Aranjuez is not on the typical tourist’s radar. I’ve seen it mentioned in our guide books but they don’t give any specific information on it. It seems to be more of a day trip for the local folk. It’s widely known for it’s strawberries, asparagus, and most importantly, it’s palace and gardens. It’s not far from Madrid and it’s easily accessible on the local commuter train. When it’s strawberry season, you can actually take the Strawberry Train to Aranjuez (which I might have to do someday if I can find someone else who wants to take it with me). It sounds interesting and yummy, despite being touristy.
After our now habitual Spanish breakfast (pastries & coffee), we caught the next train to Aranjuez. The countryside getting there was not particularly attractive. It was mostly hilly, dry and industrial. However, as we approached the town, there were all of a sudden irrigated fields, gardens, and trees. Aranjuez is the last city on that train line and once you get there, it’s like stepping into an oasis. There are wide, tree-lined streets and sidewalks which lead you directly to the center of town and palace.
Interestingly enough, this palace was designed by the same two gentlemen that designed El Escorial (the HUGE monastery). However, this palace is much more attractive. I read it is incredibly beautiful on the inside, but we weren’t really interested in seeing the inside this time because it’s the palace gardens that are listed as a UNESCO Cultural Landscape Site, and I love gardens. We decided to check out the gardens by the palace first then, if we had time, we’d walk around the town.
The gardens looked more like something I would expect to find in France – not here in such an arid part of Spain. There were trees and shrubs and fountains everywhere! We must have seen 40-50 different fountains that day. My favorite fountain was the guy sitting on the wine barrel (although Apollo was looking mighty fine). The gardens are huge and geometrically designed. The walkways were going off in every direction. Most people had maps, but we just wandered around slowly and discovered all the treasures hidden inside.
The Isle garden (with most of the fountains) is actually on a manmade island on the Tagus river (that’s the same river that runs around Toledo). There were lots of birds and ducks and a couple of little water falls along the river. It also looked like you could do boat trips or kayak on some parts of the river – I’ll have to do some research on that. I know there is a hike in the area, and it looks like it would also be an ideal place to do some biking.
Before we knew it it was lunchtime (2pm). We learned the hard way that you don’t want to be late for lunch in Spain or you won’t find an empty restaurant. I only knew about two restaurants in town (both were listed in my hiking book). We found one right away and it was right on the river. We decided to give it a try even though it looked pretty fancy (the waiters wore suits). We were unsure at first, but we ended up having a great waiter (yes, in Spain! where they are notoriously known for being awful). There was a huge Spanish family (22 people) dining beside us so I thought for sure we’d be forgotten, but he was right on time with everything and very friendly. We each ordered the “Menu del Dia” which included a starter, a main course, a dessert, and a whole BOTTLE of wine – all for only 15 euro ($20). This may have been the best bargain meal I’ve ever had. I really wanted to take pictures of our gourmet dishes, but I felt it was inappropriate in a place this nice….maybe when we get our iPhone (then it will be less conspicuous).
After our 2 hour lunch we headed out to work off some of those calories, but the clouds were rolling in, so instead, we skipped the city and briefly peeked into the Prince’s garden. After a few sprinkles of rain we thought it best to head back to Madrid. Our timing was perfect, the train was there just waiting for us. 🙂
We both really loved Aranjuez. It’s beautiful, laid back, and it seemed to be the most ‘authentic’ Spanish experience we’ve had so far. It’s amazing how different this town was from Toledo. I’m finding that every city, town, and suburb here is different. Each has their own personality, their own foods, their own look, and their own vibe. I can’t wait to visit some more. I feel like a little kid in a candy store!