Postcard of the Week: Toledo
The UNESCO World Heritage site and medieval city of Toledo, perched high atop a hill in Castile-La Mancha, is only a 30-minute train away from the centre of Madrid – making it ideal for a day trip. We headed there on a sunny Saturday a fortnight ago to explore its cobbled alleyways and escape Spain’s capital city for some fresh air. In the postcard above you can see the river that surrounds most of the city, protecting the petite city centre from the lovely surrounding countryside.
First things first, book your train tickets in advance at Renfe.com as they do sell out and Spanish trains are notoriously infrequent. From the station you pop on a local bus to Plaza Zocodover and from there the historic city centre is so small you can see everything on foot. I had visited Toledo once before in 2010 with two other friends although I didn’t actually recognise anything other than the very first plaza, so it was lovely to re-discover somewhere with new eyes. On this trip, as well as ambling at random along alleywalls, choosing paths purely based on a whim, we also visited a couple of the main sites.
Wander to the south-west side of the city and you’ll come across a lovely view of the surrounding hills and the stunning El Greco Museum. I say stunning more for the villa and gardens that house the museum than for the artwork itself, although the art is definitely worth admiring as well.
After that we headed to the grandest building in every Spanish city: the Cathedral of course. The interior of Toledo’s 13th-century Cathedral failed to wow me if I’m honest, but what did make the visit worthwhile was the additional trip up to the bell tower which takes you through the beautiful, frescoed cloisters up into the heavens of the Cathedral to an enormous 17-tonne bell. The view over the terracotta-roofed city and the countryside beyond the city walls and the Río Tajo are stunning, and only made me want to climb another nearby tower, that of the Church of San Ildelfonso.
We had such a relaxing and idyllic day in Toledo and felt far, far away from Madrid. One thing I would lament is that the city is entirely dependent on tourism. Crowds of Japanese tourists following a single guide block thin alleyways, restaurants display awful photos of their dishes outside in order to attract foreign tourists, and every other shop sells knives, swords or marzipan, all Toledo specialities. After half an hour or so of trying in vain to find a decent tapas bar or restuarant that didn’t target tourists, we finally stumbled upon La Malquerida de la Trinidad, a great locals bar with good tostas (the most typical tosta is toasted bread with tomatoes, olive oil and jamón ibérico) surprisingly close to the Cathedral.
Having said that, for the majority of the day we barely noticed these tourists, and I imagine this picture would be vastly improved on a weekday. Toledo is certainly stunning and worth a trip from Madrid!