My introduction to Spain in 2003 was Toledo, a beautiful medieval city located just an hour south of Madrid (or half hour if you take the AVE high-speed train). It was here I fell in love with Spain and here where I decided that I would have to live in Spain.
Despite being the capital of the Toledo province, it has a very small-town feel (its population is 60,000, smaller than another city in the province, Talavera de la Reina). Toledo is known as the City of the Three Cultures as it has been under Catholic, Jewish and Muslim control, and influences from all three major Western Religions are present today.
Another interesting fact about Toledo is that it was once the capital of Spain until King Phillip II (Felipe II) decided to move the capital to Madrid. It also was one of the first major cities to fall to Christian troops during the reconquest of Spain. It’s one of the most important cities in Spain from a historical standpoint, and in my opinion, offers a lot more to see and experience than the giant metropolis to its north.
Most people discover Toledo on a day-trip to Madrid, but as I lived there for three months, I know there is much more to experience that can be done in one day.
The Alcazar (fortress) is now home to a library and an Army Museum. It was a symbol of Nationalism during the Spanish Civil War due to an important victory by the Nationalist (Nationalist is Team Franco) troops.
The Cathedral is one of the most important in Spain, and you can see the work of El Greco, who once called Toledo his home, in the Church of Santo Tomé.
Toledo still conserves the medieval walls that once protected the great city. You can take the escalators from the new part of town to the Old Part, or, if you know the back way, you can walk there in about 15 minutes from the bus station. Of course, this shortcut bypasses one of the main gates and takes you to Puerta del Sol gate instead.
By continuing climbing the hill, you will end up in the most important plaza, Plaza de Zocodover. Yes, there is a McDonald’s there. However, why eat there when you have all kinds of delicious Spanish food nearby? Although it is not exactly in Zocodover, I recommend Palacios for sentimental reasons. (It was where my study abroad class ate daily.)
The charm of Toledo, like so many Spanish and European cities, is getting lost in its streets. Closer to Zocodover, you can discover many shops and buy swords, which Toledo is known for. I know how to get to the Jewish Quarter from here, but I couldn’t explain it to anyone in any language for the life of me.
The River Tajo snakes around Toledo (before eventually making its way to Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean). Many places along the medieval wall or high on the hill offer beautiful views of the river and the surrounding Castilla La Mancha landscape.
The province of Toledo is located in the heart of Castilla, the Castilla of Cervantes, the Castilla where Cervantes saved the Iberi an Peninsula from the dangers of windmills. (They are giants, I SWEAR they are giants.) Although his travels are supposedly fictional, there are many places along the Ruta de Quixote (Quixote’s Route) that can be visited. Those famous windmills are located all over La Mancha, but it is Consuegra that markets them as the windmills Quixote fought.
Sixty kilometres from the capital, Consuegra is a bit off the map but well worth the effort it takes to arrive. Next to the windmills overlooking the town of 10,000 habitants are the ruins of what once was the Consuegra Castle. And who wouldn’t want to travel to Toboso to see the home of Dulcinea, that beautiful woman who inspired Quixote to save La Mancha from giants and other misadventures?
Toledo the province offers the best of Castilla La Mancha , and Toledo the capital offers the best of the province. Toledo is the crown jewel of Castilla.
This one is hard to just do seven.
1. Toledo Itself
2. Alcázar (hello GH fans who found this googling Ted King. I like how I have no close up photos of the Alcazar. That is what I call an epic fail 🙂 )
4. El Río Tajo
5. Plaza del ayuntamiento
6. Los molinos (windmills) de Consuegra
7. El Castillo (Castle) de Consuegra