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‘Madrid has a very intense energy. It’s a big city and it's always moving.’

Gems in this

Photo>>>Silma López


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Feature by Hester Underhill

Actor Silma López knows Madrid, inside and out. There's barely a neighborhood where she hasn't lived at some point in her life.

The born-and-raised madrileña also spent much of her childhood traveling back to the sun-drenched island of Tenerife, where her father lived. Then, when she was 22, the young actor moved to the Colombian capital Bogotá, where she lived for several years. Later in her twenties, she moved to the southern French city of Toulouse, before returning to her hometown to shoot her break-out role in the Netflix smash Valeria. Today Silma lives in Madrid's bustling La Latina neighborhood, not far from the small, inner-city apartment where she was born. We chat with her about living around the globe and returning home to rediscover her city in her Madrid Travel Playbook.


On growing up in Madrid

I was born and raised in Madrid. But I moved a lot because my mother and stepfather were actors. So there were times in my childhood when we had money and other times when we were totally broke. When we didn't have enough money, we'd move. My first memories are in a very old neighborhood in Madrid called Los Austrias. We lived in a tiny, but very pretty, apartment on the top floor of our building. When my parents got work we moved to a very beautiful house with a garden outside of the city, near the mountains. But when there was the financial crisis in 2008, my parents lost their work again. My mom and stepfather split up and we moved to Usera, a neighborhood in Madrid that's now like the city's Chinatown. At that time it was a bit of a rough neighborhood. My mom slept in the living room and I shared a room with my sisters. The intensity of the events was really helpful for me as an actress. I got to know all the sides of Madrid.

On visiting her father in Tenerife

When my mom and dad divorced, my dad went to live in Tenerife. I traveled a lot from a young age because I had to fly to the Canary Islands often to see him. I loved it. He lived in the south of the island, in El Médano, which is a very small and windy village. It's a center for water sports, particularly kite surfing. I love the gastronomy in Tenerife, like papas arrugadas, which means wrinkly potatoes; they're boiled and served with salt, and gofio — which is a kind of flour made with roasted grain. You can eat it for breakfast, like porridge. It gives you a lot of energy. The thing I loved the most about going there was that you can just walk around the village in your bikini; no shoes and salty hair. I felt very free.

On life in Bogotá

I went to Colombia when I was 22 years old and spent two-and-a-half years there. I went to shoot a film in Cartagena de Indias, which is by the coast. I fell in love with a Colombian guy and we went to Bogotá together. There's something about the city that's very wild. It's more than 2000 meters above sea level and even though there are lots of tall buildings, you can still see the mountains that surround it. It's very gray and you have no seasons — I found that crazy. The people are incredible; they're so happy and they love to drink and dance. They take things easy and they're never punctual. The energy of the people and city is so nice, but it's a dangerous city too — you have to keep a low profile and not walk around with your phone out. I loved the breakfasts, particularly huevos pericos, which is like scrambled eggs with tomato, and pan de bono, which are cheesy dough balls.

From Los Austrias to a town outside of the city and then back to Usera, Silma López spent her childhood becoming familiar with the many facets of Madrid. After stints in Bogotá and Toulouse, the actor is now based back in Madrid’s historic La Latina, where she spends her days rediscovering the joys of her hometown. All images courtesy of Silma López.

On finding your feet in a new city

My first six months in Bogotá I did absolutely nothing. My ex–boyfriend was an art director for films; he was working and I wasn't. I didn't have any friends, I didn't know anyone. It was very lonely at the beginning. But it's beautiful to be lonely too, because you get to know yourself. It can be a very enriching experience — it helps you figure out what you want to do with your life.

‘Although people were stuck in their houses, through Valeria they could travel all over Madrid.’

On life in Toulouse

I didn't have much luck early in my acting career. When I was approaching 30 I still hadn't had any big breaks, and my boyfriend was offered a job in Toulouse. Things weren't working out for me in Spain; I wasn't going anywhere. So I thought: ‘Why not? I'll go with him and practice my French.’ Toulouse is a very beautiful city. It's tiny. The food is good, the weather is good, the light is beautiful. I loved cycling along the river. We lived opposite the Jardin des Plantes — the old botanic garden. Toulouse is very quiet, whereas Madrid has a very intense energy. Madrid is a big city and it's always moving. There's a lot going on all the time. Toulouse was very peaceful. People were friendly. Toulouse is in the south of France, so it feels more like Spain. People are open and they speak loudly — the north of France is more introverted. But I didn't even last a year in Toulouse because I got offered a job on the Netflix show Valeria in 2019. So I went back to Madrid for filming.

On landing a life-changing role

The show came out just as the pandemic hit and we were among the first to do all the press junkets online. I was so angry because finally I had a big opportunity, and I couldn't go out and celebrate. But it was a perfect show for the pandemic because it's light and easygoing entertainment. Also, although people were stuck in their houses, through the show they could travel all over Madrid.

When she’s not filming, Silma can be found enjoying the menú del día at one of her local eateries, catching up with friends, studying scripts at the Reina Sofía (pictured fourth row) or grabbing a late-night churro at Churrería Santa Ana. For a bite with a view, she recommends heading to Bosco de Lobos (pictured first row) in the College of Architects building. First row courtesy of Bosco de Lobos; fourth row courtesy of Joaquin Cortes and Roman Lores for Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia; all other images courtesy of Silma López.

On living in La Latina

Today I live in an area called La Latina. It's Madrid's oldest neighborhood. It's in the city center and it's very nice on Sundays, because that's when the El Rastro market takes over the streets. You can check out the stalls and then have tapas and beers. Everyone is out in the streets; it can get quite noisy. There's a churro place here called Churrería Santa Ana, which is owned by an old man who opens unofficially at 4.30 am. So if you're up late after a night out and want some churros at sunrise, that's your place.


‘If you're up late after a night out and want some churros at sunrise, Churrería Santa Ana is your place.’

On cultural spaces in Madrid

There's a gallery called La Causa, which is beautiful, and you can spot a lot of emerging artists there. And I love the Filmoteca Española because you can see amazing films, old and new, for just €3. And the place is very pretty. I also love to spend time in the library of the Reina Sofía museum. It's a beautiful place to go and read. I spend a lot of my time studying scripts, so I love finding places to do that.


On where — and how — to eat in Madrid

One of my favorite things to do is ordering a menú del día. It's a very Spanish thing. It's like a set meal where you get three courses and a drink. I like ordering it at a restaurant called Peyma in the Lavapiés neighborhood. It's run by a really nice family. It's nothing fancy but the food is really good. There's another restaurant I like called Toga. It's a very tiny place and it's not very expensive. If you go, you have to try croquetas de pisto or the noodles with red tuna. I also love Bosco de Lobos, which is in Madrid's College of Architects building. The place is so beautiful — they have a garden and it's right in the city center, near Gran Via.


The actor’s insider tip for a unique cultural experience is the Cine Doré at the Filmoteca Española (pictured second row right and third row, courtesy of Filmoteca Española), which shows a selection of classics and new releases in a glamorous landmark space. Chase this up with an intimate dinner at Toga (pictured fourth row right, courtesy of Toga Restaurante), where Silma suggests trying croquetas de pisto. All other images courtesy of Silma López.

On a window or an aisle seat

I prefer the window. I'm a dreamer. I love to listen to music and look out the window.

‘I love the Filmoteca Española because you can see amazing films, old and new, for just €3.’

On a song that best represents Madrid for you

‘Dos Gardenias’ from the Buena Vista Social Club. Every time I hear that song it makes me think of Madrid.

On Madrid in one word


People from Madrid call themselves chulapos and chulapas. To be chulo is to have a badass attitude.


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