To celebrate our 21st anniversary and our 7th year in Spain, we decided to spend a long weekend in Segovia. Segovia is south of us but still in our region of Castilla and León. At just over 3 hours away, it is easily reached by motorway, across the huge prairies which cover much of Castille and León, in truth the journey is quite boring, and the further south you head, the land is arid, especially at this time of year, when the wheat and cereal crops have been harvested and the stubble is left remaining. We finally reached Segovia which rises spectacularly from the surrounding prairie, the Alcazar (fortified palace) is stunningly built on a high escarpment at one end of the city, we were often told during our visit, that Segovia is like a ship sailing into the prairies of Castille and León, and that simile is very accurate. After checking in at the hotel, we went off in search of lunch. Our hotel was set just outside the old town, at the start of the pedestrian walk up to Segovia's most famous structure, the wonderful Roman aqueduct, this structure dominates this part of the city, built 2000 years ago to bring water from the Rio Frio in the Sierra Guadarrama, directly into the city, it is nearly 15 km. long and at its highest point, before in enters into the city, some 28 metres. It is made of 20,400 large, rough-hewn granite blocks, joined without mortar or clamps. Even today the Aqueduct appears in almost perfect condition, with little signs of wear. Segovia is a tourists paradise thanks mainly to its excellent tourist information centre, its small size, and the sheer number of restaurants, bars and hotels. After lunch we went back to the hotel for a rest before starting on the evening voyage of discovery.
The first walk was towards the farthest point of the city, the Alcazar. It is said that Walt Disney, drew heavily on this building for inspiration when designing castles for his various films, and you can see why, with its towering slate spires, and pencil thin turrets that rise from a large square fortified tower. The Alcázar was originally built as a fortress but has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military academy, built over the remains of a earlier Roman building, it rises spectacularly above the escarpment that marks the end of the city proper. Although we did not visit inside the Alcazar, the exterior views more than made up for it. To read more about the Alcazar go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alc
Apart from its numerous churches and small palaces, the third marvel of Segovia is the Cathedral, located in the Plaza Mayor (main square), it is one of the last Cathedrals of the Gothic style built in Europe, the main domed tower is 90 metres high, it it is proudly called the Dame of Spanish cathedrals. From a distance it dominates Segovia, even outshining the Alacazar, although to my personal taste it is a little gaudy, preferring the more austere style of our local cathedral in León
Avoiding the local delicacy of cochinillo (suckling pig ) we had a light supper and retired relatively early.
Next day, our anniversary, we left the city to go to a couple of local royal palaces, La Granja de San Idelfonso and Riofrio. It was a beautiful warm day, and being not far from Madrid, we anticipated large crowds, so we left early and arrived at La Granja as it was opening, so for most of the time we were able to stroll around in relative isolation. The first part was a walk around the royal palace itself. is an eighteenth-century palace, formerly the summer residence of the Kings of Spain since the reign of Philip V The palace is in a restrained baroque style, and as with most stately homes it is now a museum. Maybe it is me but a lot of palace interiors leave me cold, as they are sparsely furnished, and you get no idea, what it would have been like to actually live there, in fact the only notable exception to this is Warwick castle, which thanks to its ownership by Madame Tussuad actually has a lived in feel, with ´real´ people in it´s rooms. Notwithstanding, La Granja is well worth touring. After the palace we went around the stunning grounds, designed in the French style, with fountains everywhere. The fountains are only activated on a few days each year (this was not one of them), but even the sculpture is worth seeing. The grounds cover a massive 1500 acres, so it would take all day to walk round them all, although most of it is woodland, with some very pretty and easy walks among the trees. The grounds use the natural slope of the mountains for both visual effect and to get the water to a height that the fountains can be powered purely by gravity, the fountains depict myths from ancient times and are made from lead, and painted to imitate bronze. For me the best part of the gardens are the formal rose gardens, and although they lack variety in their roses, the actual set up is really beautiful, with hidden corners and views at every turn
the next part of our trip was to the glass works, built to provide for the royal palace, although it now only produces fine glassware on quite a small scale, at one time it was quite an important site. The main buildings are now a glass museum, housing everything you ever needed to know about glass, including in the basement a really good exhibition of glass making through the ages. You can also watch artisan glass makers at work in the manufacturing part of the building.
The second royal palace locally is Riofrio. Built on the orders of Isabella Farnese the widow of Phillip V, the Italian-style building was constructed in 1752. After the death of Isabella it was never inhabited by any of the kings of Spain, remaining as a hunting lodge. The palace is set in woodland, and the road through it is a private Toll road, you are unable to stop except at authorised stopping places so as not to disturb the abundant wildlife, the woods are stocked with Fallow and Roe deer, which are seemingly oblivious to the passing traffic, and graze quite close to the road, so they are easily seen, although their red collars tend to detract from their ´wildness´, but it is a rare treat for me to see any kind of feral mammal in Spain. We were also able to see the resident red kite, and other smaller birds, that populate this pretty wooded area. Although the drive is quite short, we doubled back and did it twice, as we had no desire to walk around another stately home, although there is always next time.
Due to our early start we were able to finish our visit and be back in time for lunch in Segovia, this time a light affair, as we had plans for a celebration dinner that evening. Later on we took an open top excursion bus, which travels around the hills surrounding Segovia, and gives incredible views of the city as well as a recorded commentary, in various languages. The bus itself is too large to enter the old town, so that is best done on foot. By the way anyone with fear of heights should not attempt the stairways that go up to the city walls, there are easier ways into the old part, just a little way down from the Aqueduct. Meanwhile back to the bus, it is the best way to view the city, as if you attempt it by car, you have to concentrate hard on the roads and so you miss most of the views.
We had our celebration dinner outside a lovely restaurant, just next to the Aqueduct, Duck on a mousse of pears for me and for Maria, Rodaballo ( Turbot). A really excellent meal in a perfect setting and a fine end to our stay in Segovia, for tomorrow, we were off to the highest provincial capital in Spain, Avila, a short distance away from Segovia.
For anyone who is interested, we stayed at the hotel Regidor, although only 2 stars, it was clean comfortable and extremely well sited for enjoying everything Segovia has to offer, the staff are friendly and helpful, and it also boasts a restaurant and bar.