El Escorial – The Heart of the Guadarrama

The Renfe from Madrid to San Lorenzo de El Escorial doesn’t take long, and even if it did, the beautiful landscape makes the trip more than worth it. The town is located in the heart of the Guadarrama mountain range, only 50 kilometres from Madrid, is surrounded by vast stretches of pine forests and mountains. And at the heart of this is the exceptional Monastery of San Lorenzo de Escorial.

The quaint town grew up around the Monastery, an architectural gem, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  The monastery was built in the 16th century at the behest of Felipe II to commemorate the Battle of San Quintín. Eventually, the town grew around it as Madrid’s elite built their summer homes in its pristine natural settings.

The Monastery is a complex structure featuring courtyards, fountains, cloisters and towers. The impressive Courtyard of the Kings of Judea gives way to the beautiful Basilica. San Lorenzo was also built to house the Royal Pantheon and the Spanish monarchs from the houses of Habsburg and Bourbon are buried here. The Pantheon of the Infantes is the resting place for princes, infants and queens who died without leaving royal descendents.

The many museums are home to some of the greatest names in Christian art including El Greco, Ribera, Tiziano, Velázquez and Bosch.  Tiziano, Veronés, Zurbarán and Tintoretto await the visitor in the Painting Museum. A pity though, the management does not allow photography inside the monastery. In El Escorial you can feast on authentic Spanish country cuisine including cold meats, game and potato omelets. But if you’re comfortable with a sandwich, the cafeteria at the bus station has a wide variety on offer, as well as a really good selection of ice cream (nothing compares to Santini though https://ambotik.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/santinis-at-cascais-2/ )

El Escorial is certainly a place that should not be missed.


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