At the end of April/beginning of May, we had four days off from school, and even though it was just around ten days after we'd returned from our epic road trip around southern France (which I just finished recapping this past week!), we couldn't let one last chance to get out of town before the end of school pass us by. I desperately wanted to go to Amsterdam and the surrounding countryside as it was perfect timing for tulip season, but the flights just didn't work out, so we decided to explore an area of Spain that I think flies a bit under the radar, especially with tourists - Extremadura. Extremadura is a western region that borders Portugal, and doesn't have any particularly large cities, although it does have a lot of nature and rural areas.
We decided to make this trip another road trip and bravely began in Madrid - the fifteen minutes of driving from where we picked up the car near home until we got out of the city were the most stressful part of the whole drive...city driving is really something! While we spent most of the weekend in Extremadura, we actually made our first stop just outside of Segovia, in the small town of San Ildefonso, where the palace of La Granja is located.
La Granja's full, official name is the Palacio Real de San Ildefonso de La Granja, and it was built as the summer residence for Spain's kings in the early 1720s. It is said that the kings loved it because of its location in the forest (great for hunting), but I think it's ideal because (in my experience) Madrid is insufferably hot between June and September and having the option to escape the city for a palace at a significant altitude seems like a brilliant idea.
We toured the palace, and didn't see any other visitors in the process. We even had our own personal security guard that followed us around, making sure that we didn't touch the objects or sneak a candelabra out under our shirts. It was...strange...but maybe he was just bored. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. (Also, no photos were allowed, in case you wonder.)
We took our time in the palace's 1,500 acre gardens, that is, until we got a bit chilly. It was late April in the mountains, and although it was warm in Madrid at the time, I wasn't prepared for the cool temperatures at La Granja. Apparently all of the (26) fountains are still functional, but they are only turned on twice a year for special holidays.
So, I'm glad that we stopped by the little town of San Ildefonso and the palace of La Granja at the start of our trip, but I have to say, it was a case of the reality not quite living up to the photos and expectations that I had. Danny and I both agreed as we left that the palace and the gardens seemed run down and not very well taken care of. There were loads of security staff on hand, but we were the only visitors in the palace, and in the gardens we saw only two or three others - maybe because it was a weekday (although it was late in the day, around 5 or 6pm), but it seemed strange how few others were there. La Granja is a huge, historic, grand palace that Spain should take care of, preferably sooner rather than later - it's a national treasure and should be treated that way, at least in my opinion.