Spain’s capital certainly has plenty to keep you entertained. Sometimes, though, it pays to look a little further afield. Beyond Toledo and El Escorial (yes, they’re great; yes, they’re a must), there are loads of other things you can do near Madrid in a weekend. If that sounds like your kind of thing, why not plan something a little different for your next weekend break?
Count the stars
Just 90 km from Madrid and 35 km from Toledo by car lies a very special place to stay. So special, in fact, that it doesn’t have three stars, or even five, but an entire firmament. The futuristic Miluna Open Nature Rooms in Hormigos has completely spherical, transparent rooms that at night transform into the most incredible viewing platforms where you can gaze at the stars or enjoy a romantic sunset without ever getting out of bed!
The property is untouched by light or noise pollution, so you can really get away from it all, less than an hour from the capital. The luxurious rooms are fully equipped with everything for the perfect romantic getaway. There’s also a pool where you can take a refreshing dip in summer and a flotarium beneath a sky full of LED stars that’s guaranteed to leave you feeling totally chilled.
The best thing since sliced bread
To the east of Madrid, Alcalá de Henares is a popular tourist destination if you’re looking for something different to do close to the capital. Here, it’s all about Miguel de Cervantes: this is the birthplace of the author of Don Quixote and all those literary classics every Spanish schoolkid has studied, and the city’s streets are a living monument to the writer.
The Casa Natal de Cervantes is located on the long Calle Mayor (the high street), and this Birthplace Museum is a must for any visitor to the city, which is a World Heritage Site. The town centre offers the Plaza de Cervantes, Alcalá University, the Cathedral, the Corral de Comedias theatre, the Archbishop’s palace and more. Alcalá is also famous for its sweet treats, the costrada (a pastry similar to a cream slice) and glazed almonds. Now, though, as we leave the old town behind, it’s the city’s bread which has become famous, and Levadura Salvaje (Avenida Juan Carlos I, no 7, local 6) is one of the best bakeries in the country.
The setting isn’t anything to write home about, but it does have the advantage of being close to the train station that links the city with Madrid. And a loaf of their chocolate or rye bread make a way better souvenir than a Cervantes fridge magnet.
The real windmills of Don Quixote
Speaking of Cervantes… In the middle of the La Mancha plain, on the Don Quixote Route and less than a couple of hours by car from Madrid’s Puerta del Sol is another of our favourite things to do near the capital.
Everybody knows the famous passage in which Don Quixote charges at the windmills, believing them to be terrible giants. These days, there aren’t many windmills (or giants) left from those times. It’s widely held that Cervantes was inspired by the windmills of Consuegra, but in fact, it was those of the neighbouring town of Campo de Criptana that he had in mind, which are mentioned as early as 1575 in Phillip II’s Topographical Relations.
For lovers of popular culture, the Culebro windmill is home to the Sara Montiel Museum, a renowned actress and singer considered by many to be the “most beautiful face of Spanish cinema”. As well as the windmills, also worth a visit are the Museo Espacio para los Artesanos (artisans’ museum space) and the Castiblanque winery where you can find out more about Castilla-La Mancha D.O. wines. Cheers!
An afternoon of poetry
Colmenar de Arroyo has become known as the poetry town thanks to writing by the Acción Poética (poetic action) collective that started to appear on its whitewashed walls in 2014. It’s an interesting experience to stroll through this little town encountering thought-provoking quotes like “Me fui a ser feliz, no sé cuándo volveré” (I’ve gone to find happiness, who knows when I’ll return). And with sentiments like that, if you can’t find inspiration here, there’s no hope for you.
Every summer, more phrases appear on the walls. And it’s spreading: the residents of Navalagamella, around 10 km away, have also been inspired to get a little poetry into their lives. If you’re a poetry aficionado and in Madrid, this makes for a great day trip. Less than an hour by car and you’ve got a thousand photos with Instagram-friendly messages just begging to be shared.
Street art in La Mancha
To the south of Madrid, now in Castilla-La Mancha, the effects of rural Spain’s depopulation start to become evident. Witness, for example, the number of abandoned grain silos around Ciudad Real. However, this is one negative that the mural art project Titanes has turned into a positive.
The artist Okuda San Miguel and his team, Ink and Movement, are collaborating with the Laborvalía association to help people with disabilities integrate into society and the workplace through street art. The project has already been implemented in towns like Calzada de Calatrava, Corral de Calatrava, La Solana, Manzanares, Malagón, Porzuna and Villanueva de los Infantes, now starring in their own road movie against a backdrop of XXL graffiti. We can feel another Instagram story coming on…
The essence of the Middle Ages, for urbanites
Buitrago is among the top 10 towns that should be on your list if you’re planning a weekend break near Madrid. The city walls dominate everything, but today their function is to welcome, rather than repel, visitors. Pass through one of the three gates and you’re instantly transported back in time to the days when the castle hosted illustrious figures such as Joan of Portugal and her daughter, Joanna la Beltraneja.
As well as cultural heritage – the entire town has been designated an Asset of Cultural Interest – its location next to Guadarrama National Park makes it the perfect base to explore the marked hiking or mountain biking trails in the area.
Die-hard culture vultures for whom no visit is complete without a museum should know that it’s not all just cultural heritage and countryside. Buitrago also has its very own Picasso Museum, thanks to the fact that the Málaga-born artist’s barber in Vallauris on the Costa Azul hailed from these parts. Picasso would present him with a work of art now and again as payment for all those shaves. Countryside, culture and history, all just an hour’s drive from Madrid.
Chinchón: the perfect foodie getaway
Chinchón’s main square is one of the most famous in the entire Madrid region and well worth a weekend visit from the capital. It’s a real gem and you won’t find a better example of a Castilian porticoed square anywhere. Its green galleries, known as claros, are perfect Instagram material. To save you the bother of counting them, we’ll tell you now there are 234. Underneath the arches are a handful of bars and restaurants, such as La Balconada and La Casa del Pregonero. The perfect place to sit and enjoy tapas, pinchos and tasty local dishes.
Surrounded by vineyards, the town is also firmly on the wine tourism map. Although the Vinos de Madrid D.O. is fairly new, there are some very interesting wineries here, like Señorío del Val Azul and Bodega del Nero, which are notable for keeping alive the more environmentally friendly, artisanal methods of wine production. If you’re staying overnight, the state-run Parador Nacional hotel in the renovated 17th century Augustine content can’t be beaten.
What more excuses do you need to start planning another visit to Madrid? All you need now is to find a cheap flight to Madrid and you’re all set!