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Vintage Trip To Aranjuez

Among the host of outings to go on in Madrid’s outlying area is one to Aranjuez, with its panoply of artistic, cultural and ecological heritage sites. Not for nothing was it listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Landscape in 2001.

The Strawberry Train – Experiencing a Bygone Age

For enthusiasts of both old times and new experiences, there is an alternative and highly original way of travelling from Madrid to Aranjuez, which is by taking the Strawberry Train. But, what makes this means of transport so different from the others? First, it runs on the second railway line to be built in Spain, inaugurated on 9 February 1851. The first line to come into operation was the Barcelona–Mataró line, opened in 1948. The aim of the second route was to connect Madrid to the coast, with Alicante as the final destination. In its early days, its importance lay in the produce it transported to Madrid from the market gardens in Aranjuez, prompting it to be known as the Strawberry Train.

Its other big draw is that the train operating this line was built in the early 20th century. Having been restored, it gives you the feel of what train travel was like in bygone days. It has a rakish engine with wooden carriages. And, during the journey, passengers are offered strawberries from Aranjuez by hostesses dressed in period costume. The Strawberry Train runs at weekends in May, June, September and October and leaves from the Railway Museum or Museo del Ferrocarril. The timetable is posted here.

Aranjuez, An Area of Courtly Recreation

Aranjuez’s fortunes changed when Philip II awarded it the title of Royal Site. It was turned into the Spanish monarch’s country residence, thus becoming a royal precinct, particularly during the reigns of Philip V (17th-18th century) and Charles III (18th century). It was precisely these kings who commissioned the creation of the areas which are now the city’s must-see sights. In line with prevailing tastes during the Enlightenment, the inner city was designed in a reticular layout which has survived to the present and never fails to surprise visitors.

Among the standout monuments is the Royal Palace, designed by the architects, Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera. It also features a later extension, including the wings added in 1775. The interior houses such curiosities as the Porcelain Study – the capital work of the Royal Porcelain Factory in Madrid’s Buen Retiro – and the Arab Study, inspired by the Hall of the Two Sisters in the Alhambra of Granada.

Also worth visiting is the Real Casa del Labrador (Farmer’s Lodge), set in the so-called Prince’s Garden, the work of Juan Villanueva and Isidro González Velázquez. Lastly, another notable landmark is the Church of San Antonio, commissioned by Ferdinand VI in honour of St Anthony of Padua.

Another standout feature of Aranjuez is its Royal Gardens. There are four in all, namely the Parterre, the King’s Garden,the Island Garden and the Prince’s Garden, situated on the Tagus riverbank and within the Royal Palace precinct. They were all designed as recreational areas for the Court and attest to a blend of French taste acquired from the Bourbons and Italian influences, yielding a stunning result which is worth strolling around and enjoying.

Wait – There’s More!

For those who aren’t satiated by monuments and gardens, another feature of Aranjuez is its huerta or market gardens, among the most important in Spain. Situated between the Tagus and Jarama rivers, the fertile soil produces such crops as asparagus – here known as pericos– and strawberries, introduced by the French Bourbons. The latter also patronised farming research and experimentation on this land, as evinced in the surviving Renaissance layout of the allotments.

Don’t fail to make a gastronomic stopover to savour the fruit of this land. A classical option is Casa José, one of the most celebrated restaurants in the Madrid Community.

Ready for a getaway with a period twist? Check out our flights here.


Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación

Images by Eric Titcombe, M a n u e l, Andrés Gómez - Club Ferroviario 241

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