Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Join me for a day out to the grand Royal City of Aranjuez, a worthwhile day trip from the Spanish capital that's a little of the beaten track compared with the typical day trips to Toledo, Segovia and Ávila.
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I hop on the Cercanías light-rail commuter train from Madrid's Atocha Station and make the 45- minute train ride through the middle of the harsh Castilian plateau, to the haven of peace and tranquillity of Aranjuez, which lies in a green fertile valley between the rivers Tagus and Jarama.
Although the history of Aranjuez begins in the Middle Ages, there have been settlements and civilisations in the area since prehistory. Legend says that Hannibal won a battle over the Romans near the confluence of the rivers Tajo and Jarama.
At the end of the 15th century, Aranjuez was designated a Royal Site by the Catholic Kings who frequently stayed here to relax, although it was the kings of the House of Austria who began the construction of palaces and gardens. During the reign of Philip II, royal chambers were built but destroyed by a fire in 1665. At this time, the first botanical garden was also inaugurated. The House of Bourbon showed a predilection for this magical destination as well.
In the 17th century, in order to show his gratitude to the people of Aranjuez for their support during the War of Succession, Philip V converted the town into a royal centre and built parks, monuments, gardens, and churches—following the latest artistic trends of the moment. The town reached its peak as the centre of the itinerant court during the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV. In the second half of the 18th century, the Royal Palace was enlarged, the Prince's Garden completed, and the Labrador's House was built.
For centuries, the kings and queens of Spain spent their spring months at the Palace of Aranjuez. They came for the stunning gardens that surrounded the grounds. In turn, the attention shown to the site's development helped to foster a revolution of thought.
The site became an incubator for the evolution of concepts: humanism and political centralisation; the development of 18th century French-style Baroque gardens; and urban lifestyle, which developed alongside the sciences during the Age of Enlightenment.
The Spanish royalty saw the land around Aranjuez as worthy of protection. Even as they developed their palace, they tried to avoid any unnecessary destruction. Instead, they conserved and enriched the environment, adding to its original diversity.
Trees were imported from America and Asia until they became the most important European collection from those continents. Groves and forests were turned into gardens and orchards that produced unusual flowers, fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants.
At the beginning of the episode I also talk in more detail about Madrid's Cercanías train system and the places of note you can visit easily and affordably by using it.
More info here: https://www.renfe.com/es/en/suburban/suburban-madrid
I didn't go inside the Royal Palace but you can find more info about ticket prices and the timetable here:https://www.patrimonionacional.es/en/visita/royal-palace-aranjuez
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Wander with me as I explore this opulent, former Royal Spring retreat and walk its grand boulevards, squares and parks - that seem to remind me of a mini version of Paris.
I talk through the royal comings and goings over the centuries, take a look at the Royal Palace, stop off in a very traditional Taberna to soak up the history - and noise - over a beer and some Buñelos de Rape. Then off to cool down in the vast Jardín del Prícipe, probably Spain's largest park.
Tune in to find out about the famous modern classical concerto that the Prince's Garden inspired and what the 'Strawberry Train' is all about.
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