Friday, September 18, 2015

Day 37: The Alcázar and La Granja

The morning was sunny in Segovia. Great for photos. Captain Dan wanted to see Segovia's third great attraction: the Alcázar.

The hotel offered a free breakfast in the bistro. All the conventional breakfast foods were offered in a buffet, but each dish was somehow unconventional. However, the environment was colorful and we were able to get a latte.

The Cathedral was glowing in the morning sunlight when we got into the main square.

The route to the Alcázar runs from the Cathedral up and down narrow streets that threaded between old, 4-story buildings which probably held apartments. At the street level were tiny shops and eateries, apparently frequented mainly by locals.

The Alcázar

The Alcázar was glowing when we got to the rocky point at the end of the road.

'Alcázar' means castle. The structure started as an Arab fort and was transformed into a royal castle by King Alfonso in the early 1200s. In the late 1400s it was the sometime residence of Queen Isabella  I and King Ferdinand, who financed Columbus' expedition to India, which led to his unwitting discovery of the Americas. Here is the throne of the joint monarchs.

Here is the ceiling of the throne room.

Another room had portraits of Spanish royalty around the ceiling.

Under each one was a short, hand-lettered bio.

An elevated walkway extending around part of the perimeter offered beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.

It was time to move on. Captain Dan wanted to find out a place called La Granja on our way back to Madrid. We hurried to our hotel, packed up, checked out, and requested the car from valet parking. I insisted on pausing long enough for a soda and a pastry from a shop across from the hotel. Here's a view of our hotel just before we left.

After we got out of the archaic street plan of old Segovia, the route into the mountains to La Granja was clear, and we were parked for free on a street in the little town of San Ildefonso within an hour.

La Granja

The Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, known as La Granja, is an early 18th-century palace that once served as a summer residence for the Kings of Spain. It is named for the granja, or farm, that was established by a group of monks when they owned the land in the 1500s and 1600s. In the early 1700s the property was purchased from the monks by King Philip V. He built a new palace and gardens modeled on Versailles, a royal palace that had been built by his grandfather Louis XIV of France.

The entrance is guarded by a sentinel cedar of great size that must have grown there for centuries.

Time being short and the sky being deep blue, we decided to skip the interior of the palace, and spend all of our time shooting photos in the gardens, which are famous for their fountains.

The gardens cover 1500 acres, far more than we could hike around in a couple of hours. The property is divided into sections with different kinds of planting and different decorative schemes.

Distances between gardens are lengthy. Some sections are simply woodland.

The woodlands separate gardens that are adorned by 26 sculptural fountains. The fountains represent themes from classical mythology. They are cast in lead and painted to simulate bronze. They only run in the spring, when sufficient water comes from the mountain streams.

One octagonal plaza had a fountain on each of its eight sides, each with a sculptural deity.

We were headed out of there when we discovered even bigger gardens around the back of the palace.

The mountain setting was beautiful in the clear sunshine and the gardens were gorgeous. We had a hard time tearing ourselves away, but it was necessary to turn the car in by 5 p.m.

We enjoyed our drive back through the countryside, and even the busy run through the city. We figured out how to get into the parking lot near the rental agency without a hitch and handed over the car and the contract to the attendant.

We spent the evening recuperating. I had a frittata and a beer in the hotel lounge, while enjoying a lively and prolonged conversation with some folks from Wales. Dan went to a nearby small Spanish restaurant called Jota and enjoyed their traditional food and wine.