We took the car to Manchester Airport, leaving home mid morning and as we were quite early we decided to stop for lunch at the Trafford Centre (Shopping Mall) which is north of the airport. Feeling refreshed, we continued on to the Boundary Farm long stay car park which is literally at the end of the runway, resulting in a five minute shuttle bus transfer to the terminal.
Manchester Airport was unusually quiet this afternoon as it was the first of a two day French air traffic controllers strike. Fortunately, our Ryanair flight was unaffected and took off just 30 minutes late.
It was early evening when we arrived in Madrid. We took the metro to Place D’Espana as our accommodation was about a ten minute walk from there.
We had booked an apartment at Wo Homitel which was modern, spacious and well equipped and located just behind the Royal Palace. We found a nearby tapas bar for late evening drinks and food and sat outside in the warm Spanish climate.
We woke to the sounds of heavy rain which continued until mid afternoon. Whilst eating breakfast we heard on the news that the UK was experiencing a mini heatwave and a Spanish plume was over the country. Let’s hope Spain gets its sunshine back soon!
Our morning’s sightseeing began sheltering under umbrellas outside the Royal Palace and it’s adjoining formal gardens. We continued on foot to the main square ‘Plaza Mayor’ and then took shelter in the market ‘Mercarto San Miquel’. Refurbished quite recently, it’s not so much a market now but more a food court and deli.
Our morning stroll then took us to Plaza Sol which is a large square lined with stores and restaurants, it always seems to be the busiest spot in the city centre. Just off the square is the more attractive Place d’Anna where I stayed at the Melia Me Hotel on my visit four years ago. We felt the need to shelter from the rain again so had cappuccinos at a bar in this square and rested awhile.
The rain was still heavy when we left and visited the modernist Parliament building and the beautiful headquarters of the Banque d’Espana. Whilst in the financial district, we found an attractive restaurant for a late lunch. A menu of the day is usually served in most Spanish restaurants until 4.00 pm and normally includes 3 courses and a bottle of wine for two diners at a reasonable price. Today’s lunch was no exception, and we lingered over our coffees to avoid going out in the rain.
Eventually it was time to leave and we decided to return to our apartment by metro, getting off at Principe Po today which was actually nearer than Place d’Espana.
This morning we took the metro from Principe Pio to Plaza Eliptica where express coaches to Toledo depart from. The journey in a very comfortable air conditioned coach took 50 minutes and terminated just outside the old town. There are signposts to a series of internal escalators which lead into the old town and avoiding a steep uphill climb.
Toledo is set high on a hill overlooking the plains of central Spain. It is an old walled city with moorish architecture and was the former home of the artist, El Greco. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986 for its stunning Christian, Jewish and Muslim architecture and heritage.
The first stop for us was to pick up a map from the Tourist Information office located in the square, and then to find a cafe on a sunny terrace to have our morning cappuccino and study the map.
We explored the Old Town, visiting the vast Cathedral, the Arab and Jewish quarters and finally the Alcazar. Here we found a small restaurant for lunch with an attractive terrace overlooking a cobbled square. We were recommended to try the local starter of green beans, Serrano ham, oil and spices which was delicious.
Later, we continued our sightseeing, wandering down narrow alleyways and discovering beautiful buildings at every turn. Toledo is popular with tourists but apart from the area around the cathedral we didn’t find it too crowded. We returned to the coach station via the flight of escalators and caught a bus back to Madrid without delays. Return day tickets are open, thereby it isn’t necessary to book a specific service and, although busy, we were able to board the first available service which took us back to central Madrid in under an hour.
After breakfast we we took the metro from Principe Pio to Moncloa where direct coaches leave for Segovia. These are operated by La Sepulvedena. We arrived at the ticket kiosk at 9.15 am planning to buy tickets for the 9.45 am service but we were advised that this was already full and we would have to wait for the the one at 10.15 am. This wasn’t too much of a problem as we went for a coffee until the departure time.
The journey to Segovia took just over an hour on the air conditioned coach and the bus station was just a few minutes walk from the magnificent Roman aqueduct bridge which was built cAD50 and has been very well preserved.
The impressive construction, with two tiers of arches is the focal point of this charming UNESCO World Heritage site. The aqueduct is formed of 118 huge arches constructed from giant slabs of granite.
After a welcome cappuccino at the foot of the aqueduct it was time to climb the several flights of stone steps up to the old town. We visited the splendid cathedral, synagogue and the Alcazar. The Alcazar Palace was originally an Arab fort and with its ornate turrets, nowadays resembles a fairytale castle set high on a rocky crag with panoramic views of the surrounding area.
After all this exercise we were ready for some lunch. We chose an attractive restaurant in the old town which was elegantly furnished, busy with locals and most importantly, served delicious food. After a long lunch relaxing with wine and coffee we returned to the aqueduct and walked beneath it to where it reached an angle. It must have been an incredible feat of engineering in Roman times.
We returned to Madrid on the 5.00 pm coach, this time having no difficulty in boarding the first available service. We were back at our apartment within one and a half hours, after a memorable visit to Segovia.
This morning we took the metro to the railway station at Chamartin. Here we bought return tickets to Avila. Our train took 90 minutes and only made one stop along the way.
Avila is a medieval town lying 70 miles north west of Madrid, it’s imposing city walls comprise 8 gates, 88 watchtowers and 2500 turrets and is one of the best preserved old towns in Spain. It has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It took 15 minutes to walk from Avila’s railway station to the walls of the old town. It is possible to walk along the walls (fee payable) for a pleasant pre lunch walk. Unlike Segovia and Toledo, Avila is much smaller and it didn’t take us very long to explore the main sights.
We had lunch at Il Convento, which, as the name suggests, is close to the town’s convent. Although fine, it wasn’t warm enough to have lunch on the restaurant’s terrace today, so instead we joined the other diners indoors for a hearty lunch. After walking off our large lunch we took the train back to Madrid.
To summarise, a pleasant walled small town, but we felt there wasn’t very much to see and do here to merit the lengthy rail journey.
It was off to a Tapas bar near the Royal Palace again this evening. It was lovely to sit out on the terrace, enjoy our wine and nibbles and soak up the local atmosphere.
We checked out of the Wo Homitel apartment at 10.00 am. It had been a good choice of accommodation in Madrid, centrally situated yet quietly positioned just behind the Royal Palace and only a short walk from two metro stations.
Our final morning turned out to be warm and sunny, in fact, better than we had experienced throughout the trip. We took advantage of this warm sunshine, stopping for beers at an attractive terrace near the Banque d’Espanya.
Across from where we were sitting an ornate clock began chiming at 12.00 midday, then it’s bells started ringing and finally beautifully painted figurines appeared out on a balcony beneath the clock and played a tune. It was totally unexpected but absolutely delightful.
Our next stop was to visit Madrid’s main gardens The Retiro. We sat and sunbathed awhile beside the large boating lake and then wandered through the formal gardens. Next, it was time for lunch in the nearby financial district. Today’s choice was called ‘Pascalles’ and it didn’t disappoint. We shared our last bottle of Rioja of the holiday alongside good food. To walk off our large lunch we continued to Madrid’s main railway station, Atocha. It’s certainly worth a visit even if no rail journeys are planned. It is a rail station like no other as it contains a small rainforest in its central concourse. This is surrounded by a pond filled with fish and turtles. I have never seen so many turtles in one place, they were sleeping piled on top of each other.
Well, that was enough walking for one day, so we took the metro to Opera and enjoyed our final cappuccino of the holiday there whilst people watching. An hour later and it was time to return to the airport for our flight back to Manchester which departed on time.
Madrid has been an excellent choice for a springtime city break, it’s a very walkable, compact city centre with lots of squares to enjoy a coffee, a beer or a glass of wine. We took advantage of the ‘Menu del Dia’ which is served in the majority of restaurants until 4.00 pm each day.
The menu usually has 3 selections to choose from for each course, and is three courses and a bottle of wine for two people at a very reasonable price. We then enjoyed wine and tapas during the late evening. Do try to make time to visit both Toledo and Segovia, both easily accessible by public transport from the city centre and both UNESCO World Heritage sites.