Spain is easily one of Europe’s most enigmatic and enticing destinations. Those who have visited always return and those who have never been are usually dying to go. Tasty tapas; medieval castles; a literally and metaphorically rich and dark Catholic past; and a romantic, somewhat sensual culture all add to Spain’s inescapable allure. And that says nothing of the fact that it is surrounded by the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean with miles of beautiful coastline.
Typically, Spanish cities like Madrid, Barcelona, or Seville and the country’s southern coastal regions are caught in the limelight. In the summer months, these destinations often get more tourist attention than they can handle. But, unbeknownst to most, deep in the Spanish countryside are some of the country’s most astonishing treasures.
Pack good walking shoes, the best camera you can afford and a sense of adventure.
Pre-tourist season, Segovia might be mistaken for a sleepy, remote Spanish town. Catch it during the afternoon siesta and the streets are mostly deserted. In the quiet afternoon sun, surrounded by plains, the small city can feel desolate, but nothing could be further from the truth. A mere hour by train from Madrid, the town will soon be packed out with sightseers eager to experience one of Spain’s most fantastical cities.
What is the appeal? The city has several tourist magnets, any one of which in different towns would be main attractions in their own right. In a nutshell, the city has more wonders to explore in its tiny area than many of Europe’s larger cities and a richer history considering it predates the Roman Empire. A few paragraphs will not do it justice, but I’ll give it a go anyway.
Segovia’s medieval Alcázar is nothing less than a showstopper. A home to Castilian royalty for centuries, the castle looks like it came straight out of the illustrations of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. You might think this comparison is used too liberally, but there really is no other way to describe the striking turrets atop a mountain of rock.
Clearly Walt Disney agreed as the castle served as one of the influences for Disney’s iconic Cinderella Castle. However, unlike Cinderella’s Castle, the Alcázar is just as captivating inside as out. Destroyed by fire in 1882, the interior and roofs had to be recreated. The result is a freshly decorated, faithful version of the original. The rooms are furnished and bedecked with pieces and intricate designs even Walt Disney could not have visualized. Imagine elaborate wood panelled ceilings painted in vibrant colours and covered in gold leaf. It is a unique confluence of Moorish patterns and late medieval European style.
Equally mesmerising though far older is the Roman aqueduct that runs through Segovia. Two thousand years later it still towers over the city, dwarfing surrounding buildings. Having never seen photos of the Roman giant before, turning the corner into the Plaza del Azoguejo just about stunned me into silence. Being caught in a sudden standoff with over 160 arches constructed from 24,000 blocks of granite will do that to you.
From the way I go on about its size you might think the aqueduct is multiple stories high. In fact it is only two, but at its tallest point the aqueduct stands over twenty-eight metres. The pillars rise up like gangly limbs. Standing beneath the soaring arches is unnerving, especially considering that they are held up by nothing more than strategic placement. Apparently the Romans did not even use mortar to construct the beast.
The rest of the city retains much of its medieval architecture and the charm of a small city. After the Alcázar and the aqueduct fight it out for gold and silver, the Cathedral claims the bronze medal for Segovia’s most prized attraction. It is the epitome of late Gothic elegance and built in soft yellow sandstone that soaks up the afternoon sunshine, emitting a warm glow over the Plaza Mayor. The plaza is the city’s social hub. Every Thursday it is abuzz with the activity of a local market.
The city’s population is just as warm, having evidently embraced their status as a tourist destination with open arms. I was even brave enough to test my rusty Spanish. I spent my days chatting with locals and wandering the city’s cobbled streets with a frozen yogurt in one hand and a camera in the other.
Even after exhausting the city streets there is still more to discover. The most peaceful parts of the city lie outside of the old walls. Calle Cuesta de los Hoyos is a perfect retreat into nature and takes you outside the city from nearby the Cathedral around the rocky base of the Alcázar. Further outside the city, there are several old monasteries and churches including a small, simple circular church built by the Knights Templar in the thirteenth century, the Church of Vera Cruz.
Travellers persistently seek destinations that provide the perfect balance between relaxation and excitement. Somehow, Segovia delivers this elusive experience with perfect ease.
Photography by Savannah Hayes
Top: View of the Cathedral from the Alcázar
Middle: View from Calle Cuesta de los Hoyos; The Alcázar