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.Read More
Cuisine around Madrid
Cuisine around Madrid
The food to be found in most of the areas around Madrid owes much to Castilian tradition with roast meats such as cochinillo (suckling pig) and cordero (roast lamb) providing the signature dishes in many restaurants. Cooked to perfection so the meat is deliciously tender and falling off the bone (in some restaurants they even cut the cochinillo with plates), meals are served with almost no side dishes, bar the odd chip or potato.
But one of the chief pleasures of eating in the areas around the Spanish capital is that local specialities still remain. In Toledo, for example, many of the more traditional restaurants offer carcamusa – a meat in a spicy tomato sauce, and game such as partridge (perdiz), pheasant (faisán) and quail (cordoniz). In Segovia Castilian roasts are to the fore, while in nearby La Granja the rather healthier judiones (large white beans) are on offer. Like La Granja, Ávila is also renowned for its beans, this time haricot beans with sausage (judias del barco), as well as its delicious, and massive, T-bone steaks (chuletón de Ávila), and for the most sickly sweet of desserts, the yemas de Santa Teresa (candied egg yolks). If all that proves too much, head for the oasis of Aranjuez where vegetables (in particular asparagus) and fresh strawberries are the local speciality.
First Sunday in February: Santa Agueda Women’s Festival Married women take over city administration, and parade and celebrate in traditional costume.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) Formal processions in Toledo and a Passion play on Saturday in the Plaza Mayor at Chinchón.
Mid-April: Fiesta del Anís y del Vino, Chinchón Ample tastings of these two local products.
Thursday after Trinity, possibly in June: Corpus Christi Solemn, costumed religious procession in Toledo when the Catedral’s magnificent sixteenth-century custodia is paraded around.
24–29 June: San Juan y San Pedro Lively procession with floats and music in Segovia.
15 August: Virgen de la Asunción Chinchón’s celebrations include an encierro, with bulls running through the street.
15 August: Virgen del Sagrario Amazing fireworks display in Toledo.
17–25 August: Entertaining fiestas in La Granja, (near Segovia) Parades, bullfighting, fireworks and the fountains in full flow, and in Orgaz (near Toledo) which honours its patron saint with further celebrations.
Last week in August: Spectacular parades of giant puppets, and theatre, music and dance in Alcalá de Henares.
September & October
First weekend in September: Motín de Aranjuez Re-enactment of the Mutiny of Aranjuez in Aranjuez.
27 September: La Virgen de la Fuencisla The image of Segovia’s patron saint is carried from the sanctuary in the Eresma valley to the cathedral.
25 October: San Frutos Fiestas, Segovia Concerts, celebrations and parades in honour of the city’s patron saint.
Coming to terms with the past
Coming to terms with the past
El Valle de los Caídos is probably the most controversial and emotive physical expression of the Francoist dictatorship that still remains in present-day Spain. Partly built by Popular Front prisoners in the 1940s and 50s, this pharaonic memorial to the fascist triumph in the Civil War towers over a valley that conceals tens of thousands of corpses moved there under Franco’s orders. After the burial of the founder of the Falange Party José Antonio Primo de Rivera and Franco himself, the mausoleum became a place of homage for neo-fascists who continued to commemorate the dictator’s death every November 20 by parading their fascist paraphernalia at the site. But the future of the monument has finally been exposed to official scrutiny following the decision of the socialist government to set up a committee to decide how to turn the site into a monument to reconciliation.
The removal of Franco’s remains is one option, but the destruction of the giant cross appears to have been dismissed as has the possibility of evicting the Benedictine monks who inhabit the site. The most likely outcome is the establishment of a museum or interpretation centre which will put the monument in its context and use it as a reminder of the horrors that resulted from the Civil War. But the debate has shown how raw feelings remain in Spain and how problematic the country has found the experience of coming to terms with its traumatic past.
It was not until 2007, over thirty years after the death of the dictator, that the socialist government introduced what became known as the “historical memory” law, which recognised victims of the Franco regime, prohibited political events at the Valle de los Caídos and provided some state help for the identification and eventual exhumation of the victims of Francoist repression whose corpses still lie in over two thousand mass graves scattered across Spain. Even that step was resisted by government opponents who preferred to turn a blind eye to the deep wounds left by the Civil War and its aftermath. But grassroots campaigns, often led by relatives of the victims, to dig up the mass graves forced the government to break its silence and confront the issue.
At last there is the prospect that Spain may finally try to come to terms with matters that have been swept under the carpet for so many years. As Catalan photographer Francesc Torres, one of the leading lights in the movement to shed light on Spain’s obscure past, has said: “History is resilient. You can cover it, but it’s not going away.”