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Madrid boasts four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Alcalá de Henares, Aranjuez and Hayedo de Montejo.
San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a magnificent example of the creative spirit of Humanity. The size of the architectural complex and its value in relation to its natural environment make it a place of great historical, cultural and symbolic value. The Monastery and Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The Monastery, ordered by Philip II, was built in the brief period of 20 years and boasts numerous rooms of high historical, artistic and cultural value, such as the palace buildings of the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons, the Library, the Basilica, the Courtyard of the Kings, the Pantheon of the Kings, where the remains of the kings and queens of Spain are buried, and the Gardens.
No visit is complete without a stroll around the Historical-Artistic Complex, where particularly of note are the Royal Coliseum of Charles III, the Seat of Philip II, from where it is said the monarch would view how the works on the Monastery were coming along, and a trip to the Luis Ceballo Arboretum Centre for Environmental Education, which ofers guided walks and itineraries. F urthermore, the Herrería Forest and the Abantos Pine Grove await nature lovers.
For further information check: Ayuntamiento de San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
Alcalá de Henares is able to present key elements for studying and learning more about Spanish language and culture through two millennia of history. Its contribution to universal culture warrants full recognition. Cervantes’s home town is an ideal place to explore, wandering the streets and squares, visiting the museums and monuments, eating in any of its fine restaurants, going shopping, enjoying a cup of coffee or a drink as the sun goes down on one of the pavement cafes and purchasing a souvenir in the form of a typical local sweet, such as sugared almonds or "costrada" (layers of puff pastry and custard with a soft meringue top).
You can start at the Regional Archaeological Museum which ofers guided tours, or take a trip back to Roman times at the Casa Hippolytus or the Complutum ruins, part of the Region of Madrid’s Archaeological Sites Plan. Must-sees include the Birthplace of Cervantes Museum, where the most human facet of this literary genius is recreated, the University of Alcalá, with its trilingual courtyard, and the Corral de Comedias, which offers guided tours in addition to an outstanding range of theatre performances, along with the Interpretation Centre of Cervantes Universes’ and Laredo Palace.
For further information check: Ayuntamiento de Alcalá de Henares.
Aranjuez is one of the foremost examples of a cultural landscape found in Europe. It affords the possibility of discovering and enjoying a unique setting, created through man’s interaction with nature, between the rural world and urban life and between forests and historical buildings. On the banks of the Tajo River, Aranjuez was the site the Bourbons chose to establish their spring residence as an administrative framework of the Royal Sites established by the itinerant Court. Together with the widely admired palace gardens, with their great botanical variety, the natural setting that surrounds the town has also been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Essential visits includes the Royal Palace which offers guided tours, the Royal Barge Museum, the Casa del Labrador and the 200-year-old Bullring in the Historical Centre which has been declared a Historical/Artistic complex. A stroll through the Prince, Island and Flowerbed Gardens evokes the melodies that the master Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo dedicated to them in his famous Concierto de Aranjuez.
To really get to grips with the town you will need more than a day, as on top of the Palace and its gardens there are the areas around the Tajo River and the historical groves and orchards which in the past provided food to the Court and the produce of which we can today sample in the delicious dishes prepared by the local restaurants, some of them Michelin-starred.
For further information check: Ayuntamiento de Aranjuez
At the foot of the Sierra de Ayllón is the Hayedo de Montejo, an old meadow of beeches, oak trees and Pyrenean oak that as we advanced, the 7th July was declared by UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's the first natural area in the region that receives this distinction, a well-deserved recognition of the work developed during these years by the Region of Madrid.
The landscape and ecological diversity of this space have been turned into a true 'natural laboratory' capable of anticipating the effects of climate change. It has an exhaustive research program that includes two forest inventories, which were carried out in 1994 and 2005. Through the monitoring of more than 1,400 trees as well as the weather through meteorological stations, it has been possible to know first-hand the evolution of this space in recent years.
For further information check: Hayedo de Montejo
The Strawberry Train was named that after its inauguration in 1851, as it transported the fruit grown in the orchards of Tagus and Jarama. It was the second railway in the Iberian Peninsula, connecting Madrid and Aranjuez, and was frequented by the nobility in its exits to the countryside.
The colossal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, built in the heart of the Guadarrama mountains, could not have been a better destination for 19th century travellers, lovers of adventure and mystery stories from a romantic perspective. The Felipe II Train allows us to relive his enthusiasm.
The arrival of the railway in 1859 contributed to the revival of Alcalá de Henares and its great cultural heritage. Today the Cervantes Train invites us to discover the great past of the City of Knowledge, birthplace of the author of Don Quixote de la Mancha, a masterpiece of universal literature.
During the journey of these trains, many people from this and other times can accompany us. Miguel de Cervantes or the King Philip II will tell modern travellers what their life was like at that time. Let's sharpen the ears, recreate the view and taste the products of these lands that will be offered to us by their kind citizens.
Image credits: Palacio Real de Aranjuez©Belén Imaz. Comunidad de Madrid