Madrid truly is marvellous. I had no idea what to expect from Spain’s capital city, but I had heard others say they didn’t like it. We loved Barcelona and thought it might remain our favourite, but Madrid topped it. It is an elegant city full of wide boulevards, pretty buildings, beautiful trees, stunning museums and galleries. It felt a lot like Paris to me… I simply loved it.
The journey from Toledo to Madrid is quite short if you go direct but we decided to go via the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caidos), in the Sierra de Guadarrama hills. The setting is majestic, especially on a sunny day and the expansive view down the valley from the huge monument is amazing. The “crowning glory” of the monument is the 500 foot cross.
The monument is actually a Catholic Basilica – the Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, plus it contains the tomb of General Franco. The huge Pieta sculpture above the entrance is rather moving but I found entering the Basilica quite eerie -in fact I felt rather ambivalent about being there since 34,000 of the fallen are buried there and the place was partially built by convicts, some of whom were political prisoners.
After having lunch at a sunny roadside cafe, we ventured on to a place near Madrid airport to return our reliable Renault Grand Scenic – it took us over 4,000kms from Milan to Madrid without a hitch, and again reinforced our belief that Eurolease is the way to go when doing a long trip like ours. We had a long wait for a taxi to take us to our hotel because of traffic congestion caused by an accident. The poor taxi driver seemed somewhat stressed but he proceeded to stuff our bags into the back of his taxi despite us thinking they would not all fit.
Our accommodation in Madrid was the AC Palacio del Retiro– a boutique style hotel in an absolutely perfect location opposite the enormous and fabulous Buen Retiro Park. The Prado and Reina Sofia within easy reach too and if you don’t feel like walking taxis are inexpensive.
After settling in with help of one charming Sergio, we wandered through the beautiful park across the road. It has a pretty artificial lake offering rowboats for rent – a well used facility on both our visits to the park. The lake is presided over by a large statue of King Alfonso XII and also boasts the Palacio de Cristal built in the late C19th.
We chose to dine in the hotel’s elegant dining room/bar and the food was excellent. Sergio had arranged a private tour for us the following morning, and we retired knowing we had made and excellent choice of hotel in which to base ourselves for exploring Madrid.
Next post – our orientation to Madrid via private tour