To the unquestionable traveler, Madrid, Spain is a goldmine, it being surrounded by towns, all unique and beautiful. And as a self-proclaimed budget traveler who lives in this city, I take advantage of such a privilege to the hilt. Always, I’m on the lookout for every town that I could possibly visit.
In this country, you can expect every place to possess qualities that would make the tourists want to visit it. In the case of the Spanish pueblo, it is interesting to visit and explore for a number of reasons. It may be that it prides itself of some glorious age-old story, of how it came to be. Or perhaps, it cradles magnificent monuments that highly qualify it as a place of interest, like for example, the Segovia and the Roman Aqueduct, or Toledo and its Alcazar.
Colmenar Viejo, Madrid: My next day trip
Ermita de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad
Colmenar Viejo is the nearest town I’ve been to — it is a mere 37 kilometers from Madrid. Clearly, its nearness to the capital, beauty, and convenient of travel to reach it are qualities that help it land in my list of day trip destinations.
Like other more traditional touristy towns, I rate it as a delightful getaway where you can spend hours of the days enjoying what it can offer — sites and attractions. It must be the most affordable trip I took bus – 3.60 euros for a one-way bus fare.
And it delights me even more that since distance is shorter, the journey involves easy and fast travel. By the time you are settled in your bus seat, you finally reached the final stop. You have reached your destination even before you know it.
It is apparent that like other small towns, time moves slowly, and you see less people going around, giving you much space to really wander the place. Needless to say, Colmenar is a geat option if you want a tranquil place of retreat, without the need to travel far from the capital.
What to see in Colmenar Viejo
1. Ayuntamiento/City Hall
Every Spanish town is not without a city, and Colmenar Viejo is no exception. I deemed that the building exudes a modern style, with a simple facade, a spacious yard and benches in front to accomodate locals and tourists who would want to rest and while their time away.
2. El Corral de la Casa del Labrador
El Corral de la Casa del Labrador is showcased as a typical abode to be found during the 1900’s. During the pueblo’s early days, the homes were constructed using basic construction materials, like wood and adobe.
3. Centro Cultural Pablo Neruda
A building made peculiar because of the bright yellow and jagged surfaced addition in its facade, Centro Cultural Pablo Neruda serves as the town’s training and educational center, offering young adults various courses, seminars, and workshops that define and enrich the participants’ role in the society.
4. Capilla de Santa Ana
Chapel of Saint Anne in English — also called the Capilla de Concepcion — is a small 15th-century church of Castile y Leon region of Spain. It boasts of a splendid Castilian altar piece, a work of art by Spanish sculptor De Siloé.
5. Ermita de Santa Ana
The Hermitage of Saint Anne is one of the most photographed sites of the town. However, you need to go out of the main town center and reach the cemetery road in order to see this tiny yet charming hermitage. A creation from the 1500’s. I could only admire its simple design and structure, with its facade dominated by its wooden doors accentuated by an arch of stone wedges.
6. Basílica dela Asuncion de Nuestra Senora
The Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady can be found on the site of the former Parroquia de Santa Maria, the construction of which would not see its end until almost 100 years. Architects Guas, Hontanon, and de Cuellar were responsible for the design of the church. Its tall, imposing edifice stand along Calle del Cura, at number 14.
7. Plaza de Toros de Colmenar
Plaza de Toros is another major pueblo attraction, with the La Feria de Nuetra Senora de los Remedios recognized as one of the most important bullfighting events within the Community of Madrid, second only to the San Isidro festival. During the particular feast, the plaza fills to the brim as bullfighting afficionados from all over Spain visit the town to watch the much-awaited sporting spectacle.
How I traveled to Colmenar Viejo
Likeness of Colmenar-born and matador of toros Senor Agapito Garcia Gonzalez, famous for the monicker “Serranito.” The bust is found in a park/square near the Plaza del Toros
Bus: I chose to ride the bus since the autobus company that offers regular trips is stationed at Plaza de Castilla, which is just a few blocks from the apartment. Take Bus 721 — one is scheduled to travel to Colmenar Viejo every hour or so. Trips are less frequent during weekends; hence, it is advised to check journey schedules a few days before your desired date. From Colmenar, you may take bus 724 to reach another pueblo, Manzanares el Real and its fascinating castle.
Ticket fare: 3.60 euros
Go for Train Option: You can take RENFE Train from Chamartín Station, where trips to the town is available every hour. Visit the RENFE website for schedule of daily trips to the town as well as ticket fare prices.
Must be that everyone I know gushes about how the Monasterio de El Escorial is no ordinary monastery, and friends who’d been there were egging me to no end to make that day trip and see it myself.
Indeed, not a bit about it is ordinary, but instead, everything is simply fascinating when last week I finally visited the place.
It took 21 long years to complete this 16th-century edifice, sprawling on a vast expanse of land within the San Lorenzo de Escorial Town. I’m guessing it covers an area equivalent to a few city blocks.
Without a doubt, El Escorial is such a magnificent monument, both inside and out. Not only is it a monastery, but a palace as well, and one fit for the King of Spain no less.
El Escorial is a prime example of how grand the Spanish Renaissance era was. Pomp and lavishness are apparent in its interior, which is expected since it was a royal residence. It is complete with the friars’ garden, museum, hundreds of regal rooms, a spacious courtyard, reliquaries, and even a school. I thought its biblioteca real (library) is really impressive – the interior seems to glow because of its golden ceiling.
Suffice it to say, San Lorenzo de El Escorial is the perfect day trip destination, not only because of its incredible monastery but also because the town is just 45 kilometers from the capital city of Madrid. If only for its proximity, you must consider it for your next exciting Spanish adventure.
1. Mount Abantos, the town, and the Monastery
The location of the monastery is calming, like the town itself, and the whole setting is like a quiet and rustic countryside. The mountains are towering heaps of nature, particularly Abantos of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Abantos seems to look beyond the town and into the monastery. The town, the mountains nearby, and the many places of interest, including the monastery itself, make San Lorenzo de El Escorial an ideal place of retreat.
2. Monastery, West Portion
The western facade of the monastery of El Escorial. Going through this side will immediately bring you to the Courtyard of the Judah Kings and the Basilica Real.
3. Royal Basilica and the Courtyard of the Kings
I peer through the arch column to marvel at the basilica and the Patio de los Reyes, must-see sections of the monastery. The church is decorated with a number of sculptures of saints, biblical figures, and kings, and other valuable religious items, all of which are creations of Spanish and European Renaissance artists.
4. Old Testament Kings
Looking down the patio are the six sculptures representing the Kings of Judah or Old Testament Rulers, standing on the upper middle portion of the basilica’s facade.
5. Royal Basilica, Interior
Many of the church’s sculptures, paintings, and other works of art are created by renowned artists from Spain and other European countries.
6. The Pantheon
This part of the palace houses the sepulchers that contain the remains of the Spanish Royalties, such as the kings from the Bourbon dynasties.
7. The Magnificent Palace Gardens
Philip II instructed the creation of a vast garden, which served as a place to soothe the mind. Not only did he care for the gardens, but everything inside the monastery as well. He was a patron of the Renaissance and so he commissioned the palace decorator to fill the place with thousands of impressive works of art.
8. The Monastery’s Garden Pond
Beside the Palace Garden is the pond, the sight of which is breathtaking. Needless to say, all the features of the monastery contributed to making it as the most important monument in the San Lorenzo de El Escorial Town. A major creation of the Renaissance era, it was declared by UNESCO in 1984 as a World Heritage Site.
9. Casas de Oficios
Near the grounds of the monastery are a series of buildings, called the Casas de Officios or the House of Trades, with narrow streest in between., The town’s tourism office is housed in one of the casas, along Calle Grimaldi, and is across the main entrance of the monastery.
10. Royal Coliseum of Charles III
El Real Coliseo de Carlos III, at Calle Floridablanca 20, is one of the town’s major centers of arts and performances. Currently, it is a venue for theater acts and concerts. Named after the former Spanish ruler Charles III, it used to be called the Lope de Vega Cinema.
11. Ayuntamiento de El Escorial
San Lorenzo de El Escorial’s town hall might be small, but it is nonetheless charming. It is located at the Plaza de la Constitucion, where also found are a number of touristy cafes and restaurantes.
12. Casa de Cultura
The primero Casa de Officio houses the Casa de Cultura of El Escorial. The latter is popular with town residents and tourists who love to participate in an afternoon of cultural activity. Crafts, arts, and cultural events are regularly held here.
13. Casita del Infante
The Infant´s Little House, also known as the Casita de Arriba, was originally intended as the infant child Gabriel de Bourbon, Carlos III´s brother. It also acted as a music building and was built with a concert room designed in a way that any performance bould be heard both within and outside the building.
14. Casita del Principe
The facade of La Casita del Principe. Of neoclassical design, it was a recreational building of then Asturias Prince Carlos IV. It later on served as a residence of the king and his royal family in El Escorial during the 19th Century.
15. Santuario Parroquial de Nuestra Senora de Gracia
The doors of Santuario Parroquial de Nuestra Senora de Gracia were wide open when I got there, which allowed me to have a glimpse of its interior and say my prayers. Resembling a chapel due to its small size, Santuario Parroquial de Nuestra Sra de Gracia is one of the few town churches of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
How to Go
Go to Moncloa where you can buy tickets on the bus. Take 661 if you want to reach the town via Galapagar; and 664 if you want to pass via Guadarrama. Both 661 and 664 bus tickets to El Escorial costs 4.20 euros. [I intend to take the 664 bus next time since it stops by the gates of The Valley of the Fallen. However, from the gates, be ready to walk some 3 miles to the site, which is more or less an hour].
Basic Fee: 10 euros
Visiting days: Everyday except Mondays
Monastery opens at 10AM
Advice: Keep your ticket on hand. Staff at every section of the monastery may require visitors to present their tickets before they are let in. Don’t bring large bags or backpacks if possible; otherwise you will have to keep them in a locker at the cloakroom while touring.
Taking photos is not allowed in El Escorial´s interior areas. Attempting to shoot is a frustrating exercise as staff members are relentless in preventing any stolen shots. As for the above pictures of the cathedral altar and the Pantheon, I borrowed them from my gutsier tour mate.
Many believe that Spain is all about Madrid – that the city is the best place to be if you’re in the country. The fact is that there must be hundreds more regions, cities, pueblos, and barrios to see and explore in this Iberian peninsula other than its capital – and one of them is Andalucia.
Where is Andalucia?
The region, which because of its exotic qualities has made it a favorite setting of popular movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones and many more, is found in Spain’s southern point. It is undeniably world-class as a tourist destination, where every area must reek in countless amazing sites and attractions.
The region also boasts of the ideal climate all throughout the year – hot in summer and mildly cold in winter – perfect for those once-in-a-lifetime vacation adventures.
In other words, you need not be stuck with Madrid as Spain affords you at least another option. If you’re someone who rares to experience the most unique Spanish culture and tradition, Andalucia is the perfect choice.
The 8 provinces of Andalucia are clumped together down the southern tip of Spain (Map courtesy of www.theodora.com/maps used with permission.)
Andalucia has eight provinces – these are Cadiz, Cordoba, Almeria, Jaen, Granada, Huelva, Malaga and Seville. Each one is beautiful and breathtaking – ready for any tourist to explore and appreciate.
My next two blog posts (including this) will be about Cordoba
Spain and Granada, the first two Andalucian provinces that I had the pleasure to see and experience.
Off to my Andalucian Adventure
A city that was declared a World Heritage site, specifically the Historical Center of Cordoba, it was first ruled by the Romans until the Moors took over in the 8th Century. It was said to be the start of the blossoming of a city, the greatness of which easily rivaled other Moslem territories, like ancient Damascus and Constantinople.
And as Cordoba experienced being immersed in both Roman and Moorish cultures, what resulted is a place that exudes the strong characteristics of these two as evidenced by the massive edifice of worship that accommodates at least two religions; the Moorish-inspired whitewashed towns complete with Catholic cathedrals, basilicas, and parroquias; and the lively fiestas and celebrations that honor both Christian and Islamic traditions, among others.
First Stop: Cordoba Spain
Thru the initiative of an adventurous bunch of Filipinos (their common denominator is that they attend masses at Iglesia de Nuestra Sra. del Espino, along C/ Conde de Serrallo near Plaza del Castilla), a Saturday trip to Andalucia’s Cordoba and Granada was organized.
Leaving the church premises at 1AM, the bus arrived at Cordoba before 6AM, stopping near the foot of the Puente Romano and the Gate of the Bridge. It was still early in the dawn, but a number of people are already around and checking the place. We just came in, yet it was easy to to tell that the place reeks of magnificent attractions — and the following are just some of them.
Cordoba Spain Attractions
1. La Mezquita
Try to start a discussion about Cordoba, and surely, La Mezquita will be mentioned. It is to be expected as the edifice is of utmost importance to the Cordobans, it being a highly-revered Arab-Andalucian treasure.
Mesquita means Mosque, and its complete name is Mezquita Catedral de Cordoba. It is called as such because it was originally a mosque, but now serves as a Catholic place of worship. Mesquita is unique in that the Moslems also want to have it for their own, proving its immense significance to the Islam religion. In fact, it is recognized as the most important Islamic structure within the Western world.
One look at the façade and you see how it reflects Moslem and Baroque designs. It is a huge mosque, and touted as the third largest in the world. Judging from our walk around its perimeter, the building must cover an area equivalent to a few city blocks. No doubt, it is one of the most fascinating landmarks that you can see in Cordoba.
2. The bell tower of Mezquita
This is the present bell tower and is open to the public if you’re touring the Mesquita-Catedral. During the days of the Moor occupation, the tower was originally a minaret or a place where the call to prayer is made.
Built by Abderraman III, the leaders of the cathedral decided to convert it into a bell tower, with the last of the series of reconstruction happening in 1664. If you want great views of Cordoba and the grounds of the Mezquita-Cathedral itself, it is a must that you climb up the bell tower.
3. Puente Romano
In English, it means the Roman Bridge – an impressive structure that crosses the equally great Rio Guadalquivir. This is known to be the sole bridge of the Ancient Cordoba region for a long time. A colossal work of architecture by the Romans way back in the 1st century A.D., the Spanish government reconstruct it into its original state to preserve its historical importance.
Watch the above video of the Puente Romano de Cordoba as it was featured in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Notice its appearance markedly altered thru the use of computer-generated effects. (Video is courtesy of Cordoba Film Office).
4. Torre de Calahorra
After the Moslem took reigns of Cordoba, they added a tower to the Roman Bridge in order to protect it and the city itself from invaders coming from the south side of the banks. Inside you will find a museum that displays artifacts from the three great religions – Christian, Jewish, and Moslem. It is open to the public, starting at 10AM. Price of regular admission: 4.50 euros
5. Plaza de la Corredera
This is one of the city’s famous squares, built right within its midst. The plaza presents a strong Castilian style and is said to be modeled after Madrid’s Plaza Mayor. The square is rich in ancient Roman history, evidenced by the pieces of mosaics found in the site at the time of its construction.
Today, especially now that is summer, the terrace becomes a place where great drinks are enjoyed such as a chilled Fino. On one side of the plaza is found the entrance to a popular Cordoba mercado – El Mercado de la Corredera.
6. Puerta del Puenta
In English, it means Gate to the Bridge. Puerta del Puenta was constructed in 1570 with Hernan Ruiz II at the helm. Its imposing presence was meant to greet King Felipe II during his Royal visit of the city.
Located at the end of the Puente de Romano, the arch also served as the entrance to Cordoba; hence, the name. The one that stands today was a replacement to the Moslem Gate, which then also replaced the original gate created by the Romans of Julius Ceaser’s time.
7. Roman Water Wheel
Walk to the right of that part of the bridge near the Gate, and you will see the giant (wooden?) water wheel constructed during the ancient Roman times. It was initially intended as a mill wheel, but the Moors later used it as a way of bringing water to the palace. It is said that the one standing today is a replica. The original wheel was dismantled as the noise it created was deemed a nuisance by Queen Isabella.
8. Triunfo de San Rafael
This is an old Monument with a locked gate found near the Mezquita-Catedral. It is built to honor the protector of the city, Archangel San Rafael. It is near the Gates to the Roman bridge, a strategic position which I assume as a way for San Rafael to oversee and protect the city.
9. Cruz del Rastro
Cruz del Rastro, or the Flea market Cross, is a reminder of that part of history when the Christians and Jews were pitted against each other. The end of the conflict between the two groups and in honor of Alonzo de Aguilar is remembered with the construction and installation of the cross in the Middle of the flea market.
10. Statue of San Rafael
An addition to the Roman Bridge, way back in the 1600’s, is still another magnificent statue of San Rafael. Created by Bernabe Gomez del Rio, it stands right in the middle of the bridge. In front is a candle stand on which visitors and tourists may light a candle in honor of the Patron Saint of Cordova
Cordoba is, needless to say, an Iberian city that’s unique because of the harmonious blend of Roman and Moorish cultures. Apart from the Roman and Moslem built structures, towns, and bridges, the place is above all proudly Spanish; it exhibits strong Iberian tradition that was handed down through numerous generations, like the famous flamenco dances and the celebration of Spanish fiestas.
Particularly awaited by many during the month of May is Cordoba’s Patio festival. It’s a major event in which the town residents open their patios or yards wide to entertain tourists and guests.
There’s always the next time, I can only say. If ever I get the chance to return, I must do it outside the hot summer months – as the less punishing weather will allow me to see more sites and really enjoy endless trekking with friends, hopping from one whitewashed Andalusian town to another. Here’s hoping to see more of Cordoba once again.
How to Go From Madrid to Cordoba:
The blackness of predawn and the silhouette of the palm trees add to the somber depiction of the Torre de Calahorra
Bus: Mendez Alvaro is where public bus services to different cities and regions, including Cordova, are available. Basic bus tickets are worth 15 euros; however, be prepared for a long travel, which is approximately 5 hours. If you don’t mind the long journey, then go and book a bus seat now at Madrid’s premier bus station at the Intercambiador, where its own metro train stop, the Metro Mendez Alvaro, is also found.
Train: Want to reach Cordova faster? Take the fast train service of AVE, and you will arrive at your destination in under two hours. Tickets, of course, are much more expensive at 70 euros.
Join Informal Group Tours: I paid 40 euros for the whole trip, and this amount even includes the entrance fee to the Nazaries Palace of the Alhambra complex. And so, one clear advantage is that you are saved the trouble of getting the entrance tickets – the organizers do it for you. Information about these types of tours are usually posted at message boards of local churches.
The only downside of these tours is that time is very limited; we were allotted only 3 hours in Cordoba as we were also scheduled to go to Alhambra of Granada. Hence, we didn’t visit many other important sites like the Juderia and Medina Azahara. We weren’t even able to witness the magnificent interiors of Mezquita since it opens at 10AM and we had to leave at 9.30AM. (The entrance fee is 8 euros.)
Therefore, to make the most of your travel, my advice is to take the bus at Mendez Alvaro, and go online to buy a professional guided tour package that covers much of Cordoba Spain attractions.