The lack of historic monuments in Madrid is more than compensated for by the region around the capital. Within a radius of 100km – and within an hour’s travel by bus and train – are some of Spain’s greatest cities. Not least of these is Toledo, which preceded Madrid as the country’s capital. Immortalized by El Greco, who lived and worked there for most of his later career, the city is a living museum to the many cultures – Visigothic, Moorish, Jewish and Christian – which have shaped the destiny of Spain. If you have time for just one trip from Madrid, there is really no other choice.
That said, Segovia, with its stunning Roman aqueduct and irresistible Disney-prototype castle, puts up strong competition, while Felipe II’s vast palace-cum-mausoleum of El Escorial is a monument to out-monument all others. And there are smaller places, too, less known to foreign tourists: Aranjuez, an oasis in the parched Castilian plain, famed for its asparagus, strawberries and lavish Baroque palace and gardens; the beautiful walled city of Ávila, birthplace of St Teresa; and Cervantes’ home town, Alcalá de Henares, with its sixteenth-century university. For walkers, too, trails amid the sierras of Gredos and Guadarrama provide enticing escapes from the midsummer heat.