It can be hard work trudging the fashionista streets of Madrid in search of that latest bargain, while trying to squeeze in a few sightseeing visits such as the Prado art gallery, perhaps even a tour of Real’s Santiago Bernabeu football stadium into a long weekend break.
Cities can tire, and even in the central park of the Retiro you can’t fully escape the hum of the surrounding traffic. That’s where the not to be confused with the gallery – El Pardo – steps in. Barely a five mile bus ride north west from the Moncloa transport interchange in the city centre, you are whisked right out in the sticks.
Within minutes of leaving the last ring road behind you start to get the feel for what this tiny town is going to be all about. Lots of local people get off at stops along the road, to walk rolling hills through evergreen oak and pine forests, or take a picnic down to the banks of the river Manzanares.
All this set against a backcloth of the 8,000 feet plus peaks of the Guadarrama mountains, the summits of which often remain snow-covered until late spring.
Unless you are unlucky enough to hit a rare cloudy day there’s likely to be a striking palette of green leading up through sparkling white to deep blue sky. Velasquez and Goya, in their paintings back in the Prado, were not faking the colours.
There are prettier towns in Spain, but none that provide such an abrupt change of scene from city to country – that ‘now for something completely different’ feeling.
Get out in the plane tree-shaded main square, with its bandstand in the middle, and you’ll straight away see several terrace bars and restaurants.
But to make sure your appetite is well-whetted, first take a walk. Just off to the right are the formal gardens of the former royal palace, the last home of Spain’s last dictator, General Franco. If you’ve time, go inside and have a look at some of its famous tapestries.
For those who feel more energetic, head left down to the sole bridge in town. Here, there are more paths along the river bank. Best is the one across the bridge and hard to the right. It’s a bit up and down and packed earth most of the way, so don’t forget some sensible shoes, especially if you want to change banks for the return walk by stone-stepping across a shallow ford.
But even non-bird enthusiasts are sure to be impressed, especially if you spot a cormorant or a kingfisher, or a vulture gliding overhead.
When the river bends near enough 90 degrees to the left, it’s time to start keeping an equal watch on the other side, through the open mesh fence of a game reserve. You could almost imagine a lion, giraffe or wildebeest emerging from the savannah-like scene of evergreen trees scattered against the grassy slopes. But let’s keep real, this is Europe. What you may well see are herds of deer, perhaps even one of the wild boar that scour the forest floor, tearing up the sod with their tusks in search of roots and plant bulbs.
Return to the start of the walk and turn right up the hill road out of town, in less than a mile you’ll come to another stretch of the reserve’s perimeter fence and a restaurant on the left. Peek behind the fence, especially around human meal times when the animals are fed bread by diners from across the lane – and you are virtually guaranteed to see at least one of the two beasts. Now to mention another good reason for visiting El Pardo: to eat either one or both of them.
If you don’t make it up the hill, in fact if you skip the walk altogether, there are several restaurants back in and around the main square where you can get a hearty dishful for around €13, ready to be washed down with a few glasses of full-bloodied Ribera del Duero wine.
You are likely to forget all about Bambi films, once you get tucked in. But even if you are not a big meat-eater, there are always plenty of other tasty tapas to be tried.
Guest Post By: Katie-Belle of Delightsome.