I’m about to let you in on a secret.
Seven secrets, in fact. And I don’t want you to keep these secrets. I want you to tell everybody. Because everyone should know.
Are you ready?
If you want to get away from all the tourists and hustle and bustle in Madrid, and get some fresh air, check out these seven amazing villages you can visit for the day.
They’ve got castles. They’ve got palaces. They’ve got snow, if you go in winter. One of them has Cervantes’s home.
Their roads are covered in cobblestones, and their well-preserved buildings take you back hundreds of years in time. For a moment, you can be a villager, a member of royalty, or Cervantes himself.
And – these villages are unknown to most tourists. And some locals.
Well, until this blog post, that is.
It’s a literal hike to get to this town. But after quarantine, I’m sure we could all use the physical activity. And it’s not like these views are painful to look at on the way up.
Once you get there, you can walk on the wobbly streets among the black stone houses, some of which are drenched in vines and flowers.
You can walk past the old church, drink coffee with a view, check out the laundromat where the women would meet to gossip before TV and social media were invented, stroll near the creek and nearby mountains, and tiptoe in the ruins of shepherd’s homes (and say hi to a few ghosts while you’re there).
If you could only visit one village on this list, visit this one. There’s a reason why it’s known as one of the most beautiful villages in Spain.
Manzanares El Real has the best preserved castle in the Community of Madrid. It’s not one of the biggest castles in Madrid, but it’s gorgeous, and was even used in the El Cid movie that was filmed in the 1960s.
The town itself is decorated in wooden balconies, which, given the snowy mountains that surrounded it during my visit in December, made it feel super cozy.
I visited this town days before snowstorm Filomena hit Madrid. With the fluffy snowflakes starting to fall, and the show coating the mountains, I should have known.
This little town just oozes royalty and beauty. Look at it!
Look at it and tell me you don’t want to walk out in your best ballgown and stroll through the manicured gardens, or twirl inside what I assume to be a gorgeously adorned ballroom.
No? No one? Just me? Okay then.
Unfortunately, most palaces and castles are closed on Mondays, which I learned once I arrived. But I was still able to get some nice shots of the outside, and walk around the town.
There is also a large park you can walk through in the town.
Finding the door was an adventure on its town (some entrances were closed when I arrived), but once I got in, I spent an hour walking among the trees and flowers, and statues and fountains. That day, despite my circumstances, I was feeling like a princess during Christmas.
4. Torrejón de Ardoz
When I told my business English students I was visiting this town, they laughed at me.
But I don’t know why they laughed at me going here during the holidays. When my roommates and I went in December 2019, the town center was adorned in Christmas decorations. It’s worth the train ride out for a nice afternoon or evening under the stars and twinkle lights.
While my trip here was short, it’s worth the trip out here. Check out this castle:
And look at these views from the cathedral of the city:
I didn’t get to check out the castle as my bus was leaving, and it was literally freezing outside (I visited days before the snowstorm). But it was a cute town to spend the morning. This is a great place to go if you want some peace and quiet from the city. And, I’ve been told there are some places to hiking around as well.
6. Alcalá de Heneres
Do you ever have one of those “WOW” moments when traveling?
One of those moments where you’re walking around a new city, wondering what all the hype was about . . . and then you see something amazing, like this?
That’s what Alcalá de Heneres was for me.
This is the hometown of Cervantes, and you can even stop by his house (except on Mondays, when all museums and castles are closed, apparently).
7. San Lorenzo de El Escorial
And last but not least, the place where I spent Christmas Eve.
Spain is a city that feels very awake and full of life, but the times it turns into a ghost town would be on Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year’s Eve and Day. I went to this gorgeous town with a monastery I’d been longing to visit, and what do you know? It’s closed.
I would have loved to go back, but my neighorhood got put on lockdown. Someday! When I go back to visit Madrid, someday.
There is more to Madrid than just Madrid
Even though I would have loved to travel more throughout Spain, I’m happy I got to see another side of Madrid that most tourists don’t get to see.
When we live abroad, or travel abroad, we’re there to see the main attractions that we’ve dreamed about. Sometimes, they’re as beautiful as we dreamed about. Other times, we find them overrated.
But when we search beyond what’s popular, and find the hidden gems, I think we can learn a lot more about the history and lifestyle of a place. And get a different perspective than most people may have.
Visiting these villages of Madrid taught me that there’s more to Madrid than Sol, Retiro Park, and all the other places my friends and I would frequent. They showed me castles and palaces and mountains and a slower version of Madrid.
And I don’t think I would have these new eyes for Madrid if I didn’t open my eyes and see what was surrounding me all this time.