Where we going?
Manzanares El Real is a picturesque town located in the northern area of the autonomous community of Madrid. The pueblo sits at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama and on the shore of the Santillana reservoir. The location is perfect for nature lovers and historians alike! The town of just under 8,000 habitants is located 908 meters above sea level and around 45 kilometers from the city center of Madrid. On a Sunday, two friends and I decided to explore the town, as well as go on a hike in Guadarrama National Park.
What kind of history?
The history of this pueblo is truly remarkable! The first settlements date back to prehistoric times. This was recently discovered due to archaeological finds, among which included cave paintings. The town has two castles, one of which is thought to be the best preserved in the entire Madrid province. The Castle of the Mendoza has been standing since the 15th century. One thing that I loved about visiting this castle is the arcaded courtyard that you see right when you walk in. Another is the museum that the castle houses, which shows a collection of tapestries all around Spain. To me, it was very cool to learn about castles all over Spain in a castle itself! In addition to the Mendoza Castle, the town also preserves the remains of a former fortress that is known as the Plaza de Armas. This Moorish style castle only has two walls remaining!
Food Prep For Hike
Our morning consisted of taking in the historical sights of the town, and our afternoon consisted of a long hike up the mountain. Right where the bus lets you off, there is a giant supermarket where one can get all the essentials for a picnic-style lunch. After grabbing some bread, chorizo, jamon, cheese and tomatoes, we had the necessities to make our handmade bocadillos, all for less than 10 euros! However, we agreed not to eat them until reaching the peak of the mountain. Breathing in the fresh mountain air and taking in the lovely landscape was truly refreshing.
The Hike Up
For an inexperienced hiker like myself, the hike up was not an easy one. It took about two and half-hours in total to reach the peak, but the journey was well worth the view. From the top, the view is truly remarkable! You are literally standing over the entire town and have unreal views of the aforementioned castle and the Santillana reservoir. If you look far enough in the distance, you can see the Cuatros Torres and Plaza Castilla, where the journey began! After hanging out here for about an hour or so, we decided it was time to feast on our bocadillos.
Getting Down & Goats!
The trek down was harder than the route up. Since sunset was approaching, we didn’t have the daylight to take the same 2.5-hour route down. We decided to play it a bit risky and not follow a path. We improvised and improvised until somehow we were at the foot of the mountain! I would not recommend this approach due to the unknown and danger factor. However, for someone like me, I couldn’t think of a better way of getting down the mountain! On the walk down, we ran into a pack of goats. At first we spotted a couple baby goats hanging out on the edge of some rocks, roughly 30 or so meters from us. We were amazed, as none of us had ever seen a goat before in our life. Before long, as we kept looking around, we noticed that there was a whole pack of them. We were literally surrounded on every side by 20+ goats. Having no idea if they were human friendly or not, we decided to play it cool, not wanting to tempt the animals. After taking a bunch of pictures of the goats, we continued our path down.
After returning to the town, we went to the main town square. This charming square was full of life on this beautiful Sunday night. Families were out, kids were running around playing football, and the mood/life of the town couldn’t have been livelier! We stopped in two local bars to get some cervezas and tapas before the ride back to Madrid. After spending an hour or so at these two bars, we left satisfied as the prices were very cheap and the food very good! We chowed on some traditional Spanish dishes including Tortilla Espanola, Aioli, Calamares and Croquetas.
The bus ride back consisted of a siesta or two and our great Sunday adventure came to an end as we pulled back into the Plaza Castilla bus terminal. This day-trip is affordable, fun for the adventurous and historians alike, and one that I would definitely recommend for those wishing to explore all that Madrid has to offer!
How do I get there?
Getting to Manzanares El Real is very easy from central Madrid. Simply go to the Plaza de Castilla bus station, and take bus 724. Busses leave every half hour or so and run to around Midnight. The cost for a one-way trip is €3.50. If you have a Student Abono, the trip is included in your monthly rate! Overall, the ride takes about 45 minutes and drives right through the town of Colmeniar Viejo, one of the biggest mountain towns in the Madrid province.