05 Jul Day Trips You Don’t Find in Travel Books Pt. 2
What to do on the weekend?
Affordable, accessible, and beautiful day trips less than 2 hours from Madrid (Part 2)
Contributed By: Alissa Gamberg
San Martín de Valdeiglesias is a must, must-see in summer because of the magical, beautiful botanical garden park called El Bosque Encantado (http://bosqueencantado.net/). The town itself is cute, of course, but definitely go to this park on the same trip. You can find it by walking from the bus stop at San Martín, or the park will even send its own van to pick you up for just 1€! El Bosque Encantado is not your typical botanical garden. It is a topiary fairyland consisting of different themes like sea creatures, Disney characters, dinosaurs, trains and automotives, and more. There is even a maze that looks like it’s just for kids, but, um, some adults may have been known to get lost in there as well…
Back in the town you’ll find the lovely Castillo de la Coracera, which offers stunning views from its towers and lookout spots (i.e. great photo ops!). Also check out the various Roman ermitas and iglesias. For more info: http://amm.es/valdeiglesias/index.php.
Getting there from Madrid: Bus 551 from Príncipe Pío (metro lines 6 or 10, gray or dark blue).
Campillo de Ranas is a lovely trekking/hiking route that takes you through the Pueblos Negros (“black villages”) of Guadalajara, Castilla la Mancha: Campillejo, El Espinar, Roblelacasa, Robleluengo, Matallana, El Vado, and La Vereda. The “Black Architecture” that characterizes this area refers to the black slate and stone used to construct the homes and other buildings. The Sierra Negra, therefore, has become a popular site for tourists.
Things to see and do: BULLS! Seriously. You can’t come to Spain and not see the Spanish bulls. But instead of going to a bullfight or participating in the Running of the Bulls, why not choose a much healthier and humane option? When you’re walking right next to a group of bulls lounging in the wide open fields, surrounded by mountains and fresh country air, it becomes clear that these beautiful animals aren’t beasts meant to be provoked, but rather majestic creatures that are actually quite calm and gentle when left alone. It’s an experience worth giving yourself.
As small as the Black Villages are, they do still have some restaurants and bars worth checking out. La Fragua, for example, is an award-winning 18th Century locale on the corner of Calles Rincón and Escuelas. No joke, this place is actually recommended by The New York Times! Go figure (and go there!).
Getting there from Madrid: The best way is by car. You can rent one or try www.blablacar.com to carpool with someone headed that way. Alternatively (but more costly and time-consuming), you could take ALSA bus 191 from Madrid to Buitrago de Lozoya, and from there take a taxi to Campillo de Ranas. If you go with a group of friends, you can split the taxi fare.
Cuenca is famous for its casas colgantes or “hanging houses”, literally on a cliff. (They are both impressive and creepy!) Easily accessible by bus, this city has both a contemporary part and a charming medieval section. There are also hiking trails nearby. Be prepared for a lot of uphill walking, even on the streets. Follow the signs for “Oficina de Turismo” and you’ll come to a building with information on local tours and activities. The office is right next to a large bridge that crosses a river. If you’re afraid of heights, like I am, it is daunting, but also a gorgeous photo op because on the left is a mountain, while directly ahead you have a distant view of the contemporary city, and to your right are the hanging houses in plain sight.
Cross the bridge and you’ll find your way to the medieval city. The Plaza Mayor is not so mayor but it’s worth visiting the cathedral. Although Spain has many old cathedrals and you have probably seen some already, don’t let the “seen one, seen them all” attitude take over! Treat each as its own unique experience to appreciate, because it’s not every day in the USA that you get to walk into a 12th Century edifice.
Getting there from Madrid: You can buy a bus ticket online or in person from the company Avanzabus. The ticket booth is located at Estación Sur de Autobuses right on the gray line (circular) of the metro, line 6.