Central Spain: Madrid, Segovia & Toledo

I have to admit, going to Central Spain was never part of the plan. I had a few days between Portugal and my tour of Morocco, found an extremely cheap flight from Porto to Madrid (only 20 euros, plus 20 euros for luggage), so I thought why not. I had three days to spare, so I decided to spend one in Madrid, one in Segovia and one in Toledo (I thought I’d better take the opportunity to see as much as I could).

I was very impressed with the Spanish capital, I liked it much better than Barcelona. The Palacio Real (the royal palace, so magnificently restored after the Spanish civil war), The Prado Museum (great for all those art lovers), Plaza Mayor (the main piazza in Madrid attracts hundreds of tourists, and just as many pickpocketers), Parque del Buen Retiro (a beautiful park in the centre of the city), shopping on Le Gran Via (the main shopping street in Madrid), Estacion de Atocha (an amazing place which is half train station, half rainforest), San Miguel Markets (the best place to shop for fresh produce and food in Madrid), not to mention the array of fantastic restaurants and bars.¬†I could have spent more than a day or so in Madrid…

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Whilst in Madrid, I also visited the towns of Segovia and Toledo. Whenever I visit Europe, I enjoy taking some time out of the big cities and visiting towns in the countryside. Being only about one hour’s bus ride out of Madrid, Segovia and Toledo were the perfect little out-of-city get aways.

The main attraction in Segovia is of course its famous castle, which could have inspired fairytale writers many centuries ago. It is the quintessential fairytale castle in every respect – the moat, the peaked towers, the drawbridge, etc. ¬†Aside from this attraction, the old town of Segovia, as well as that of Toledo, are the perfect places to spend a day meandering through the narrow streets, enjoying a beautiful ‘alfresco’ lunch and wandering through the many little interesting stores.
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Getting there:
Madrid is well connected with many European cities via air, and most Spanish centres via bus and train (but these days, flying may be the cheaper option). Ryanair flies from Porto to Madrid, for as little as 20 euros. Buses to Segovia leave regularly from Chamartin Station and return tickets are approximately 15 euros. To get to Toledo, take a bus from Puerta de Atoche Station, which also leave regularly and cost about the same price.

Stay:
I stayed at The Way Hostel, c/Relatores 17. Centrally located and right next to a metro station, this hostel had clean and tidy rooms, and was in a side street, so noise wasn’t an issue. The had a fantastic communal room, organise sangria nights and dinners, to create a great atmosphere and made it extremely easy to get to know fellow travellers.

Eat/Drink:
There are so many fantastic places to eat and drink, I don’t know where to start. For lunch or snacks, definitely visit San Miguel Markets. I ended up one night in some fantastic bar, not far from the hostel. I’m not sure what is was called, but I do remember some great tunes being played and peanut shells all over the floor.

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Blue Mountains, Australia

We spent two days of the recent Queen’s Birthday long weekend taking a road trip through the Blue Mountains. You wouldn’t believe it, but this was my very first visit to the area, and I’ve lived in Sydney for most of my 27 years. I was so impressed by the place, its natural beauty was beyond description (and the photos believe do not quite do it the justice it deserves). There are literarily hundreds of bushwalks to be done through the Blue Mountains National Park, so I would recommend visiting on more than one occasion to explore different routes. But on your first visit, there are a few things not to be missed:

  • Number one is of course the Three Sisters. Other overly touristic, which perhaps thousands of people visiting on the weekend, the rock formation is amazing, especially when set against such a dramatic and spectacular backdrop.
  • Wentworth Falls. If you’re game, and fit enough, it is worth walking down to the base of the falls. Just remember, it’s a long and steep way back up. Do a few bushwalks around the falls – the scenery is amazing. Not to mention some sections of the path – crossing cascades, walking along stepping stones, walking beneath enormous boulders..
  • The wind eroded cave. To get there, take Hat Hill Road from Blackheath and follow the signs to Anvil Rock.

There are also many interesting shops, great cafes and restaurants in the towns of Leura, Katoomba and Blackheath. It is a great place to go wining and dining, as well as doing a bit of antique shopping.

If you drive back to Sydney via Bells Line of Road, don’t forget to stop in Bulpin to purchase some locally grown apples, as well as home made apple pies and jams.

All in all, it is definitely a worth while weekend road trip from Sydney. It is easily done over two days, but if you want to explore the area in greater depth, an extra day or two would not go astray, especially if you wanted to delve further into the region, or perhaps visit the Jenolan Caves.
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Getting There:
From Sydney there are two main options. You can either take the northern Bells Line of Road from Richmond, or go via The Great Western Highway through Penrith.

Stay:
We stayed in budget accommodation in Katoomba, but there is a plethora of accommodation options, from budget to high end. From hostels, to hotels, guesthouses and bed & breakfasts, you’ll be sure to find somewhere to stay. Just note that many places have a minimum two night stay.

Eat:
We discovered the most amazing cafe in Katoomba, The Common Ground Cafe. Run by a religious community, they serve healthy drinks, snacks and meals. Try the ‘not chocolate’ (a mixture of carob and dandelion) or the apple & macadamia crumble. Their pancakes look incredible, and for those health nuts, try their ‘green drink’.