This van trip was one of necessity, to do a bit of business outside of Madrid, but of course we decided to make it one of leisure too! We had a couple of free days to get to where we had to be in Madrid, so we decided to visit a couple of places we’d not got to on our last trip to Segovia province – the city itself and San Ildefonso.
We set off rather calmly after lunch, and headed south down the motorway. We stopped off on the way at Fromista to change waters, knowing that the AC area there was right next to the motorway. It doesn’t look like the most pleasant AC area to sleep at, although probably reasonably quiet, but it’s excellently located for the A67 and its services are ok – only 1 tap working though, and the black water is NOT under the taps but in the floor marked WC. (Fromista also has lots of interesting things to see, several churches – it’s on the Camino de Santiago, and the run of 16 locks on the Canal de Castilla)
We then continued on, crossing our fingers there’d be space at the AC area in Segovia. We needn’t have worried, the area is right next to the bull ring, and has plenty of spaces, as well as good services (although the grey water drain was blocked), and all free. And if it’s full there’s plenty more spacious parking around the area too – although more sloped.
We parked up, by this time about 7pm, and decided to walk into the old town to get some dinner. We knew perfectly well where we were going to eat…more about that later! The walk into town was a very pleasant and easy one – about 20 minutes, but interesting, as it’s a case of walking the full length Segovia’s famous Roman aqueduct – not something most people do, as the start is out here in the sticks.
We got to the main square below the aqueduct, and walked up the stairs for a great view over it and up to the old town.
Even though it was pretty late in the day by this point, the cathedral was open until 2130, so we had plenty of time for a visit (3€ adult). It’s big inside, with 21 chapels, cloister and tapestries. Our favourite cathedral bits are the stained glass windows though, where we felt it fell short a bit, as with the facade, which is pretty plain. The best view is from the plaza outside of all its spires. So a little underwhelmed, but for 3€ still worth the visit.
We then wandered down towards the Alcazar, which was of course shut by this time, but we got a lovely sunset over the countryside, and the great view back to the cathedral and old town from the walls.
Then we walked back through the old town, where the main square was buzzing!
We walked back down to the aqueduct square to our dinner location, the Mesón de Cándido. This restaurant is famous in Segovia partly for being family run, they’re now on the third generation of Cándidos, and also for their unique way of serving cochinillo, the local speciality of slow roasted suckling pig – cutting it with a plate and then smashing the plate on the floor. Of course, it’s location just below the aqueduct also helps! More can be read about its history here. On our way past the restaurant previously, we’d reserved a table, and had a great table right below the aqueduct. And yes, of course we had cochinillo! Not cheap here, but worth it for the quality and the atmosphere – the present Mr Cándido came out half way through and cut a piglet in front of us all, plate smashing and all, much to the utter delight of the table of Americans next to us, who were literally in tears when he then came up and gave them signatures and photos! It was all a good bit of fun and a very memorable meal!
We then walked back to the AC area – no issues in the dark, all well lit, and plenty of people around.
We had a reasonable night’s sleep – it’s not the quietest place we’ve slept, cars passing and the odd engine revving, but it was ok. We lazily got up and spent most of the morning working from the van, before heading off for lunch.
Our lunch spot and afternoon visit was just 10 minutes further south of the city – to San Ildefonso. This town is of course famous for being the site of one of Spain’s royal palaces – the Palacio Real de La Granja de San Ildefonso. We had seen a Park4Night spot in the town we were heading for…but to be honest we’ve never seen a town where parking seems so UNregulated!! There were cars parked EVERYWHERE! So we weren’t particularly worried about parking in the wrong place. Shade was hard to find though, and it was hot! We ended up parking near the Real Fabrica de Cristales de La Granja, and no, we didn’t get in the shade.
It was still a little early for lunch, so we walked into the town, which is pretty, and up to the palace to see what the deal was with tickets. It turned out entry was free from 5-7pm, but the helpful lady at the desk recommended we paid and came before that as the queue for this was at least an hour. It was also one of the days that some of the fountains work (they are usually off), from 1730. There’s clear information about their rather complex functioning here. So, we bought our tickets for later on, not timed, and walked back to the van for lunch.
We had a nice picnic in the shady park opposite where we were parked, and spotted a more substantial place to park (we think this was the actual Park4Night spot) for future reference.
Then we headed back to the palace for our visit. We always umm and arr about audioguides, these were 3€ each and a mini tablet, and actually were useful as there is not much information around the palace. The tour takes you round some of the main rooms, beautifully decorated of course, and with the most fabulous chandeliers.
The audio guide also took in the gardens, so after we’d finished our palace tour, we headed outside, sat on a shady bench and listened to the whole lot before taking our guides back to the entrance.
The big show of the huge gardens are their fountains, but as they are usually off you have to rather use your imagination. There are parts of the garden which are well kept and impressive…others less so with some rather overgrown topiary in places. They’re so extensive it’s difficult to cover it all – but they are free to visit, so it’s possible to come back. There were parts we missed, namely the labyrinth and the Mar de la Granja boating lake at the top, which apparently has great views back over the whole area, but it was so hot we couldn’t bring ourselves to hike up there. And also, we wouldn’t have had time to do that and the fountains.
So, there are certain days of the week and year when some (and 3 days a year, all) of the fountains are turned on. This is done in sequence, with a guy with a huge Spanish flag taking you between the fountains. When I say “you”, I mean over 1,000 visitors!!! It’s a good job the areas around these fountains is big, and the paths connecting them are lovely wide avenues. We got to see 4 fountains in their full glory, the first two of which are exaggerated…in order to soak the audience! You are warned, but as people don’t listen…there was some serious soaking going on! Beware! The kids loved it of course – some people’s iphones less so I suspect!
This all took about an hour and a half, by which point we were definitely ready to leave the gardens and head off. But we did pop quickly into the church (with our palace entry tickets) on the way out.
Back at a very hot Berta, we put on the a/c and headed off, continuing south past a couple of very inviting looking picnic areas (with river swimming possibly?) and up up up towards the Navacerrada pass. Interestingly, the altitude is marked every 100m you climb on the way up to the top, at 1,880m. There’s a HUGE parking area up here, no signs to suggest you can’t overnight, it would be a great spot. We stopped for a look at the view (and to let everyone overtake us!) and then headed on down the other side.
The other side takes you down into the province of Madrid. We were heading for a relatively new AC area we’d heard about in the town of El Boalo, in the mountains surrounding Madrid.
The area is just outside the town, next to a large park. It’s very very well set up, with great water facilities, plenty of spaces, and free electricity. There’s the park behind with picnic tables and exercise equipment, and lower down, information boards on 3 walks from the town (fairly graffitied).
We parked up and had our dinner, and went to bed…but not to sleep, as we were entertained until 1am by youngsters gathered and talking very loudly in the park just behind us. We are discovering this is a downside of having picnic benches near an urban AC area!
The next morning we were rather rudely awakened at 7am by the grass being cut around the area. At 7am! Before the heat of the day we imagined, but maybe they could have started somewhere else?! Anyway, we had to be at our meeting at 9am, so we were up early anyway. I’m not sure whether we’d stay at El Boalo again, too noisy for us, right on the main road, but the services and set up are excellent.
After our business meeting that morning, we headed off towards home, and had to find somewhere for lunch. After a bit of a toll motorway on the AP6, we came off and headed towards Olmeda. We intended to make a stop before the town, at the Museo de las Villas Romanas – the Roman villa museum – which also has in situ mosaics. Unfortunately, it had just closed as we got there, but it has a great, flat parking area, so we parked up and had lunch at least. It didn’t open again until 4.30pm, and it was so hot and no shade, we decided in the end we would leave the museum to another day (I’ve already planned this trip! Cuellar and Coca castles, the MVR and Urueña – watch this space!).
We made a quick stop in Olmeda itself to change waters in its AC area – rather overgrown and in need of some maintenance, and quite difficult to position yourself for the grey water dump, but it had water (couldn’t see the black water dump though).
And then we headed off home, back to rainy Cantabria – 44º it was in Olmeda…14º back at home!!