During your free time, here are some of the amazing places to visit–all within an hour of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and Madrid.
EL MONASTERIO DE SAN LORENZO DE EL ESCORIAL
The Monasterio de San Lorenzo was the historical residence of the King Felipe II in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) northwest of Madrid. It is one of the Spanish royal sites and has functioned as a monastery, basilica, royal palace, pantheon, library, museum, university, school and hospital.
“El Escorial” comprises two architectural complexes of great historical and cultural significance: the royal monastery itself and La Granjilla de la Fresneda, a former royal hunting lodge and monastic retreat about five kilometers away. These sites had a dual purpose that is to say, during the 16th and 17th centuries, they were places in which the power of the Spanish monarchy and the ecclesiastical predominance of the Roman Catholic religion in Spain found a common architectural manifestation. El Escorial was originally belonged to the Hieronymite monks but later became a monastery of the Order of Saint Augustine and remains so today.
King Felipe II, reacting to the changes of the 16th century, dedicated much of his lengthy reign (1556–1598) and much of his seemingly inexhaustible supply of New World gold to build what is considered the 8th Wonder of the World. King Felipe II appointed Juan Bautista as the architect-royal in 1559, and together they designed El Escorial as a monument to Spain’s role as a center of the Christian world.
On 2 November 1984,UNESCO declared The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo of El Escorial a World Heritage Site.
Avila, the capital of the Spanish province of Avila is a small city in located northwest of Madrid in the Gredos mountain range just a one-hour train ride from El Escorial. It is best known for its intact medieval city walls, with 80-plus crenelated, semicircular towers and 9 gates, including the arched El Alcazar, on the eastern side. Visitors can climb to the top of the wall for spectacular views. Behind the city walls, there are several churches and Renaissance palaces that bear witness to the past wealth of the town as a textile center. Avila is the birthplace of Saint Teresa as seen throughout the city with monuments linked to the saint’s life and works. Avila is a must-see!
Segovia is located in the center of Spain in the community of Castile and León, just 50 miles from Madrid. This city is known for its Roman Aqueduct, one of the Roman Empire’s most astounding engineering feats built in the 1st century. This aqueduct was used to transport water to the city until the mid 19th century. This imposing structure’s enormous pillars and arches welcome visitors to the city.
The Alcázar, or Segovia Castle, was built in Roman times. The first documented record dates back to the 12th century when the Moors occupied the city until Alfonso VI of Castile captured Segovia. It was here that Isabella was proclaimed queen and where she married King Ferdinand.
The castle also served as a prison and later a military school. Within its walls, one can visit the Throne Hall and the Hall of Kings where a frieze depicts many of the Spanish kings and queens. The castle contains important works of art as well as large display of knight’s armor.
It has been said that this castle was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s famous castle.
The majority of Segovia’s attractions are found in the Old Town, a medieval world of ancient cobblestone streets, narrow alleys and charming squares filled with artisan boutiques, specialty shops and restaurants.
Toledo is a city located in central Spain just one hour from Madrid. Toledo is known as the “City of the Three Cultures” for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims and Jews reflected in its rich history. The old city is located on a mountaintop with a 150-degree view, surrounded on three sides by a bend in the Tagus River. Here visitors will see an array of historical sites, including the Alcazar, the Zocodover marketplace, and the Cathedral of Toledo. This cathedral is one of the three 13th-century high Gothic cathedrals in Spain and is considered to be the masterpiece of the Gothic architecture style in Spain.
Madrid, Spain’s capital and the third largest city in the European Union, is filled with elegant boulevards, winding cobblestone alleys and expansive, manicured parks. The Buen Retiro Park is one of the most beautiful parks you’ll find in any European city. Rich collections of Spanish and European artwork can be found in Madrid’s numerous art museums and galleries including the impressive Prado Art Museum which houses the best collection of Spanish art by such masters as Francisco Goya, Diego Velazquez and El Greco.
The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia art museum is home to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, Spain’s single-most famous artwork, as well as numerous other paintings by Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró
Located in the heart of old Madrid is the portico-lined Plaza Mayor, a rare, expansive opening in the midst of narrow winding streets. This is the perfect place to sit down, relax and catch your breath while enjoying a traditional Spanish tapa and caña (small glass of cold beer) at one of the numerous outdoor restaurants after a long day of museums and sightseeing.