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Heart and soul of Spain

With so much to see and visit in these towns and cities, you could lose yourself for weeks here exploring the museums, historic sites, cathedrals and man-made wonders such as the Roman aqueduct of Segovia. And why only visit when the world and his wife descend on them, when prices are at their highest? Make the most of the quieter roads and milder winter of Spain to beat the crowds and avoid the heat of summer. You’ll save a small fortune too.

Toledo was once the capital of Spain and is arguably one of the best Spanish cities to explore on foot for its cathedral, churches, monuments, museums and restaurants. Segovia comes a close second though, with the wonderful and imposing Roman aqueduct rising above the city and its famous suckling pig. But you can’t rank cities like these effectively, each one has its own charm and attraction. The approach to Avila provides you with one of the most awe-inspiring sights you will encounter as the lofty city walls come into view, easily rivalling the famous views of the walls of Carcassonne in France. Aranjuez with its Versailles-style palace must not be missed, likewise the Monastery of El Escorial. Alcalá de Henares is a lovely small city with attractive architecture, whose centre is one large UNESCO site centred around one of the oldest universities in the world. And we haven’t called upon Madrid yet to vie for your attention.

This is a wonderfully compact mini region of enormous historic and cultural interest, a photographers’ and food lovers’ paradise with a long list of significant locations to explore. Enjoy the short, easy drives between these cities and stay in some of the loveliest Paradors, you deserve the comfort!

Madrid and its satellite cities

Fly into Madrid airport, pick up your hire car and drive straight to Alcalá de Henares – the 14 miles will only take you twenty minutes and you can stretch your legs strolling around the centre of this very attractive city with its Unesco-protected old town.

Alcalá de Henares

27 miles east of Madrid, this city is famous as the birthplace of Spain’s most treasured literary figure and author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes. With these literary roots, it is no surprise that Alcalá was Spain’s first university city and remains one of the country’s most important educational centres. In fact, much of the city was developed around the university and it now hosts the prestigious Cervantes award ceremony each April which honours Spanish-language authors.

Places of interest
  • Casa de Cervantes Museum
  • University (particularly the Paraninfo lecture hall with its Mudéjar coffered ceiling)
  • Plaza de los Santos Niños

  • Cathedral
  • Plaza de Cervantes
  • Roman ruins

Stay at the lovely Parador de Alcalá de Henares on the edge of the UNESCO site – a wonderful blend of historic architecture complemented by some contemporary design. It has a great restaurant and the main sites to see are within a short walk.

From Alcalá de Henares, the drive to Aranjuez may take you an hour to cover the fifty miles by road, but enjoy the views as you skirt around Madrid and prepare for the charming sights of Aranjuez’s palace and gardens. This is an ideal day trip and Aranjuez has lovely restaurants for lunch.


This is a little gem of a place to visit, at its heart is the Royal Palace which houses famous works of art and was designed by some of Spain’s most prominent architects. Alongside it are extensive, beautifully landscaped gardens with sculpted fountains and several smaller palace buildings, and you will appreciate the consistency and carefully-coordinated Baroque style of architecture throughout the town which is replete with churches, palaces, convents and museums thanks to the city’s prominence and popularity with the Royal courts

Places of interest:
  • Royal Palace
  • Casa del Labrador
  • The Queen Mother’s Garage
  • The Royal Theatre
  • The Osuna and Medinaceli Palaces

From here, Toledo is only 28 miles to the south west and along the way you should stop at the charming little town of Chinchón to see the cobbled central square, overlooked by balconies and the terraces of bars and restaurants. There is a lovely Parador here too: Parador de Chinchón.

Then off to Toledo – the Parador is located opposite the city and above the gorge, with the panorama of Toledo laid out beautifully in front. A very memorable Parador to stay in, with its terrace and panoramic restaurant. Parador de Toledo


This stunning city is one of Spain’s richest sources of culture and history and has held World Heritage status since 1986. Like many Spanish cities, Toledo has been occupied by Moorish, Jewish and Christian communities, each leaving its cultural and artistic impact, and therefore gaining its nickname, the ‘city of three cultures’. The town was famously the chosen home of artist El Greco with many tributes to the Renaissance artist found throughout the city. You can drive down to the city and park in several large car parks, or leave your car and take a taxi from the Parador, to enjoy the views as you descend.

Places of interest:
  • Bisagra Gate
  • El Greco’s house and museum
  • San Román church & church of Santo Tomé
  • The cathedral
  • Alcázar
  • Old main synagogue
  • Tavera Hospital

Head around Madrid to the west and within 70 miles you arrive at San Lorenzo de El Escorial, or simply “El Escorial”, another perfect day trip.

El Escorial

This very attractive town has grown around the grand monastery of El Escorial (founded by Felipe II, yet another UNESCO site), with its pantheon of the Spanish monarchy and art gallery, and the summer residences of the Spanish court of old.

Places of interest:
  • The Monastery, galleries, the pantheon and the botanical gardens
  • The chair of Felipe II, where he reputedly sat to observe the construction of the monastery from afar
  • The Valley of the Fallen (Franco’s monument to those who fell in the Spanish civil war) with its 150 metre high cross

And Avila is only 45 miles to the north west, with its cosy, historic Parador nestled within the old city walls: Parador de Avila.


This medieval city is one of Castilla y Leon’s historical and religious treasures. The castellated walls that surround the city date back to the Moorish rule and are truly a marvel. One of the most famous figures associated with the town is Saint Teresa de Jesus, also known as Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun celebrated for her dedication to her religion and pilgrimages across Spain.

Places of interest:
  • Castellated Wall
  • Los Dávila Palace
  • Saint Thomas Muesum and Oriental Museum
  • Los Guzamanes Tower
  • Avila’s Cathedral
  • Saint Teresa Convent
  • La Incarnación Monastery

Enjoy a last stroll around the city walls, perhaps a coffee on one of the terraces, and then head to Segovia, less than an hour away (42 miles). The Parador de Segovia is colourful and charming.


Just 30 minutes north of Madrid, this lovely town is home to one of Spain’s most well-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites, its impressive Roman aqueduct which dates back to the 1st century and runs through the heart of the town. The town also boasts two other important World Heritage sites, the Alcázar and the Cathedral. This is a great city to stroll around and take in on foot. Along with its impressive historical architecture, the town is also famed for its delicious suckling pig which is showcased by many of its restaurants (the meat is so tender that it is often cut by the edge of a plate and served in front of you).

Places of interest:
  • Roman Aqueduct
  • Alcázar
  • Cathedral
  • Jewish Quarter
  • San Antonio El Real monastery
  • Romanesque churches of San Millán and Vera Cruz
  • Plaza de San Martín and Plaza Mayor
  • The palace of La Granja (7 miles away)

And finally the great capital city of Madrid awaits you. We’d recommend leaving your car at the airport. Avoid the hassle of urban traffic and the high cost parking your car in this busy city centre. Just take the modern and very efficient underground straight from the airport to the centre, we can help you choose from over 100 hotels there. We’d recommend you stay west of the Retiro park, between the Prado museum and the Royal Palace, perhaps close to Gran Via.


Madrid’s restaurants, art galleries and shops are legendary. You can spend days here, this is a great city to see on foot, although it has an excellent underground, urban train and bus network.

Places of interest:
  • The Royal Palace, set right in the heart of the city
  • The most prominent museums: The Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia
  • The Plaza Mayor (by night for the tapas bars)
  • The Retiro park
  • The area around Gran Via for the lovely restaurants
  • The rastro / flea market of Ribera de Curtidores (open only on Sundays)

This is a suggestion for visiting these places of interest in a fairly natural order, but this can be varied easily. Contact us if you would like to discuss a route like this and for pricing: 0207 199 6360.


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