Driving north to Madrid from Granada involves crossing several hours worth of the
central Spanish province called La Mancha. There's not a whole lot of interest along
this route other than a few wineries. 30 miles (50 km) south of Madrid, the province
of Madrid starts and right at that line is where the city of Aranjuez is found.
Aranjuez is located down in a lush river valley and remains quite a bit cooler than
Madrid in the summer so for several centuries it has been the location of a summer
retreat for the royal families of Spain.
Coming into town involves navigating past a bewildering array of formal
gardens, column-lined pedestrian walks and enormous rotaries that circle fountains,
palaces, and whatever else they felt like putting in the center of them. Nearly all
the gardens of Aranjuez are open to the public and they are free.
The centerpiece of all these gardens is the royal palace (Palacio Real) which was
inspired by (of course) Versailles. We did not take the palace tour but wandered around
the gardens and a bit of the town. The town is pretty low-key and we had a hard time
finding any restaurants in the palace area open at lunch time. There is at least one
though, which we know because they kept handing us fliers at every street corner.
The largest gardens in Aranjuez are the Jardin del Principe which contains a boat house,
a museum and shockingly few entrances. The gardens cover an area between the Rio Tajo
and a road. On the road side, a huge iron fence delineates the garden and when we visited
there were only two gates open through this fence. As a result we saw more of the gardens
than we originally intended and had a long walk back to town.
The palace gardens are called the Jardin de la Isla because they are located on a small
island in the river which is attached to the palace grounds by some bridges. Naturally,
it is nearly impossible to get lost in these, they also concentrate a bit more on flowers
whereas the larger gardens seem to be based on types of trees.
It wasn't an easy decision but we drove around Madrid without ever stopping to see anything.
Basically we didn't have much time because of all the other things we wanted to do in Spain,
and we didn't feel we could safely spend a day in Madrid without becoming trapped by the
number of things there are to see there. So instead we visited Aranjuez and Alcala de
Henares in the surrounding area. We expect there will be a future trip to Spain which
will be Madrid-based.