The Comunidad de Madrid is a vast region covering 8,000 sq km (3,000 sq miles), with a population now exceeding five million. To the north of the capital is the Sierra de Guadarrama, a majestic mountain range, stretching more than 100 km (60 miles) east–west, and visitors to El Escorial, Valle de los Caídos, or Manzanares­el-Real will enjoy superb views as well as fresh mountain air. An excursion to the university town of Alcalá de Henares can easily be combined with Chinchón. Alternatively you could couple the latter with Aranjuez, an oasis of gardens and orchards in an otherwise parched landscape.

Tren de Cervantes

The Cervantes train is an enjoyable way to see the sights of Alcalá de Henares. During the 25 minute journey, hostesses dressed in period costume hand out cakes and other edibles while briefing visitors. On arrival there is a welcome by musicians, followed by a tour of the old quarter, including the university. Some local restaurants offer discounts to train travellers.

For spectacular views of the Sierra, take the funicular from the Valle de los Caídos basílica to the base of the cross.

  1. El Escorial

    Apart from the famous monastery and the views of the Sierra, the attractions of El Escorial include the magnificent Coliseo, dating from 1771, and the two royal lodges.

    El Escorial
  2. Alcalá de Henares

    This historic town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its splendid Renaissance and Baroque architecture. It was the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, and of the ill fated Queen of England, Catherine of Aragon. The town’s importance dates from the late 15th century when the head of the Spanish church, Cardinal Cisneros, founded a university here. A tour of the buildings, including the main hall with its marvellous mudéjar ceiling, is a must, Also worth seeing is Teatro Cervantes, the oldest public theatre in Europe, founded in the 17th century and restored in the 1990s.

    • Train from Atocha or Chamartín

    • University: Open for tours 11am–6pm Mon–Fri, 11am–2pm, 4–7pm Sat–Sun;

    • Adm

  3. Aranjuez

    This gem of a town, awarded the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, is a must see. The Palacio Real, summer residence of Spain’s Bourbon rulers, is sumptuously decorated in the French style. No expense was spared either on the extravagant folly known as the Casa del Labrador, in the grounds near the River Tagus. The town has preserved some of its corralas balconied wooden dwellings, built around a courtyard – and its bullring (Plaza de Toros). There are some excellent restaurants in the town and the Mercado de Abastos is a good source for picnic provisions. Aranjuez’s strawberries, sold from roadside stalls, make the perfect dessert. The town is also famous for its asparagus.

    • Train from Atocha or Chamartín

    Palacio Real

    • Open for tours Apr–Sep: 10am–6:15pm Tue–Sun; Oct-Mar: 10am– 5:15pm Tue–Sun (gardens open until 8:30pm in summer, 6:30pm in winter)

    • Closed 1 Jan, 6 Jan, 1 May, 30 May, 5 Sep, 24–25 Dec, 31 Dec

    • Adm (except Wed for EU citizens)

  4. Chinchón

    Life in this attractive little town revolves around the Plaza Mayor, the galleried main square, dating from the 16th century. Originally a cattle market, the square is the focus of a Holy Week procession on Good Friday, a passion play on Easter Saturday and bullfights in July and August. While you’re here, try the local speciality, anís, a liquorice flavoured liqueur (ask for “Chinchón”). Also worth seeing is the Iglesia de la Asunción, with a painting of the Assumption of the Virgin by Goya, whose brother was the local priest.

    • Bus La Veloz from Avenida Mediterráneo 49

  5. Manzanares-el-Real

    This Sierra town is dominated by its well-preserved 15th-century castle. Almost as old is the church of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves (Our Lady of the Snows) with its 30m (100-ft) high belltower. Hikers flock to Manzanares to enjoy the La Pedriza regional park with its massive granite boulders.

    • Bus from Plaza de Castilla

    • Castle: Open Jun–Sep: 10am–1:15pm, 4–7:15pm Tue– Sun; Oct–May: 10am–5:15pm Tue–Sun; Closed Mon; public hols

    • Adm

  6. Navacerrada

    At 1,860 m (6,100 ft) Navacerrada is the gateway to the Sierra de Guadarrama. Ski enthusiasts head straight for the Navacerrada Pass (Puerto de Navacerrada), but the town itself should not be overlooked. Apart from the parish church, which has an impressive 15th-century tower, and the 16th-century Church of the Nativity, the craft shops are worth a browse. Cafés abound on Plaza Mayor and there are hiking and cycling trails in the surrounding forests.

    • Bus 691 from Moncloa

  7. Nuevo Baztán

    This settlement south of Alcalá de Henares was the brainchild of an 18th-century nobleman from Navarre, Juan de Goyeneche. Goyeneche built the estate so that he could supervise his various industrial enterprises, among the most advanced of the day. The Baroque palace, the domed church of St Francis Xavier and the workers’ houses, designed by José de Churriguera, are the main attractions.

    • Road: A-2, then M-206 & M-219

  8. El Pardo

    El Pardo is now a suburb of Madrid but was in open countryside when Enrico III built a hunting lodge here in the early 15th century. The Palacio del Pardo was built by the Bourbons and substantially enlarged during the reign of Carlos III. More recently it was the official residence of General Franco. The tapestries, from sketches by Goya, are the outstanding feature.

    • Bus No. 83 from Moncloa

    Palacio del Pardo

    • Open Apr– Sep: 10:30am–6pm Mon–Sat, 9:30am– 1:40pm Sun; Oct–Mar: 10:30am–5pm Mon–Sat, 9:55am–1:40pm Sun; Closed for functions

    • Adm (free Wed for EU citizens)

    Palacio del Pardo, El Pardo
  9. Pastrana

    What draws visitors to the Alcarría region is the rugged scenery and peace and quiet. In Pastrana, first take a look at the Palacio Ducal in the main square. The Museo de la Colegiata (next to the church of the same name) has a splendid collection of 15th­century tapestries depicting the capture of Tangier by Alfonso V of Portugal. Just outside town is the Convento del Carmen, founded by St Teresa of Avila in the 16th century, with an exhibition on her life.

    • Road A-2 to Guadalajara, then N-320

    Museo de Colegiata

    • Open 11am–2pm, 5–6.30pm daily

    • Adm

    Convento del Carmen

    • Open 11am–1:30pm, 4–6:30pm Tue–Sun

    • Adm

  10. Valle de los Caídos

    The “Valley of the Fallen” was General Franco’s memorial to his war dead from the Spanish Civil War. The crypt and basílica, cut into the mountainside, were built by prisoners. The most striking feature is a cross, 152 m (500 ft) high and 56 m (180 ft) wide, said to be the tallest in the world. Franco himself is buried in the crypt.

    • Bus from El Escorial, 3:15pm Tue–Sun


    • Open Apr–Sep: 10am–6pm Tue–Sun; Oct–Mar: 10am–5pm Tue–Sun; Closed 1 Jan, 6 Jan, 1 May, 17 Jul, 10 Aug, 24–25 Dec, 31 Dec

    • Adm (free Wed for EU citizens)

    Cross, Valle de los Caídos
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