After Toledo, SEGOVIA is the standout trip from Madrid. A relatively small city, strategically sited on a rocky ridge, it is deeply and haughtily Castilian, with a panoply of squares and mansions from its days of Golden Age grandeur, when it was a royal resort and a base for the Cortes (parliament). It was in Segovia that Isabel la Católica was proclaimed queen of Castile in 1474.
For a city of its size, there are a stunning number of architectural monuments. Most celebrated are the breathtaking Roman aqueduct, the Gothic cathedral and the fairy-tale Alcázar, but the less obvious attractions – the cluster of ancient churches and the many mansions found in the lanes of the old town, all in a warm, honey-coloured stone – are what really make it worth a visit. If you have time, take a walk out of the city alongside the river and out to the fascinating church of Vera Cruz.
The most photographed sight in Segovia is the magnificent aqueduct. Over 800m of granite, supported by 166 arches and 120 pillars and at its highest point towering some 30m above the Plaza de Azoguejo, it stands up without a drop of mortar or cement. No one knows exactly when it was built, but it was probably around the end of the first century AD under either Emperor Domitian or Trajan. It no longer carries water from the Río Acebeda to the city, and in recent years traffic vibration and pollution have been threatening to undermine the entire structure, but the completion of a meticulous restoration programme should ensure it remains standing for some time to come. If you climb the stairs beside the aqueduct you can get a view looking down over it from a surviving fragment of the city walls.
Segovia is an excellent city for walks. Drop down onto the path that winds its way down into the valley from the Alcázar on the north side of the city wall and you’ll reach the Río Eresma. Head west and you’ll pass close to Vera Cruz and the Convento de los Carmelitas, with some great views of the Alcázar, before turning back towards the city; head east and you can follow the beautiful tree-lined path alongside the river and wend your way back up the hill to the old town in a round trip of a little over an hour. On your way round you can visit the Monasterio de El Parral (July & Aug Tues 4–7pm, Wed–Sun 10am–2pm & 4–7pm; rest of year Tues–Sat 10am–12.30pm & 4.15–6.30pm, Sun 10–11.30am & 4.15–6.30pm; donation); or better still, follow the track that circles behind Vera Cruz to the monastery. El Parral is a sizeable and partly ruined complex occupied by Hieronymites, an order found only in Spain. Ring the bell for admission and you will be shown the cloister and church; the latter is a Late Gothic building with rich sculpture at the east end. Gregorian Masses can be heard during the week at 1pm in spring and summer and on Sundays at noon.
For the best view of all of Segovia, take the main road north for 2km or so towards Cuéllar. A panorama of the whole city, including the aqueduct, gradually unfolds.