Just when I think we've seen it all in Madrid, I'll overhear friends or coworkers talking about somewhere they went over the weekend or I'll reopen a guidebook to make sure we've really checked it all off, and sure enough, we haven't. That was kind of the case with Parque de El Capricho - I'd heard a few a friends mention it and had brushed it off like, "I know all the good parks! This one can't be worth it!!" But then...I saw a picture. And someone mentioned only certain amounts of people being allowed in at a time, and I started to get intrigued. I told a friend that we were going to try to go and they encouraged that idea, so Danny and I went one Friday after school and the gates were locked. Well, it must be closed forever, I decided. There was no notice up or anything, but I just knew that must be the case and was all mad about it because it's no short distance from our house. Thankfully, one of our other favorite parks is a short walk away or else I may have thrown tomatoes at the El Capricho gates because who closes up parks without posting a sign?!?!
The next day at a friend's birthday party I relayed my story angrily and one of the friends who'd advocated our visit Googled the issue and saw that the park is only open on Saturdays and Sundays...of course. I mean, that's normal for a park, right? I'd sworn off ever going again, but our friends urged us on, and the next day we tried again but this time with success. Guards at the gate were checking bags for food and drink - only water is allowed in - but we were prepared for this and were only carrying our books with us for some leisurely reading on the benches we were hoping would be inside.
El Capricho has an interesting history that many other Madrid parks may not be able to claim. It's been around since 1784 when a certain Duchess María Josefa de la Soledad Alonso Pimentel wanted a place for artists and intellectuals to be inspired. After her death the grounds were unpopular and almost completely ruined, aided by the fact that during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), El Capricho was used as the headquarters for the Republican Army (one of the bunkers that remains is the only of its type left in Europe). At one point the bunker was open for tours, but currently visits are suspended. In 1974 the Madrid City Council began restoring the park, finishing their work 25 years later in 1999 (to me that was the most remarkable part of the whole story...25 years?! That seems like a massive amount of time to get a park back together!).
D - I really enjoyed our time at El Capricho, save for the fact that my allergies have really been acting up lately, and I had been wearing the same pair of contacts for several months (I was trying to ration them out, okay?). The day we went it was really sunny and my vision was just perpetually blurry. Other than my bad decisions and my hay fever though, it really was quite nice!
We visited El Capricho in early May, before temperatures started reaching the 90's as they are now, although I think it would still be worth visiting if you were considering it in the hotter Madrid months (mid-May through mid-September) as there's many mature trees, cool stone benches, and shady spots of lush grass. Parque Juan Carlos I, which is just a 5-10 minutes walk away, is vastly different with lots of water features including a place to rent kayaks, modern art, play structures for children, a dog park, cycling paths, and kiosks selling ice cream. It is also much newer and thus can't offer as much shade from the stifling Madrid heat. El Capricho is an excellent option for those who want to lounge on the grass (Retiro sometimes feels a bit formal to me), walk on hidden paths, or walk through a hedge maze - just make sure you visit on the weekend and don't bring any food!