Travel blog series on Spain.

Spain blog travel series

Travel blog series on Spain.

In case this is your first visit to my blog… this is a list of over twenty cities in Spain to see and each name links to the blog post with travel tips, suggestions of where to eat, what to see and more.

The intention of the series on Spain is to provide insider travel tips and showcase main cities as well as locations that might not be on everyone’s “to see list” but that should be.

Enjoy! and please remember to visit The Monica Store for photo prints of Spain that are available as canvas prints and framed photos  for decorating your home or office!

Alcala de Henares

Aranjuez

Avila

Avila’s Medieval Festival

Barcelona – Part One –Park Guell, Cathedral…

Barcelona – Part Two – Casa Mila, Casta Batllo, Sagrada Familia

Cordoba

Cuenca

El Escorial

Extremadura Part One

Extremadura Part Two

Castle of Manzanares

Granada

La Granja

Madrid Part One

Madrid Part Two

Ronda

Salamanca

Santiago de Compostela

Segovia

Sevilla

Siguenza

Toledo

Travel Tips for Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

What to see and do in Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain another great day trip city and another UNESCO World Heritage Site! Spain is full of them!

Toledo is another city that can be seen in a day and is an easy day trip from Madrid. Before you had to take the bus from Madrid to Toledo but now there is a train that takes just 30 minutes!

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Toledo is known for its production of iron and swords so you could buy an exquisitely made sword, although how you would ever get it home through airport security and customs I have no idea. But there are signs assuring that you can.

If you are fan of marzipan, Toledo is the place for you as it is considered to have some of the finest marzipan. Personally I do not think, as a product, it is made for digestion, but I do enjoy seeing the marvelous creations that are made with marzipan and pastry shop windows in Toledo have entire cities, churches, and castles made in miniature with marzipan. You should see it during the holiday season!

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As for what to see in Toledo, Spain:

1 – Cross the Puente de Alcantara – You have to cross over the Tagus River and enter the city of Toledo through one of the old city gates – always fun to be able to do!

2 – The Museum of Santa Cruz – A pleasant museum with some beautiful artifacts and pottery and it also has a nice courtyard.

3 – Cathedral of Toledo – A Gothic cathedral of monumental proportions, the Cathedral of Toledo is stunning. There is a lot to see inside the Cathedral and I especially like the cloister built in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. It takes a while to absorb all of the artwork and details in the Cathedral so allow time to see everything.

4 – Iglesia y Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes – This is one of my favorite locations in Toledo because of the courtyard in the monastery which has interesting gargoyles. The Monastery and Church of San Juan de los Reyes is a 15th century structure.

5 – Museo de El Greco – El Greco lived and worked in Toledo until his death and the museum is a recreation of his house and a museum of some of his most important paintings.

6 – Santa Maria la Blanca – This is one of the oldest synagogues in Europe, built in 1180. Santa Maria la Blanca is really beautiful as the entire room has white columns and arches, tiled floors, and delicate detailed carving on the walls.

As always there is more to see but I think these are the main highlights of Toledo and at least the places I see on every visit. And as a side note, the winters are bitterly cold in Toledo so if you visit the city then be prepared for your hands and feet to be numb. Otherwise, enjoy Toledo and don’t forget to have café con churros.

** For photo prints of Toledo, Spain click here for The Monica Store.

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Helpful Info for traveling to Toledo, Spain:

1 – For train information visit Rail Europe for schedules and fares.

2 – For more information about the Cathedral of Toledo click here.

3 – For more information and history of Toledo, Spain click here.

Travel Tips for Segovia, Spain

Segovia, Spain - Alcazar

What to see and do in Segovia, Spain

If you want to see a fairytale castle and not travel to Disney World go to Segovia, Spain!

Segovia, Spain is another easy day trip city that you can get to from Madrid. I have always taken a bus but now you can take the train and be there in 30 minutes!

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There is a lot to see in Segovia and you start out right away by walking down a main street right towards the Roman Aqueduct, so you obviously will not miss this site. The aqueduct is an impressive site as it spans from one hill to the other.

Follow the pedestrian street along the aqueduct and up into the city where you will pass interesting buildings and churches including the 11th century church of San Martin – note the adorable details on the exterior column capitals.

The main road will lead you to the Plaza Mayor and the Cathedral. The Cathedral of Segovia was built between 1525 and 1577 in the late Gothic style so it is very dramatic and has an imposing and grand presence. The cloister is beautiful as well.

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The Castle in Segovia

Then there is the main attraction, the fairytale castle or the Alcazar of Segovia. This is truly a picturesque castle with towers, stone walls, and is built on top of a rocky hill. The Alcazar was originally built as an Arab fort, later used as a royal palace, military academy, and state prison (perhaps not the worst place to be incarcerated).

You can see most of the rooms in the castle, many of which are elaborately decorated. One room has elegant stained-glass windows that look out onto the valley below and it is quite a sight. There is also the Hall of the Kings with a frieze representing all the Spanish Kings and Queens! And don’t forget to climb the Tower of John II of Castile from which you get views of the whole city and the surrounding land.

To get a great view of the Alcazar (the one you see in most photographs of it), you have to walk down the hill to the green pasture right below the castle. There are various routes, none of which are clearly marked with any sort of sign saying “this way to the panoramic view of the Alcazar.” Each time I have done this I have walked down differently so really you just have to look for a path heading down (helpful I know). While down there – go to the grassy pasture, cross the river and get your photographs of the Alcazar while admiring its strategic location. (This is also where you can see that it is shaped like the bow of a ship).

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If you make the effort to find your way down to the bottom of the hill you must stop to see the Vera Cruz Church. It is not always open, and I have only actually been able to see in the inside once, but the Vera Cruz Church is a darling 11th century church that deserves a visit.

There are other interesting buildings to see in Segovia but these are the main sites. I have been to Segovia in all weather conditions but I can say it is quite chilly at any time of year.

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A note on food options… the delicacy of the area happens to be suckling pig which comes with no disguises, so be prepared for that!

Otherwise enjoy your trip to Segovia and see below for some helpful links!

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Helpful Info for traveling to Segovia, Spain:

1 – For train information visit Rail Europe for schedules and fares.

2 – For the official tourism site for Segovia, Spain click here.

3 – For more information on the Alcazar of Segovia click here.

Travel Tips for Salamanca, Spain

Salamanca, SpainTravel to The Golden City of Salamanca, Spain.

Salamanca is my favorite city in Spain! I have been there so many times and in all weather conditions and it is still top on my list.

Salamanca is said to have the most beautiful plaza is Spain, or even Europe – and I do believe it is one of the most beautiful. Most of the buildings in the city are made with sandstone that comes from the village of Villamayor. These stones have given Salamanca the nickname “The Golden City” or “La Ciudad Dorada.”

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As with most of the other cities I have covered in Spain, I got there by train from Madrid. Salamanca is a three hour train ride from Madrid and I have often done Salamanca in a day – so early train there and late train back to Madrid. So if you are short on time, it can be seen in a day.

Before I list what to see… why do I like Salamanca so much? Well it is a wonderful city in any weather which says a lot since weather can really affect you impression of a place. It does rain a lot in Salamanca but rain there still makes the city look amazing, perhaps it is the Villamayor stones. But aside from the beauty of the city there are the churches and the university which are interesting in a never ending sort of way.

Each time I go I visit the same sights and never tire of them. Plus there are gargoyles all over the place which are always intriguing. And one of the best features is that you can walk on the Cathedral roof! (You can also do this in Milan, Italy and I am sure in other places…. But this is about Spain so…). And how often do you get to walk on a roof, let alone a cathedral roof? And the old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightly so!

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So… What to see in Salamanca, Spain:

1 – Plaza Mayor – As already stated this is one of the most beautiful in Europe. The Plaza was originally used for bull fights but now you can have a cup of coffee or dinner on the plaza and in the summer you can attend a concert here!

2 – Casa de las Conchas – This building was 15th century and was originally a palace but now it is a public library. There are over 300 shells on the facade, sea shells that are the symbol of the Order of Santiago. (There are often art exhibitions in the courtyard. And make sure to note the gargoyles!)

3 – The University of Salamanca is the oldest University in Spain, it was founded in 1218.  You can tour parts of the university and this is a must!

4 – Catedral Nueva – This is the Cathedral with the roof you can walk on. The Cathedral was built in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is a marvel inside as well as outside. The views from the roof of the old city are stupendous! Oh! And you will see many storks up close from the roof as well.

5 – Convento e Iglesia de San Esteban – One of my favorite locations because of the convent and courtyard with all of the gargoyles and creatures carved into the columns. (See a photograph of one of the column capitals by clicking here). The whole complex was built in the 16th and 17th century.

6 – Convento de las Duenas – Another magnificent building with a courtyard lined with incredible gargoyles (these gargoyles are much different then the ones in the San Esteban convent as they have a more dramatic and eerie feel to them – click here to see a photo).

7 – Colegio del Arzobispo Fonseca – This is another attractive building with another splendid courtyard. The college was founded by the archbishop of Toledo, Alonso de Fonseca, and the building was constructed in the early 16th century.

These are the main highlights and the sites I see on every trip I take to Salamanca. I did stay two nights in the city once, instead of my usual one day trip and it is more leisurely, plus you get to see the city at sunset (for a photo of Salamanca at sunset click here).

So hopefully you find time to see Salamanca as it truly is one of the most beautiful cities to see!

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Helpful Info for traveling to Ronda, Spain:

1 – For train information visit Rail Europe for schedules and fares.

2 – For the Official Tourism Site for Salamanca click here.

Travel tips for Ronda, Spain

On to South of Spain to the city of Ronda!

Ronda is a great city to visit and as always there is a lot to see. I took the train from Madrid to Ronda, which took almost four hours but the train is worth it because you see the countryside change as you go south.

From the train station in Ronda I took a cab to my hotel. The cab driver asked if I had ever been to Ronda and when I said no he proudly acted as a tour guide and pointed out important buildings, historical cites, and gave little historical fact as we drove through the city. Local charm and city pride is strong and it was refreshing!

Below I will highlight the sights to see in Ronda but first just a little overview…the city of Ronda sits on a canyon and a deep gorge divides the city, the El Tajo canyon. There are three bridges; Puente Nuevo is the tallest of three bridges in Ronda, towering 120 metres (390 ft) above the canyon floor and the bridge from which you get the most spectacular views.

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What to see in Ronda, Spain:

1 – Puente Nuevo – the tallest bridge.

2 – Plaza de Toros which is the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain, built in 1784. You pay a small fee and you get to see the entire ring, the bull pens, and a small but interesting museum about the history of bullfighting in the area.

3 – The Arab Baths or the Banos arabes – these baths were built in the 13th and 14th centuries. You can visit the baths which are located below the city (a bit hard to find but it is noted on the tourist map so not impossible). And I highly recommend watching the video about the history of the baths –most interesting is how they got water into the baths to create steam which involved a large wheel pulled by a donkey!

4 – The Palace of the Arabian King or Casa del Rey Moro – While you cannot see the house you can visit the gardens which are lovely and provide great views of the city and the canyon.

5 – Palace of Mondragon or the Museo Municipal – This house has a small museum and again, wonderful gardens and patios!

6 – Arch of Philip V or Puerta de Felipe V – A gate built in 1742 that serves as one of the three entrances to the city. Make sure to walk all the way down to the gate to get the entire view of it.

These are the main sights but I would also suggest walking through the old town which has wide cobbled streets and charming buildings. Also do not miss seeing the sunset which tends to be quite spectacular here!

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And a few other tidbits about Ronda:

When to go to Ronda: well all I can advise is that if you go in the summer it is very hot and that the Spanish siesta is a must in order to survive the midday heat.

What to eat in Ronda…all Spanish food is very good but if you happen to be a vegetarian it can be a bit trying since Spaniards do love their meat dishes. Luckily I like tomatoes because this is what I ate for three days while in Ronda. In the summer in Spain you can get tomato salads and gazpacho which is nutritious and filling. Although I do think if I had gone another three days on that diet I would have turned the color red.

Try eating at one of the restaurants with balconies that hang right over the canyon, unless of course you are afraid of heights in which case you would probably loose your appetite and therefore ruin the whole concept of rooftop dining.

Overall Ronda is another interesting city to visit in Spain!

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Helpful Info for traveling to Ronda, Spain:

1 – For train information visit Rail Europe for schedules and fares.

2 – For more information about what to see in Ronda click here for the Ronda information and tourism site.

What to See in La Granja, Spain

La Granja, Spain The series on Spain continues with La Granja, another easy day trip from Madrid!

I have been to La Granja many times; it is one of my favorite places to see.

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What is there to see in La Granja, Spain?

The Royal Palace and Gardens. You can tour the inside of the Palace and I do recommend doing that, but I have only seen the inside on my first visit and subsequent visits were just to the gardens and the small town.

I have visited La Granja in the winter, spring, and summer. I highly recommend going in the spring when the gardens are even more spectacular! The winter is very cold, and actually La Granja can be rather chilly in the summer as well. I went one summer and ended up having to buy a wool sweater once I got there! So be prepared for a mountain chill.

The Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso was originally used as a hunting lodge in the 18th century; it was also used for the monks of Segovia. The Royal Palace became an important meeting place for court, meetings, weddings, and burials under Philip V. As a result the town was built up for workers and a crystal factory was built to provide for the palace.

The gardens are rather extensive, with long pathways lined with statues, mazes, and elaborate fountains with classical mythology themes.

The town itself is quaint but nice to see and walk around. You can have a nice lunch in town as well.

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I also recommend seeing the glass factory as well which includes a museum. The factory was originally a royal glass factory built in the 18th century. It is a fascinating factory and museum with both historical and modern pieces. You will find the factory at the end of the town – if your back is to palace, turn right into the town and then left to the outskirts of the town and you will find the factory there.

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La Granja is a great day trip and it is actually not far from Segovia. It is possible to see both locations in one day; see below for travel info on getting there. All in all I highly recommend a visit to La Granja!

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Getting to La Granja:
– You can take a bus directly from Madrid to La Granja but if you are prone to motion-sickness I do not recommend doing this. The bus from Madrid to La Granja goes through the mountains and it becomes a very long and windy trip, both ways!

– You can take a bus from Segovia which is what I would suggest, unless you rent a car. Take the train from Madrid to Segovia and then take a bus from Segovia to La Granja which is about a 15-20 minute ride and it is much flatter and not on a windy road!

Helpful Links:

1 – For hours and admission prices for the Royal Palace and gardens click here.

2 – For information and admission prices for the glass factory click here.

Granada, Spain – travel tips and more!

Alhambra in Granada, SpainTwo months of Spain, with stories, travel tips, historical tidbits and more continues with Granada!

Granada is a must see! I went to Granada one summer for three days. You can take the train but I took a flight from Madrid to Granada, a little over an hour flight time. My advice is to stay within the old city since there is a lot to see and everything can then be reached by walking.

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Of course the main site to see is The Alhambra. You need a full day to see the entire complex of the Alhambra. I bought tickets on-line before my trip so I was able to by pass long lines and enter right away, see travel tips below for more info on how to do this.

I am an avid walker so the steep climb up to The Alhambra did not faze me, but there is a bus that takes visitors up the hill as well. The walk up to the Alhambra does allow you to see the lay of the land, appreciate the location, and to see a few details like fountains and old gate entrances to the Alhambra along the way. It is also the way the palace was approached before modern conveniences so you really get the full impact of what it was like to slowly reach the palace.

The Alhambra was built in the 14th century for the Muslim Emirs and the court of the Nasrid dynasty. After 1492 portions of the buildings were used by Christian rulers and in 1572, Charles V built the Palace of Charles V. The combination of the Islamic and 16th century architecture as well as the gardens and fountains makes this a unique location and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Palace of Charles V is the section I came upon first. The building façade has an Italian feel. The most interesting feature of the Palace is a circular patio in the center of the building.

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From the Palace I explored portions of the gardens which then lead to Nazrid Palaces. The rooms in this section are probably the most recognized of the Alhambra. Each room is stunning and contains so many details, carvings, tiles, and intricate patterns. The Court of the Myrtles has a large reflecting pool, the source of many photographs, but don’t forget to notice the architectural details as well. (As a side note, if you are a cat lover you will notice cats all over the city of Granada and in the Alhambra. While in the Court of the Myrtles I saw a tabby kitten getting attention from another cat-lover-tourist who slid a set of keys along the stone floor and which the kitten chased).

There is also the Court of the Lions which is an impressive space with more intricate details and the Fountain of the Lions in the center of the courtyard. There are numerous theories as to the symbolism, means, and importance of the fountain. As an aside: while originally planned as a complex of six palaces, the Alhambra did become a palatine city with an irrigation system that is still functioning!

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From this area I followed hallways into other room and courtyards. Eventually I made my way back into the gardens where there is a large pool and a portico. If you go to the garden’s edge you will find the path that leads to the Palacio de Generalife.

The Palacio de Generalife, or the Generalife, was a summer palace for the Nasrid Emirs Kings built in the 14th century. The palace is rather large with gardens, patios, and fountains. The Court of the Water Channel is so picturesque and you get great view of the Alhambra and the city from this point as well. The Generalife is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.

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Aside from the Alhambra there is also the old town of Granada. The old section of Granada is rather large and there are many streets and plazas to see. The Granada Cathedral is interesting because the interior is completely white and very cavernous. The Cathedral took over 180 years to build! The Royal Chapel of Granada is a mausoleum that houses Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II and other Catholic Monarchs. And there are many smaller churches to see as well.

I suggest visiting the Archaeological Museum of Granada which is housed in a 16th century palace. The admission fee is less then two Euros and worth a visit!

Also if you venture up the hills across from the Alhambra you will find more churches and monasteries with charming courtyards. You will also see remains of the old city wall and walk through a maze of cobble stoned stairs and streets lined with white houses. I recommend finding a spot in this area at sunset to get a panoramic view of the Alhambra.

And lastly you can venture over to Sacromonte, a neighborhood further up in the hills with houses built into the hillside. The area is known for being a center of flamenco dancing and songs. There is little museum with cave-like houses you can enter.

So overall there is a lot to see in Granada! Hopefully this blog gave you some helpful information and pointers on what to see!

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Travel Tips:
1 – Get to Granada with EasyJet! Fast, cheap, and easy flights!

2 – Buy tickets on-line for the Alhambra before you get there, that way you avoid the long lines and you are guaranteed entry since they can sell out! Click here for the link to the official Alhambra on-line ticket website.

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For more information and helpful website about Granada:

1 – About Granada click here for a useful tourism site.

2 – For more about the Alhambra click here.

3 – For a useful map of the Alhambra that will help you get your bearings and see how large a complex it is, click here.

4 – To read more about the Court of the Lions click here.