Pardon the cliché, but exploring Spain is very much like peeling a multi-layered onion. From its verdant northwest coastal areas to the spirited and traditional Andalusia, Spain’s various regions are incredibly diverse. Few who have had the pleasure of exploring the Iberian Peninsula could argue otherwise.
Of course, as usual, it’s typically the off-the-beaten-path pueblos that really tend to impress the curious wanderer. For those coming to Spain and looking for a recommendation, I always suggest a day or weekend trip to Segovia. Just under two hours from Madrid by car, this charming part of Castile and León is a very popular day trip from Madrid.
However, for those really looking for a lesser-known travel treat in the same area, there is nothing like spending a day wandering around the regal grounds of La Granja.
Unassumingly burrowed at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama, the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso (a.k.a La Granja) is located in a small pueblo with big history. The San Ildefonso palace goes back to the 18th century and served as the summer getaway for royal families for hundreds of years. It was King Phillip V who designed the gardens and the palace in 1721 after being inspired by the expansive gardens and grandiose style of Versailles.
Since Phillip’s time over two hundred years ago, La Granja was used as the Spanish Court’s main summer palace. Today, the baroque style royal palace is still surrounded by 1,500 acres of expansive, manicured gardens and 26 gorgeous sculpted fountains, which require a good few hours to explore.
If you visit, do so with enough time to stroll leisurely and regally through the peaceful grounds while you breathe in the history. Really, this is no place to rush around snapping selfies, got it?
Unfortunately for the visitor, but fortunately for Mother Earth, the beautiful fountains are only turned on twice a year. In celebration of San Fernando (May) and San Luis (August) all of the fountains are turned on and set to music. Although it’s a spectacular sight, if you go on these days, get there early and plan ahead for some large crowds!
However, even if you can’t make it on those two specific dates, it’s still surprisingly nice to wander around slowly and see the fountains’ intricate details upclose.