alfonso XII
And I also discovered while walking through town:
— the beautiful Palacio Longoria
That was just enough to see in one full day in Madrid.
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