Living in a country as interesting and varied as Spain, it would be a shame to stay in one city and never leave to explore. Even if you’re just visiting Madrid, it’s worth a try to make a day trip or two to a nearby town. Just look up towns near Madrid to visit and you’ll get lists with a bunch of places to consider. In the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two towns–Chinchón and Segovia. Both are about a one hour car ride from the center of Madrid.
Chinchón is a small yet charming town with beautiful views (especially from the castle, although we missed that because of clouds) a classic church, and an old-style plaza mayor. In the center of the plaza is a circular, sand-filled ground. It’s surrounded by small holes in the ground which are used to place a fence when they hold bulls there.
The restaurants and bars surrounding the plaza all had matching green balconies, where you can eat with a view. We decided to try a couple of different bars–I find this more fun and authentic than sitting down at one place. We had some delicious croquetas, morcilla, salmon, mussels, and fried cheese. There’s something great about watching the rain outside while you’re inside with a beer and some good food. Try to gravitate towards places where the locals hang out.
Chinchón has a small museum right off the plaza mayor which unfortunately we didn’t get to visit, but it looks very interesting and only costs 4 euros. They have relics and history from the town. There is also a small monastery and plenty of local shops to check out. I especially enjoy getting lost down the small side streets. Chinchón is a nice break from the rush of city life.
Segovia is a larger city that boasts a beautiful cathedral (which is amazing enough just on the outside), a castle that inspired those in Disney princess movies (and has an interesting history), and an ancient aqueduct that runs through the center of the city.
We had passed through the city quickly last year in December, but it was dark out and we only saw the aqueduct and some pretty Christmas lights. This time I insisted on seeing the castle (or as they call, the alcázar). It did not disappoint!
You do have to pay to enter, but it’s worth it. You don’t get access to the entire castle, but some very interesting and beautiful rooms are open to the public. What I found especially intriguing were the treasure chests that require every key owner to be present to open it, and the back terrace with beautiful views of the towers and garden.
As with any city, I recommend going to hole in the wall places to eat and drink. For example, we went to a place called “El Sitio,” recommended to us by a friend who is from Segovia. We enjoyed some great tapas. The second place we tried (just based on looks) had a fancy atmosphere but was disappointing. We also went to a bar to eat some torrija, which I was told was like french toast. It’s very similar, but richer, with a higher milk to bread ratio, with sugar on top. It was delicious. I wanted more but refrained in fear of a stomach ache.
Madrid has a lot to see, but the small towns surrounding it are so different that it’s worth your time to see at least one. They show a much more antiquated Spain that lives up to the country’s historical stereotypes. And if you’re living in Madrid, these places are a refreshing break from the craziness of the city.