Explore Around Madrid
The Palacio Real de la Granja de San Ildefonso was built by the reluctant first Bourbon king of Spain, Felipe V, no doubt homesick for the luxuries of Versailles. Its glories are the mountain setting and the extravagant wooded grounds and gardens, but it’s also worth casting an eye over the palace. Though destroyed in parts and damaged throughout by a fire in 1918, much has been well restored and is home to a superlative collection of sixteenth-century tapestries, one of the most valuable in the world. Everything is furnished in plush French imperial style, but it’s almost all of Spanish origin; the majority of the huge chandeliers, for example, were made in the glass factory in the village of San Ildefonso (Tues–Fri 10am–3pm, Sat 10am–6pm, Sun & hols 10am–3pm; €4; wfcnv.es). Here you can visit an exhibition on the history of the craft and still see the glass being blown and decorated in the traditional manner.
The highlight of the gardens is its series of fountains, which culminates in the fifteen-metre-high jet of La Fama. They’re fantastic and really not to be missed, which means timing your visit for 5.30pm on Wednesdays, weekends and holidays (€3.40) when some are switched on (they may not be switched on during periods of water shortage, so it’s best to check on t921 470 019 or the website beforehand). Only on three saints’ days in the year – normally May 30 (San Fernando), July 25 (Santiago) and August 25 (San Luís) – are all of the fountains set to work, with accompanying crowds to watch. The enormous monumental fountain known as the Baños de Diana operates on Saturday nights in summer (10.30–11.30pm July 17–Sept 4; 1€) and is illuminated together with the palace facade.