Picture of fountain 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.
Picture of aranjuez 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.
Picture of palace 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.
Picture of fountains2 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.
Picture of david_flowers 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.
Picture of urns 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.

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