Tag: Spain

The 7 best things to do with one day in Málaga, Spain (2023)

The 7 best things to do with one day in Málaga, Spain (2023)

Make the most of your stay in beautiful Málaga, Spain with our top picks for activities to do on a one-day tour. Get ready for an unforgettable experience!

Amazing Spain Itinerary: 7, 10, or 14 Day Plans

Amazing Spain Itinerary: 7, 10, or 14 Day Plans

Three exciting Spain itinerary ideas for a 7 day, 10 day, or 14 day trip, including Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo, Seville, Córdoba, and more.

El Escorial: An Epic Day Trip from Madrid

El Escorial: An Epic Day Trip from Madrid

San Lorenzo de El Escorial, or El Escorial for short: It makes for a great day trip from Madrid. But what is it? Is it a library, a palace, or a city? From what I had read of other blog posts, I couldn’t quite tell what it was or what to expect before we went. All I knew was that it had the most amazing library I had ever heard of and I had to see it for myself.

So what exactly is El Escorial? It’s kind of all of those things. Once headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition, San Lorenzo de El Escorial (the city) grew around the largest building constructed during the renaissance era. The Monastery of El Escorial (the building) housed a university, a monastery, a basilica, a palace, a library, a hospital, and a tomb.

“El Escorial” translates as ”the scholar.” From the outside, the monastery appears to be a giant, unimaginative block set upon a great expanse of concrete, an absolute fortress. All its beauty and art lies within its walls.

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El Escorial

A Brief History of El Escorial

I like to have some context when I visit a new place, so I understand a little better what it is I’m looking at. So I’ll share what I’ve learned with you through out this post, the beautiful along with the ugly.

A UNESCO world heritage site today, it took 21 years to build, between 1563 to 1584. El Escorial served as the residence, seat of rule, and burial place to Phillip II of the Habsburg family.

Phillip II ruled from 1556 to 1598, during the Spanish Golden Age. Major events of note during Spain’s Golden Age included the conquest of the Incan Empire, the start of the Anglo-Spanish war, and the Spanish Inquisition. Phillip II felt it was his duty to defend Catholicism from Protestants and the Ottoman Empire.

Patio of the Kings, El Escorial
Patio of the Kings

Patio of the Kings

The Patio of the Kings, or “Patio de los Reyes,” was our first look behind the walls of El Escorial. The six kings of Judah are featured in the façade here: Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, David, Solomon, Josiah, and Manasseh.

From the Patio of the Kings, you’ll move on through the Museum of Architecture, the Museum of Art, and then the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The Museum of Architecture describes the construction of El Escorial. And the Museum of Art displays Italian, Spanish, and Flemish works from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Basilica at El Escorial
El Escorial – the Basilica,” by Graeme Churchard is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Basilica of San Lorenzo

The patron saint of the basilica is San Lorenzo, or St. Lawrence. He was martyred by the Roman Empire on August 10, 258 AD.

When St. Lawrence refused to hand over the church’s wealth to Rome, he was placed upon a gridiron and burned alive. As the story goes, after he had been lying there, burning for some time, he declared, “I’m well done on this side. Turn me over!”

Today, St. Lawrence is the patron saint of archivists, librarians, scholars, cooks, chefs, and comedians. You’ll find a painting of him upon the gridiron above the altar in the basilica at El Escorial (see the photo above). In fact, El Escorial’s footprint resembles a grill.

The Palace

Continuing on to the palace and living quarters, you’ll find original furniture on display. The palace features stark white walls, and unadorned furniture. The simplicity in architecture and design was unique at the time.

Pateón de Infantes, El Escorial
“Panteón de Infantes (El Escorial). Casa de Borbón.jpeg,” by José Luis Filpo Cabana, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

The Royal Pantheon

Deep below this fortress is the pantheon, or burial place, of four centuries of Spanish royalty, including Phillip II.

The Habsburg family had significant inbreeding, due to marriage arrangements intended to keep political power in the family. If you’ve heard of a “Habsburg jaw,” this was a visible result of that inbreeding.

Why am I bringing up incest right now? There’s an entire room filled with small coffins, the “pateón de los infantes”, dedicated to royal children who had passed too soon. Only four of Phillip II’s twelve children survived past the age of seven.

According to scientists, incest may have brought about the fall of the Habsburg dynasty. This inbreeding may have been the cause of so many Habsburg children’s deaths, as well as the cause of infertility. The two-century-long Spanish Habsburg dynasty ended in 1700 with Charles II’s death, age 38 and infertile.

Library at El Escorial
The Library at El Escorial,” by John Keogh is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Library

The tour ends in the library. This is easily the most posh library I have ever seen. And if you love a good library, you cannot pass this up.

With frescos painted on the ceiling and gold rimmed globes, it feels more like a cathedral dedicated to the worship of literature than a library. It holds over 40,000 books and 4,700 manuscripts.

As you exit the library, a sign above the door threatens excommunication to anyone who steals a book. At that steep a price, I wonder what their late fees are like!

Patio of the Kings, El Escorial
Patio of the Kings

No Photos

To my great disappointment, photography is not allowed inside the building of El Escorial. The only place you are allowed to take photos is outside and in the courtyard, ”Patio of the Kings.”

However, you can purchase postcards, prints, and puzzles in the gift shop, along with other souvenirs. Or you can purchase digital photos online.

Planning Your Visit

El Escorial makes for a good half day trip from Madrid. You’ll want to plan for an hour to get there, 3 to 4 hours to do the audio guide tour, and another hour back to Madrid.

We had lunch in El Escorial at a small restaurant at the train station, and arrived back in Madrid around 3pm with plenty of time for more sight seeing that afternoon and night.

The best time of year to visit is typically fall. You’ll likely enjoy nice weather, but you’ll avoid the summer tourist crowds.

*Note: El Escorial is closed on Mondays.

El Escorial

How to Get to the Monastery of El Escorial

Nestled in the foothills of the Guadarrama mountains, El Escorial lies about an hour northwest of Madrid. You can book transportation there via train or bus.

By Train

Taking the train was very easy and convenient, as trains leave about hourly from Madrid to El Escorial. Take the C3 line from Atocha or Chamartín stations in Madrid to El Escorial.

From the train station, it’s about a half an hour walk to the monastery, so we chose to take a taxi.

By Bus

The bus will drop you off closer to El Escorial than the train will. You’ll want to take route 664 from Intercambiador Moncloa bus station in Madrid. Then get off at Estación de Autobuses de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the final stop on the route. From there, it’s only a 10 to 15 minute walk the rest of the way.

Click on the markers on the map below to highlight the walking routes from the train station and bus station to El Escorial.

Trip map created with Wanderlog, an itinerary planner on iOS and Android

Further Reading

If you’re looking for more day trip ideas from Madrid, read my posts on Segovia and Ávila.

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Featured Image is “Library in El Escorial, Spain,” by Jessica Gardner, Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Segovia, Spain: A Real Life Fairy Tale Get-Away

Segovia, Spain: A Real Life Fairy Tale Get-Away

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small fee from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.

This post goes out to all the hopeless romantics and star-eyed lovers out there. For those of you brainstorming romantic get-aways, Segovia, Spain, is a perfect, real life fairy tale destination. Complete with castles and moats and knights in shining armor, you need look no further.

Let’s be real here though. As much as I may be a sappy romantic myself, fairy tale endings are a funny concept to me. Many of the original endings were anything but happily-ever-afters. And the stories that did end in some form of justice typically resulted in some pretty ruthless medieval punishments for the villains.

Take, for instance, the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. In the original Grimm Brothers telling of Snow White, the evil step mother is forced to wear red-hot iron shoes and has to dance in them until she dies. Although this is a far more creative punishment than simply falling off a cliff as in more contemporary versions, it’s quite brutal! The original fairy tales are just plain dark.

However, for better or worse, most of our modern day cartoons have swapped the often gruesome and twisted medieval endings for something a bit less warped. But what do fairy tales have to do with Segovia? Keep reading to find out.

Roman Aqueduct in Segovia

An Overview of Segovia

With a population of roughly 51,000, Segovia, Spain, lies about an hour northwest of the capital, Madrid. It is easily reached by bus or train and makes for an excellent day trip from Madrid. You can conveniently book a day trip through different bus tour agencies right from Madrid’s Plaza del Sol.

Originally a Celtic settlement, Segovia passed through Roman, Moorish, and lastly Catholic rule. Today, Segovia’s old town is a UNESCO world heritage site. Multiple landmarks are included in this designation, such as the 1st century A.D. Roman aqueduct, the last gothic style cathedral built in Spain, and the Alcázar de Segovia. Exploring the Jewish quarter, the many historical buildings, and the quaint cobbled streets of Segovia won’t disappoint.

Alcázar de Segovia

Alcázar de Segovia

Appropriately shaped like the bow of a ship, the Alcázar de Segovia stands on a peninsula between the Eresma and Clamores rivers. The palace includes a keep, two towers, and two courtyards, all complete with a moat and drawbridge. In our explorations, we also discovered a beautifully manicured maze-like garden.

Initially a Roman fort, the Alcázar has been reconstructed by each successive ruling culture. Rebuilt by the the Moors, and then later by the Christians, little but perhaps the foundation remains from the Roman era. Through out the centuries, it has served as a fortress, a palace, a prison, and the Royal Artillery College.

If you choose to tour the castle today, you’ll be able to explore the Armory Museum located inside. We discovered countless old cannons, weaponry, and knights in shining armor!

You can also climb to the top of the keep. To get there, we climbed a narrow, winding stair case that only allowed for one direction of traffic. But the work out and the traffic jams were well worth the view from the top!

Alcázar de Segovia

Snow White’s Castle

Ok, so here’s the part you’ve been waiting for—your fairy tale connection. The Alcázar de Segovia served as inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. In fact, Snow White’s wishing well stands on one of the castle’s patios.

We are standing by a wishing well

Make a wish into the well

That’s all you have to do

And if you hear it echoing

Your wish will soon come true

Snow White from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

PRO TIP: Have a taxi driver take you to the “prettiest view in the city” for a postcard-worthy sight of the Alcázar de Segovia from below.

Segovia’s Gothic Cathedral

Segovia’s cathedral stands on Plaza Mayor, on the location where Isabella I was declared queen of Castile. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, its construction lasted from 1525 to 1577. It was the last gothic style cathedral built in Spain, and at the time it was built, it was the tallest building in Spain.

We had the fortune of seeing both the first and last gothic cathedrals built in Spain on the same day. You can read about our visit to the first gothic cathedral built in Ávila, Spain right here.

Roman Aqueduct of Segovia

Segovia’s Roman aqueduct stands austerely on Plaza del Azoguejo. It was built during the 1st century A.D. Today it can be found on Segovia’s coat of arms, a proud symbol of the city’s identity.

The Aqueduct of Segovia is one of the most well preserved Roman aqueducts in the world. Surprisingly, the nearly 25,000 granite blocks used to build the aqueduct are not held together by mortar, and yet it still stands today. Talk about built to last! Are you brave enough to stand underneath it?

Originally supplied by the Frio River located 11 miles outside of Segovia, the aqueduct runs partially underground. You can trace part of its underground path through the city following the brass markers imbedded in the cobblestone streets. The aqueduct reaches 93.5 feet at its tallest and contains a total of 167 arches.

Happily Ever After

We only spent a half day in Segovia, but quickly fell in love with the charming medieval town and would love to stay over night there next time. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what Segovia has to offer here. Have you been to Segovia before? Tell me what your favorite part of this beautiful Spanish city was so I can make plans for next time!

For Further Reading

For more ideas on day trips from Madrid, check out my post about Ávila, or watch for an upcoming post about El Escorial. You can also follow me on Pinterest for more Spain travel ideas!

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Ronda, Spain: The Most Romantic City in the World

Ronda, Spain: The Most Romantic City in the World

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Who the Heck was Antoni Gaudí and Why Do We Care?

Who the Heck was Antoni Gaudí and Why Do We Care?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small fee from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.

First of all, who was Antoni Gaudí?

Everyone who had been to Spain told me I had to go check out the work of Antoni Gaudí. But I wasn’t at all familiar with Gaudi or his work. So I started looking at endless pictures and blog posts.

But in our digital age where so much is immediately available at the swipe of a screen, I wasn’t all that impressed from what I saw in photos. And a picture can only convey so much. So that is what leads us to this post. Who the heck was Antoni Gaudí and why do we care?

Antoni Gaudí was born in 1852. He was sick a lot. And because he was always so sick and frail, he wasn’t allowed a normal childhood, playing and rough housing and participating in sports like normal boys. I guess all great artists have got to have a little bit of crazy tucked away somewhere. There’s his.

So instead of the normal boyhood activities, Gaudí observed things. He observed the world and nature around him, and he drew what he saw. Nature and God were two great inspirations reflected in all of his work, and it redefined architecture as we knew it. And then Gaudi died in June 1926, just shy of his 74th birthday.

Being there in Spain to see some of Gaudí’s work in person, I was converted. But before you go check out his work yourself, check out the Gaudí Exhibition.

The Gaudí Exhibition Center at the Museu Diocesa de Barcelona

I would make it a priority to stop by the Gaudí Exhibition first. The Gaudí Exhibition stands right next to the Cathedral of Barcelona in the Gothic quarter, or Barri Gotic. We spent maybe an hour and a half there as an audio guide led us through the museum.

We climbed up and down stairs to different exhibits, although there was an elevator if needed. There we learned about Gaudi’s life, inspirations, and innovations in his architecture. There were 3-D models providing an example of his work process, and short films.

The route through the museum ended in the gift shop with fun, bright souvenirs just waiting to go home with you. Ok, now that you’ve checked out the museum, let’s get on to the meat of the topic: Why we care about Gaudí and why you can’t miss his work while you’re in Barcelona.

Here are 3 big reasons why we care about Antoni Gaudí

Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia

1. La Sagrada Familia

Gaudí took over the construction and design of La Sagrada Familia in 1883 from Fransisco de Paula del Villar. Construction had just barely begun the year prior in 1882. I was amazed to learn that La Sagrada Familia was built so recently. I was under the impression that we were far beyond the age of constructing massive and beautiful cathedrals or other pieces of architecture such as this.

So construction was started in 1882, but finished…when exactly? Actually, La Sagrada Familia is still under construction! Slated for completion in 2026, our admission prices help cover continued construction on this masterpiece. You’ll notice the construction cranes in many photos. But don’t let that scare you off. La Sagrada Familia is breathtaking and cannot be missed, even unfinished.

Built in the Modernista style, La Sagrada Familia has a surreal feel to it. Like the logic of a dream, Gaudí followed his own rules. At times I felt like the sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows played upon the rippled ceiling like reflections on water. Other times I felt like I was gazing up at a canopy of trees or at the cordae tendinae of some great giant’s heart. Gaudí definitely met his aim in imitating nature.

A Few Things You Should Know Before You Go

1. Book tickets ahead of time. Booking tickets is a must – you may not get in otherwise.

Click here to book tickets for La Sagrada Familia

2. Include the Tower Tour and Audio Guide in your ticket purchase. There are two towers currently complete and open to the public – the Nativity Tower and the Passion Tower. We viewed the Nativity Tower and it was beautiful. I hope to check out the Passion Tower next visit.

3. Book tickets close to sunset. We took another blogger’s suggestion and booked our tickets close to sunset. We did not regret this – the sun coming in through the stained glass windows was unforgettable.

4. Show up early. I cannot stress this one enough! If you book your tower tickets close to sunset, I would be sure to show up early for extra time to view the rest of the cathedral. The cathedral closes to the public not long after the last tower tour is offered. I would plan on spending at least a couple hours here. Trust me, you’ll want the time.

Park Guell

2. Park Güell

Park Güell sits on a hill overlooking the city of Barcelona. Designed by Gaudí, it was originally intended to be an upscale, exclusive neighborhood, but was never completed or used for its intended purpose. Construction lasted from 1900 to 1914, at which time construction was interrupted by World War I. Park Güell first opened as a public park in 1926.

I was surprised to discover that Park Güell is quite large. There are two sections – one with free entry, the other with paid entry. Of course, the part you pay entry for is the part that’s most well known from postcards and pictures. For example, the iconic Gaudi lizard is located in the paid-entry section of Park Guell. And again, if you are planning on visiting the paid-entry section of the park, be sure you book tickets at least a few days in advance.

We ended up not visiting the paid-entry section of Park Guell this time. But if you decide not to visit the paid-entry section as well, I wouldn’t write the park off altogether. I can tell you the rest of the architecture and art in the park is absolutely impressive, beautiful, and every bit of it is worth your time.

Click here to book tickets for Park Guell

Casa Mila aka La Pedrera

3. Casa Milà or “La Pedrera”

Casa Milà, or “La Pedrera,” is located in the Passeig de Gracie, or “passage of grace,” which is an avenue in the Eixample district of Barcelona. Another design by Antoni Gaudi, it’s construction lasted from 1906 to 1912. It was built to be the private residence of Pere Mila (hence it’s name) and his wife Roser Segimon.

Casa Mila was nicknamed “La Pedrera” by the people Barcelona, which means the rock quarry. The building reminded the people of a pile of rocks. I suppose I can see that. But my initial impression of Casa Milà was that its undulating form belonged under sea in Disney’s Little Mermaid, perfect for a city near the ocean. It wasn’t until after Antoni Gaudi’s death that Barcelona started to love La Pedrera and feel proud to claim it as an icon of their city.

You’ll also find other Modernista buildings in the Passeig de Gracie, such as Casa Batllo, also designed by Gaudi, and Casa Amatller, designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch. For an entrance fee, you can take a roof top tour of Casa Mila and many other of these beautiful Modernista buildings.

Click here to book tickets to Casa Mila

I hope this clears up your questions about who Antoni Gaudi was and why he’s such a big deal. I would love to hear your own impressions of Gaudi’s work. What does his work make you think of? And what was your favorite of his constructions and designs to visit and why?

Here’s some more reading material if you’re looking for more ideas on what to do in Barcelona, Spain. Or you can read this if you’re traveling Spain on a budget and looking for free things to do in Barcelona.

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7 Free Things to do in Barcelona

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Traveling can get expensive fast. One of the number one reasons I hear people list for not traveling is the cost. I get it. But travel really doesn’t have to be something so far out of reach. For those of you who are traveling Spain … Read more