A trip to Madrid offers so much more than just a short break in the city. If you are looking to spend a little longer in the area, it is a great base for exploring the cultural sights of nearby towns. At Cities Direct we already feature many great combinations for a multi-centre trip. These include the historical cities of Segovia and Salamanca and also the dramatically sited, hilltop city of Toledo. Spain is a favourite with British tourists yet much of it still remains untouched by tourists. Venture out of Madrid and discover some of the other cultural delights on offer.
Surrounded by mountainous, craggy countryside, Cuenca is beautifully situated on a dramatic limestone spur. Enclosed by the gorges of the river Huécar and Júcar, Cuenca’s location is an attraction in itself. Popular as a day trip from Madrid, especially at weekends, but also a lovely evening vibe to enjoy if you can stay the night. To really appreciate the extraordinary setting, visit the Museo de Arte Abstracto. The museum is held in a pair of converted Casas Colgadas (hanging houses) which are literally hanging from the cliff face. It was established in the sixties by Fernando Zóbel, a leading abstract artist and is now run by the Fundacion Juan March. They display works by many famous abstract artists including José Guerrero, Lucio Muñoz, Antonio Saura and Fernando Zóbel.
Just under an hour by high speed train which run at frequent intervals throughout the day. The train station is 4km from the centre of Cuenca so you can either take a short taxi ride or take the bus to the main bus station and then on to the upper part of town near Plaza Mayor. If you decide to just go for the day, you can still enjoy an early dinner there as trains to Madrid run until around 10pm.
Make time to visit Aranjuez and you will not be disappointed. The lavish palaces with green, lush gardens will be a welcome retreat after the dry and dusty landscape which dominates most of central Spain. Spend a few hours at the 18th century Palacio Real inspired by Versailles and then take a stroll along the river through the Jardín del Príncipe. See the Palacio Real website for prices and opening times.
Aranjuez is also famous for its strawberries and during spring and autumn weekends you can travel from Madrid on the ‘Strawberry train’. Antique carriages are pulled by steam train and you can enjoy the fresh strawberries served by staff in period costumes. The journey is just 45 minutes and various itineraries can be purchased with upgraded tickets including guided tours and palace entry. Visit the Madrid tourism website for more information.
If you are looking for something with a slower pace and very few tourists in sight, take the 45-minute bus ride to the charming town of Chinchón. Chinchón is an easy 45-minute bus ride from Madrid (short walk from Conde de Casal metro stop) and the bus stops you right in the heart of the town. Buses run every 30-45 minutes during the week and every hour at the weekend.
On arrival in Chinchón, head to Plaza Major, just a short walk from the bus stop. Step back in time as you admire the Plaza circled by Medieval three-story buildings with wooden balconies still occasionally hired out for a summer bullfight. Make the short climb up the Torre de Reloj for delightful views over the town.
Wander around the old, peaceful streets surrounding the Plaza and sample the traditional sweets and cakes from a local bakery. The delicious Pelotas de Fraile (cream filled doughnuts) are a popular choice. This is also an ideal chance to purchase some traditional handicrafts in the many artisan shops. Chinchon is also famous for its Anís, an anisette flavoured liquor that is also known simply as Chinchón in Spanish, a tribute to this small town that has produced it for centuries. Sample a small glass in one of the bars. Maybe try the sweet, less alcoholic version unless you are brave enough for the dry, potent, 74 per cent alcohol content option.