My wife and I have many friends who live in Madrid. When we were in Madrid recently during December, a couple invited us for a day trip to see the Royal Palace of La Granja of San Ildefonso and also Pedraza. They had a car and picked us up at our hotel (we always stay at the Melia Galgos) at 9:30 am. It was a very cold day, so we used very warm coats and had gloves.
La Granja is about 96 km away from Madrid and it took us an hour and ten minutes to get there. The area around the Royal Palace was quite misty and very cold. We bought our tickets and also took the audio guides. The people working in the palace had their overcoats on and told us that the palace was very cold.
The palace was built by Felipe V, the first Bourbon king in Spain who came from France. Felipe V fell in love with the area and ordered the palace to be built as his retirement home. The palace was started in 1720 and finished in 1723. French architects who worked on the palace and gardens of Versailles were used and the style is late baroque. This palace has been used as the summer palace by all the kings down to Alfonso XIII.
On the second floor, the first thing to see is the tapestry room. There are many beautiful tapestries here, some of the best conserved in Spain. The audio guide described the tapestries in detail. After that we saw the rooms of the king and those of the queen. All of them have beautiful crystal chandeliers, and atop the chandeliers are modern spot lights that focus on the beautiful frescoes of the ceilings. There is a lot of light in every single room, so one can appreciate the beautiful floors, the furniture, and the art work. Features of interest include the ceiling frescoes, the paintings, and fine furniture dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. What was quite impressive was the quality of the very large porcelain vases from China and Japan.
Downstairs are the sculpture galleries, that run the length of the building. When Queen Cristina of Sweden (there was a movie of her made by Greta Garbo) passed away in Rome, her heir did not want to keep the sculpture collection that she amassed, so the representative of Felipe V bought the whole collection at a very good price. The sculpture was brought to La Granja, but in the past the original pieces were brought to the Prado in Madrid, and they made plaster copies of the statues for La Granja. The sculptures are impressive and very beautiful.
What makes La Granja impressive are the gardens, probably the most extensive of the royal palaces in Spain. They are the best example of 18th century design. They were designed by the French architect Rene Carlier. The main garden comes down a small hill towards the palace, and it is full of fountains that have a lot of water that flow towards the palace by gravity. The palace overlooks the gardens and from inside the palace one has a good view of the gardens. There are many different gardens and beautiful paths to explore. The parterres and avenues of the Garden are decorated with white marble statues and 18th-century urns, but the spectacular sculpted fountains are its most celebrated feature; the allegorical figures are made of lead painted to resemble bronze. The fountains are turned on once a week, but when we were there none of the fountains were turned on.
We then drove to Pedraza, which was 40 km away and took less than an hour. This is a unique medieval town, one of the best preserved in Spain. The town has a population of only 500. It is a walled town and it has one of the most beautiful squares in Castille-Leon. The town was declared a National Historic-Artistic Site in 1951. The area was lived in starting in 400 B.C. However it was only in the 14th century when the Christians reconquered the town from the Moors that people started living in it. The nobility built their homes here and the town is full of large houses. The houses were run down until about 25 years ago when people started renovating them. The town has cobbled streets and arcaded houses. It has received the Europa Nostra Prize for the respectful way its buildings have been rehabilitated. It has very good restaurants and is a popular visit by Madrileños on weekends. There is good shopping in the town with things made by artisans and furniture. There is no modern building in the town which breaks the architectural heritage of the town. We followed the signs to the large parking lot, which is free.
The Plaza Mayor is one of the most beautiful squares in Spain. It is in the Castilian model, with many arcaded buildings. There are two arcaded houses in front of the church from the 16th century. The square is irregular and was formed little by little over the years.
It was not designed by anyone, yet it is a beautiful medieval square.
The Church of San Juan Bautista is located on the south side of the Plaza Mayor. It was a Romanesque church built in the 12th century. Most of the building was constructed in the 16th century. There were renovations in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Of interest in the church is a Romanesque baptismal font from the 13th century. The base of the tower has the Green Balcony, constructed by Juan Perez de la Torre to see the bullfights that took place in the plaza. Its tower can be seen from any place in the town. The church has some sculptures from the 17th century. The interior of the church is very Baroque due to the renovations.
We had lunch at Restaurante El Soportal, located at the Plaza Mayor (Tel: 921-509-826). It was a Saturday and luckily we had reservations, because otherwise we would not have been able to eat there, since it was very crowded. Restaurante El Soportal has a special menu that costs 28 euros per person and is a very good deal. This includes the main dish of roasted lamb and also four appetizers of local food. The appetizers included picadillo de matanza, queso manchego, croquetas caseras, and judiones de La Granja (large white beans that La Granja is famous for). A salad, dessert and wine were included in the price. The food was so very good and filling! The roasted lamb was very juicy and wonderfully prepared. The service at this restaurant was very good and they were very friendly. You can eat well anywhere in the Province of Segovia because it is the culinary capital of Castile-Leon. Many of the famous cooks in Spain come from this region.
After that we walked to the Pedraza castle, which contains the Ignacio Zuloaga Museum. The visits are guided and there is one at every hour after 4 pm. This is open from Wednesday to Sunday.
Summer opening hours: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Winter opening hours: afternoons, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Ignacio Zuloaga lived between 1870 and 1945. He was born in Eibar (Guipuzcoa), near the monastery of Loyola. He lived in Paris for a time and became one of Spain’s best known painters, painting in the realist style. He enjoyed living in Segovia. In 1925 he decided to paint in the Castle of Pedraza and bought the castle. He found peace in this place. His granddaughter, Maria Rosa Suarez Zuloaga, has placed many of his paintings in the museum, as well as other art objects that he collected over the years. There is a Christ created by the school of El Greco, a painting of the Condesa de Baena by Goya, and a bodegon from the 17th century.
The castle was constructed in the 13th century and reconstructed in the 15th century by the Dukes of Frias. In the Battle of Pavia in 1525, the troops of Emperor Charles I took as prisoner Francis I of France. He was freed when he signed the Treaty of Madrid. To ensure that he would abide by the treaty, he had to send his two sons as hostages and they were jailed in the castle of Pedraza. The sons were really guests and brought all their servants. The castle was in ruins when Zuloaga bought it. He restored one tower where he put his studio. The heirs of Zuloaga rehabilitated the other tower for the museum. The castle was very big and very well preserved. The main door had many spikes covering its surface.
After seeing the castle we made our way back to Madrid. The day was very fulfilling for us because the Royal Palace at La Granja was a terrific place to see and Pedraza was a very unique medieval town. We had a wonderful time talking to our friends, had a marvelous lunch, and really enjoyed the day. This took place a few days before the official start of winter. There are very many interesting places around Madrid that one can see if one has a car.