The weekend of St. Patrick’s Day, we got Monday off because it was a national holiday here in Spain due to San Jose (it was also Father’s Day). My friend Sarah and I took a day trip to Manzanares el Real, a small town about 30 miles north of Madrid. It is located at the foot of La Pedriza, part of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain chain and, fun fact, apparently one of the largest granite mountain ranges in Europe.

The Manzanares River runs through the town (and also runs through Madrid) and I think some of its run off flows through the “embalse de Santillana” (Santillana reservoir), which is one of the most important reservoirs for Madrilenos since that’s where they get most of their water supply. The town is also famous for its “New Castle,” a palace built in the 15th century and for the ruins of the “Old Castle.” Only 2 walls remain of the Old Castle today so there isn’t much to look at.

When we got there, the New Castle was actually closed. The lady at the Tourism Office suggested we take a walk to the “mirador” which basically consisted of a scenic walk across the river to admire the mountains of La Pedriza with the town of Manzanares el Real nestled at the bottom. According to the woman, few tourists know of the trail but everyone who lives in Manzanares knows that it is the best place to enjoy beautiful views of the town.

So we set off to find the “mirador” trail. On the way, we ran into the old castle ruins. It is literally just 2 walls lying in ruins at so we didn’t waste too much time there. However at the top of the ruins you get some nice views of the surrounding area.

La Pedriza mountains from the Old Castle ruins

Camino de Santiago marker

The above picture is a marker depicting the “Camino de Santiago” symbol, indicating to pilgrims they are 626 kilometers from Santiago de Compostela. Quite a ways to go from the Community of Madrid!

We continued on our way and for some reason, I thought the trail would actually take us into the mountains. It turns out the trail was flat the entire way and merely took us along the river. Eventually the trail ends because there is a gate blocking the rest of the way, signaling the land beyond is private property. I really enjoyed the walk because the entire way we were able to bask in the views of the Pedriza mountains without actually having to hike up it. There is another hike that actually takes you up into the mountains to an old chapel (Nuestra Senora de la Pena Sacra) but we decided to leave that for another day.

Here are some pictures I took along the way and when we actually found the mirador:

See the New Castle?                                     

Please don’t feed the horses!

This cute little guy came up to the fence and let me pet his nose.

And then on our way back into town to head to the New Castle, we were greeted with the first signs of spring:

We finally made our way to the New Castle also known as the Castle of los Mendoza. It was built in 1475 in the Romanesque-Mudejar style and as you can tell by the pictures, it is one of the best preserved castles in Spain (and has been heavily restored). It originally served as a fortress and eventually became a residence for the noble Mendoza family.

Unsurprisingly, the castle is made entirely of granite (the nearby Pedriza mountains most likely supplied the stones) and has 4 circular towers. Some of the rooms inside the castle are designed to look the way the old castle rooms used to look back in the day, but I don’t think anything inside the castle is actually original. It seems the Mendoza family abandoned the castle after 100 years of living there. I’ll admit this isn’t the best castle I’ve ever visited, but it was definitely interesting. You can also do “theatrical tours” of the castle, which mean the tour guides dress up in period pieces and I’m assuming they do reenactments. I wasn’t in the mood for that but I’m sure it’s a big hit with the kids.

Oh and fun fact: several movies have been filmed at the castle, including the 1961 movie El Cid starring Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston.

The view from the castle:

One last view of the castle:

More surprises awaited us once we left the castle: we stopped in the first eatery we found after leaving the castle and had some decent pizza. This marks the second time I have had good pizza in Spain (I’m sorry to admit that Spain hasn’t quite grasped the art of good pizza making). Progress!

Also tomorrow is my birthday. It would be awesome if this got Freshly Pressed… hint hint WordPress! But even if it’s not, I’m still going to enjoy my birthday. 🙂