Where should you go on a day trip from Madrid? There are too many good options to flip a coin. You could visit Toledo, Segovia, Avila, Sigüenza, Alcala, Cuenca, Chinchón, and more.
Last weekend, we took a round trip with our American friend and guest to Segovia, with a delicious detour to La Granja. The Royal Palace and its gardens, which we had never visited, were enthusiastically recommended by our cousin. And as we had not yet been to Segovia, together, we figured it would be a double-whammy.
We parked in La Granja and walked straight into a medieval festival that had the streets bustling with tourists and locals alike. At the top of the street, we asked the proprietor of the ceramic kiosk for a recommendation for lunch. The hour was 1445, just approaching the peak lunch time. He advised three restaurants and we made our way to the first, stopping to sample cheese of chili, lavender, and honey, and then toasting to our adventures with local artisanal beer.
We knew what we wanted to eat before we saw any menu. The first restaurant did not offer our desired dish, but they were kind enough to direct us to another restaurant with the most traditional food of the region. Thankful for small towns and collaborating, rather than strictly competing, restaurants, we made our way down the street to Reina 14 Restaurante, pausing only to photograph the display of barbecue meats and paella along the way.
Our noses assured us we were in the right place, the minute we entered the dining room, inhaling flavors richer than a homemade Thanksgiving feast. Imagine the smell of oven baked turkey wafting upstairs to your bedroom on the fourth Thursday of November. Now, imagine that smell, compounded from being cooked day after day with a meat more succulent than any bird.
White table clothes and wooden hutches and floor lamps adorned the room, with clear vases of lemons to add a bit of color. Feeling immediately at home, we ordered a cochinillo and cabrito, a young pig and young lamb, slow roasted in a clay baking pan. To begin, we accepted the waiter’s recommendation of Ribera wine and judias blancas, large white beans cooked in Castilian style with chorizo.
We finished the meal with espressos, a decadent chocolate mouse and chupitos de orujo, chilled shot glasses from which we sipped a homemade herbal liquor.
The owner, who served as a waiter alongside his son, walked us to the door and thanked us for dining with them. We lingered in the foyer to chat a bit, bouncing between subjects and learning the most from our response to politics. To be an Independent in the United States is to be someone who votes for the most qualified candidate to serve, irregardless of political parties. However, Independent, as a political affiliation, is a bit of a false cognate in Spanish. Claiming to be such a false friend, in the heart of the country, may get the door closed quietly behind you. Thankfully, we recognized our error and begged our pardon to the owner’s son, who spoke quite fluent English and had an American flat mate. Together, we realized we all had the same desires and decided the best (and least divisive) way to express our unity in Spain was to raise a glass and toast, “Viva Vino!”
With that, we parted, though we will surely return to share more meals with family and friends at Reina 14, where we savored perhaps our best meal in all of Spain.
Taking to our feet after a leisurely lunch, we made our way back up the cobblestone streets to the palace and gardens of La Granja de San Idlefonso. Embracing yet another pleasant surprise, we were greeted by perhaps 30 men and women in costume of 18th-century Europe. A social club had formed to meet on weekends in June to journey back in time to when the royal family and guests flooded the halls and gardens of the beautiful space nestled in the mountains.
We took a stroll through the gardens, resembling Versailles. Wanting to beat the rain, and to see Segovia before dark, we relished in only a fraction of the grounds, for on the other side of the palace, the stairs led down to more greenery and the end of the property was out of sight. It would be a most lovely spot to spend a summer weekend, perhaps at an Airbnb, and enjoy a novel on a bench under the canopy of trees in the shadow of the mountains.
Segovia is just 20 minutes from La Granja de San Idlefonso. It is about an hour and a half, by car, from the center of Madrid, or about 30-minutes on the high-speed train from Chamartin. Take the train straight to Segovia, or drive through La Granja, approaching the historic town via the switchback mountain roads near Cercedilla.
We approached the town from the Aqueduct and then followed the road around to try to capture the castle from behind before we lost the light. You may recognize the castle, as it has inspired many, including Disney.
The benefits of driving are being able to move more easily around the outskirts of the town, which provide the most beautiful perspectives of the castle and cathedral. But if you have a full day, it is also quite walkable. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes for walking uphill and up and down stairs. There is no need to rush, but at times you may want to move quickly because you never know when a double rainbow may appear or vanish.
Parking and hopping across puddles, we hurried to the aqueduct, one of the best preserved Roman aqueducts, believed to be from the first or second century A.D.
The golden hour of the day highlighted the strength of the structure, held through the pillars and arches with only stone atop stone, and no mortar, except to seal the very top of the aqueduct. Humbled, we moved through the town to get one more look before being blanketed in darkness, stopping only to gulp some fresh mountain water from the public fountains and for a snapshot or two.
Christine & Angel
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