At the foot of the Sierra Norte mountains in Madrid you'll find a lot of interesting towns and villages such as San Lorenzo del Escorial, the city of kings, or Manzanares el Real. You can also enjoy sports in its nature areas.
Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial
Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial
If you are on holiday in Madrid, be sure to leave half a day for a trip to San Lorenzo de El Escorial. It is well worth a visit. There you will find its UNESCO World Heritage-designated monastery, home to the secrets of Spanish history. It is also set in a charming town in beautiful natural surroundings.
HOW TO GET THERE FROM MADRID
Bus: bus numbers 661 and 664 from the Moncloa bus station. Approximate journey time: one hour. Approximate fare: €4.20. Tickets are purchased on the bus. Train: line C8a from Atocha station. Approximate journey time: one hour. Approximate fare: €3.30. Tickets must be purchased beforehand at the ticket office. By road: Madrid-San Lorenzo de El Escorial; take the A-VI motorway until Las Rozas, turn off on to the M-505; or alternatively, take the A-VI and turn off onto the M-600.
8 am. Departure from Madrid
An early start so we can make the most of the trip. The best option is to take the number 664 bus, as this is the most direct and leaves us about 200 metres from the Monastery (a short walk down the Calle Juan de Toledo). The railway station is over one kilometre outside the town, so it is best to leave it for the return journey. But if you decide to do the outward journey by train, you can walk up to San Lorenzo de El Escorial (the route is uphill) or take a local bus (the fare is about €1.50).
San Lorenzo de El Escorial Monastery. The high point of the visit.
(Two and a half hours approximately – suggested timetable: 9-11:30 am.) As the tourist office is right opposite the entrance to the Monastery, this is a good opportunity to stop in at the information centre (in English, German and Spanish), and to get information about routes, restaurants, the history of the town, or to entertain the children with games. The staff are very friendly. The next and most important stop is the San Lorenzo de El Escorial Monastery. As this majestic granite building stands before us, we are transported back to another time, when El Escorial was the political centre of an empire. We should remember that we are not only before a monastery, but also before a great museum which contains a pantheon, a palace and a basilica. We go inside. We are about to discover what has been called the "eighth wonder of the world". After exploring the monastery at length, we can make a stop in the gift shop to buy a souvenir and to have a comforting ?? drink in the monastery cafeteria (by the entrance). THINGS TO REMEMBER The Monastery is closed on Monday. There are guided visits for small groups, approximately every 15 minutes, lasting one hour. The audioguide offers information in Spanish, English, French, German, Italian and Portuguese. You can enter and leave the building as often as you wish during the day, provided you keep your ticket.-The Basilica and the room known as the Gallery of Battles are currently closed for refurbishment.
El Fraile gardens and the Casita del Infante house. Nature at our feet
(Approximately one hour – suggested timetable: 11:30 am-12:30 pm). On leaving the Monastery we cross the stone esplanade, which is the perfect spot for some memorable photos, as we are surrounded by the buildings of the Casas de Oficios (the administrative buildings) and the buildings known as the Casa de Infantes and Casa de la Reina (the Infantes’ and the Queen's houses ). At the end of the western façade (to the right of the Monastery entrance), we find a small gate leading to the Jardines del Fraile gardens. Here we find formal landscapes arranged around an ornamental pond, a scene which takes us back to the 16th century. At this point our route varies according to the time of year. If we continue straight along up the Paseo de Carlos III for about 15 minutes (on the road to Avila, signposted) we reach the Casita del Infante (the Infante’s house) and its gardens. It is well worth a visit to get a view of the landscapes in the Herrería park. Then we take Calle Leandro Rubio all the way to the end, until we come to the Casa de Jacometrezzo house, the oldest in the town.
Historic site. A journey through tradition
(Approximately one hour – suggested timetable: 12:30 am-1:30 pm.) Everything in the historic centre of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is very close together and it is pleasant to stroll around and take in the colourful squares, and get to know the friendly local inhabitants. The best idea is to go along the courtyard on the north façade of the Monastery and then walk up to the central street of Floridablanca. If we continue along this street we can see historic buildings (all of them have a descriptive plaque) such as the three Casas de Oficios, (administrative buildings) to our left, and the Royal Barracks and the Charles III Royal Coliseum to our right. In summer there are stands selling horchata (tiger nut milk) and ice cream (delicious) if we need some refreshment and a rest. Then, at a leisurely pace we can walk along the three parallel streets of Reina Victoria, Rey and Juan de Leyva and take in the atmosphere of this unique place. There are numerous shops selling crafts, ceramics and old books, where we are sure to come across the perfect gift. Our route will take us past 18th-century monuments such as the Casa de las Columnas (House of Columns) and the Cocheras del Rey (King’s Coach House) (at the end of Calle Juan de Leyva). This is the site of a charming museum which is well worth a visit. One piece of advice: the bookshop connected to the museum has a range of ideal gifts, such as the medal of San Quintín. Before going for lunch, don’t forget to buy some typical confectionery, such as the violet sweets or the delicious bizcochelas (with chocolate, sweetened egg yolk and sponge cake). THINGS TO REMEMBER It’s better to make any purchases before lunch, as many shops close between 2 and 5 pm. Although everything is close together, remember to wear comfortable footwear. The Cocheras del Rey Museum provides information in English, French and Spanish.
Lunch in the old part of town
(One and a half hours approximately – suggested timetable: 1-3 pm) After a busy morning, now is the time to stop in any of the bars or restaurants in the historic centre of town to sample such traditional fare as the meat dishes (sirloin or T-bone steak), roasts or the typical chickpea stew. The best idea is to go down Calle Patriarca and come out again in Floridablanca, then have lunch somewhere with views of the Monastery. However, there are numerous restaurants and bars in the streets in the historic centre (San Antón, Camino Horizontal, Plaza San Lorenzo) if you prefer a plate of Iberian cured pork loin or ham. We can enjoy the delicious food and the splendid monuments around us at the same time. And the prices are very reasonable.
Casita del Príncipe (Prince’s House). Return to Madrid
(Approximately one hour – suggested timetable: 3-4 pm) We set out on the return journey. The best option is to return to Madrid by train, as the Casita del Príncipe (Prince’s House) is located right by the railway station. We go down from Floridablanca along the Plaza Virgen de Gracia until we see the Casa de Familias de Infantes (Infantes’ family houses) on our left. A little further on, and on the other side of the road we find the entrance to the gardens. We walk down the tree-lined avenue, leaving the Monastery behind us until we reach the Casita. After the visit, and to round off the day, we can stop for refreshments at the outdoor café at the entrance. The railway station is right opposite. The trip to Madrid lasts approximately one hour, so we reach Atocha station at 5 pm. We shouldn’t forget our bizcochelas. Now’s the moment to try them. THINGS TO REMEMBER The visit to the Casita del Príncipe must be reserved beforehand by calling +34 918905902-03
The festivities in honour of San Lorenzo, the patron saint, are held in August. The Virgen de Gracia Pilgrimage passes through the streets in September. At Christmas, the Plaza de Benavente square is the site of a nativity scene with life-size figures. SUGGESTIONS FOR THE EVENING Segovia, Avila, Toledo or Salamanca are nearby and have good transport connections with the town.