About one hour north of Madrid a high cross in the mountains of Guadarrama signs the location of this fascist monument to the death of civil war, in a place called Valle de los Caidos. Why not? We must keep good and bad memories.
Go and have a look, and don't forget, ten kilometers distant Escorial is another kind of religious monument.
King Felipe II's reign in the 16th century was marked by the rise of Protestantism in Europe. In 1559, the king gave Spanish architect Juan Bautista de Toledo the task of creating a "perpetual home for the Catholic Crown of Spain" that would become "an expression in stone of Catholicism in Spain". It resulted in the construction of the magnificient monastery and royal palace of El Escorial, located in the small town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 50 km away from Madrid. The palace is now open to the public, and it makes for a really great day-trip destination.
A visit to the palace includes a tour of the royal family's private chambers, the beautiful basilica and stunning library, with its priceless collection of over 40,000 volumes, as well as the Royal Pantheon where, for the last five centuries, the kings and queens of Spain have been buried. As with all Spanish royal palaces, there is also an impressive collection of paintings on display. There's a small but beautiful garden next to the palace, from where you can enjoy a nice view of El Escorial.
But for the best possible view of the palace and the surrounding village, you need to go to "La Silla de Felipe II" (King Felipe II's chair), located in the beautiful forest of La Herreria (for directions, check out Redang's tips). Legend has it that the king had picked this particular spot to keep an eye on the palace as it was being built. There's indeed a seat carved in stone from where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the palace and its natural surroundings - truly worth the little detour!
To get to El Escorial, you can catch a train leaving from Atocha station every 30 minutes, from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from the station to the palace. Opening hours are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm every day (closed on Mondays). Admission: 8 Euros.
I guess we could say that Aranjuez is to Madrid what Versailles is to Paris: back in the 16th century, King Felipe II selected this little town as the new seat of the royal family's country residence. Construction of the Royal Palace of Aranjuez began in 1561 following the design of Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera, the same architects who were to work on the royal palace and monastery of El Escorial. Along with the palace came the royal gardens and the "Jardin del Principe", a large English-style park.
The Royal Palace of Aranjuez is now open to the public. I have to admit that the first few rooms are not very impressive, but keep going because it does get better! As much as possible, the rooms have not been altered since the days when Queen Isabel II lived in the palace (mid-19th century). It is possible to walk through the royal family's private appartments and the royal chapel, and a section of the palace is also dedicated to illustrating the daily life of the royal family. Something I thought was really interesting was the collection of wedding dresses that were worn by the present royal family's daughters and daughters-in-law.
After you're done visiting the palace, it's worth going for a walk around town and perhaps stopping at a restaurant to enjoy the town specialty: strawberries! Of course, one shouldn't leave without walking through the royal gardens, which are open to the public free of charge. The "Jardin del Principe" is very large, but I must admit that I preferred the "Jardin de la Isla" (the one located right next to the palace), with its numerous fountains and french-style gardens and walking paths.
To get to Aranjuez, you can catch a train leaving from Atocha station every 30 minutes, from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm. It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the train station to the palace. The palace is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm every day (closed on Mondays). General admission: 5 Euros.
The Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos in Spanish) is located in the Sierra de Guadarrama some 8 miles north of El Escorial. It is a complex full of contoversy that was built during Franco's regime. The monument is intended to commemorate all those who died on both sides during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It comprises an underground basilica crowned by a gigantic cross 150 meters tall (supposedly the largest in the world). Dictator Francisco Franco who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975 is burried inside the basilica.
October-March: From 10:00 am to 17:00 pm.
April-September: From 10:00 am to 18:00 pm.
Entrance fees: 5.00 Euros.
Funicular railway: 1.50 Euros.
Wednesdays: Free entrance for EU Citizens.
VTer Redang (Santi) had arranged a pre Vt Meet for myself and Bijo69 (Birgit) to one of his favourite places.
Located 45 minutes away from Madrid by bus, this was a great Day Trip!
to be continued....
Chinchon is a small town located around 50 kilometers south east of Madrid and a really nice daytrip if you want to gte away from the hustle and bustle of Madrid.
It´s an old historical town that has a very big main square that is ocasionally used as a bullring and they even have the running of the bulls there once a year.
There are frequent bus connections between Madrid and Chinchon and the ride takes about an hour.
I decided to spend my very last day in Spain in the beautiful city of Segovia, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made! First, because it made it possible to go with fellow VTer Cecile (CesVT), and we had an amazing time together; second, because it is such a lovely city, it would have been a real shame to leave Spain without seeing it; and third, because after spending a wonderful day soaking in the lively and yet very relaxing atmosphere of Segovia, I don't think I could have handled spending another week in busy & bustling Madrid!! So for a recap of this memorable daytrip, just check out my Segovia travel page!
Alcala de Henares, the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, is a small city located only 30 km away from Madrid. For some reason, it doesn't seem to be as popular a daytrip destination as Toledo and Segovia, and yet the city has a lot to offer to those interested in history: the very first Spanish university was founded in Alcala de Henares in 1499, and in 1486, Christopher Columbus first met with Queen Isabella I of Castille in the city's Archbishop's Palace, which also happens to be the birthplace of Queen Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII's first wife. So on a rainy Saturday morning, I hopped aboard a train along with fellow VTer Nico (white_smallstar), and we spent an entire day walking around the lovely streets of Alcala de Henares. Want to find out more about this off-the-beaten-path destination? Just check out my Alcala de Henares travel page!
The beautiful historic city of Toledo is one of the most popular daytrip destinations for people visiting Madrid. It's located within an easy 1h train, bus or car ride, and it offers a fantastic medieval atmosphere that is completely different from the one you'll find in Madrid. Since Toledo was at the top of my "daytrip wishlist", I went there with my friend Luis during my first weekend in Spain. I spent a day walking around the city's charming narrow streets, taking in the beauty and history of "The Glory of Spain". For more information, check out my Toledo travel page!
Madrid lies in the middle of a barren plain with a somewhat inclement climate characterised by cyclic droughts. Nevertheless, thanks to the proximity of the Sierra de Guadarrama, Madrid has no shortage of water. As a matter of fact, Madrid tap water is among the best in Spain.
Most of that water is collected in reservoirs up in the sierra and then brought into the city through a canal. But Madrid has also a river. A small one, though; a river which has been constantly object of mockery for its scarce and inconstant flow. Even poets like Góngora have compared it with a "donkey pee".
At its source in the mighty and pristine Guadarrama Range, the Manzanares is a beautiful mountain stream, but as soon as it reaches the city, its course has been tamed and surrounded by express-ways. There are, however, some areas which are pleasant for a stroll, with historic bridges and locks, as well as well-conditioned promenades on the banks. A still on-going ambitious project aims at regenerating the river banks by putting the roads in underground tunnels and substituting them by parks, beaches and sport facilities.
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