Spain is home to some of the most fascinating medieval relics in Europe. The country is rich in Arabic, Moorish, and Christian influences that date back to the 14th century. Indeed, you will find architectural treasures dotted throughout the country. You could easily spend months exploring Spain’s historical sites. To keep things simple here is a bite size tour of two of Spain’s most notable castles that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Base yourself in Madrid for the best access to both Segovia and Granada, two of Spain’s crown jewels!
El Alcazar de Segovia
It is about an hour’s drive from Madrid to Segovia. Segovia is beautiful, elegant, and serene in equal measure. Infused with the essence of Old Castile, this city of warm-honey coloured stone seems as though it hasn’t been touched in centuries. Segovia is home to magnificent sights such as the Cathedral and the impressive Roman Aqueduct which runs through the centre of the town. One look at these and it’s easy to understand why Segovia is a magnet for history buffs and culture vultures. Despite its popularity, Segovia has so far managed to sidestep the commercial influences of tourism. In fact the town’s character, authenticity and charm seem to be infallible.
Whilst the architecture throughout Segovia is without doubt something to be admired, the cherry on the cake is El Alcazar de Segovia.
This fairytale vision is said to be the inspiration for Disney’s famous Cinderella Palace. Take one look at its romantic design and its easy to see why. The Alcazar’s origins date back to the 11th century. However, the majority of structural design and expansion took place in the 13th and 14th. Due to a severe fire which damaged and destroyed a considerable portion of the roof and towers in the 18th century, the model you see today is a somewhat embellished version of the original. The architects drawn in to re-model the castle were inspired by the gothic creations their German counterparts were building. This explains the origins of the Romantic fairytale design which has made the castle so popular today!
Perched atop a huge rocky outcrop overlooking the city the Alcazar enjoys what was once a spectacularly defensive position. Nowadays, its location serves to highlight the castle’s architectural magnificence.
Once inside visitors can explore a number of traditionally decorated rooms. These all illustrate the ornate and lavish lifestyle of medieval royalty. The rooms you simply cannot miss are the Hall of Kings, the Throne Room, the Armoury and the Chapel. Look out for the Sala de las Pinas where you’ll find hundreds of delicately carved golden pine cones covering the ceiling.
For those looking for the full castle experience pay the bit extra to climb the Tower of Juan II. Ascend the many flights of narrow, winding stairs. Once at the top you will be greeted with a priceless view of Segovia. Many visitors to this part of Spain say you haven’t truly seen Segovia until you have looked out from the top of the tower of Juan II.
Where to Stay?
You can easily find any number of hotels in Segovia that boast historic features, character and plenty of charm. However, the Hotel Infanta Isabel is by far the best. Located in the heart of Segovia, just a few steps from the Plaza Mayor, this hotel ticks every box for touring castle lovers. Ask for a room with a balcony for fantastic views.
Granada and the Alhambra Palace
Driving from Madrid to Granada takes approximately 4 hours. This is slightly further afield then Segovia, however the Alhambra is well worth making the journey.
The cultural significance of the Alhambra Palace and Gardens is undeniable. Its reputation as an architectural legend is recognised throughout Europe, not just Spain. Part fortress, part palace, part water garden, the Alhambra is a pinnacle of Andalusion art and history.
The palace was originally built in the mid-14th century and inhabited by Moorish princes. In the 15th century they were driven out by the Christians. Recognising the beauty of the Alhambra and its gardens, the Christians continued to use it as a palace for their own royalty for centuries after.
For those who have not visited the Alhambra before, be warned, there is a lot to take in both historically and visually. In order to make the most of your visit I would recommend forgoing the audio tour on the day in favour of a bit of homework and research. Purchase a written guide and read up before you go. You are more likely to fully appreciate your surroundings if you are concentrating on looking rather than looking. Take your guide book for reference and a reminder of the things you want to look out for.
Top Tip! Ensure you book your tickets well in advance. Only a certain number of visitors are permitted on the grounds at any one time. By pre-booking your tickets you will avoid long queues and potential disappointment. Each ticket entitles you to a 4 hour window in which you can tour the palace and its gardens.
Start your tour at the Nasrid Palaces where you can walk in the footsteps of ancient Granadan Royalty. One hour of your visit is reserved exclusively for the palaces so be sure to double check your time slot as you would not want to miss out. The palaces are a series of rooms, hallways and courtyards, each more intricately decorated than the last. Admire the colourful mosaics and ornate architectural designs which feature throughout. Follow the delicately carved and painted designs that cover the walls, creating a striking visual impression. One this is for sure the Alhambra certainly doesn’t scrimp on detail. Even the servant’s quarters are home to ornate decoration!
Once you have had your fill of the Palace’s interior, head outside to the Generalife Gardens. This part of the Alhambra was once the royal leisure home. The gardens here are unquestionably beautiful. Take the opportunity as you wander along the pathways, through courtyards and flower gardens to reflect on all that you have discovered. As you come to the end of your tour, relax on one of the stone benches and take in the breath-taking views of the Alhambra and the ancient city of Granada beyond.
Where to Stay?
After touring the Granada you will no doubt be hankering after your own little piece of Moorish luxury. If this is the case then look no further than Hotel Casa Morisca. Bursting with Moorish Charm this 15th century building is located in the Albacin quarter of Granada. A night spent here will feel like a stay in your very own castle. Enjoy an evening recalling your favourite aspects of the Alhambra Palace in the candlelit courtyard. Or, relax in your room as you look out on views of this historic city and its prized possession, the palace itself.