South of Madrid: Fighting windmills and the irrational exuberance
South of Madrid you quickly encounter the windswept, arid plateau of Castilla-La Mancha. With the dusty, hazy desert plain landscape it’s easy to see how this region inspired the madness of Don Quixote, however for many travellers they simply focus on the destination rather than the journey and, in their metronome state, clock up those motorway miles. To do so is a mistake. So rather than inadvertently recreating the life of some lonely Spanish travelling salesman, ensure that you enjoy some truly breathtaking sights such as the city of Toledo or gasp at the opulent palaces and savour unique experiences like dining in Chinchon’s bull fighting ring. But above all remember to immerse yourself in some Spanish madness because south of Madrid there are still windmills to be fought.
Chinchon: Dining in the bull ring
Chinchon is a small town located around 50 kilometres south east of Madrid and a really nice daytrip if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Madrid. Unlike Toledo, or the other bigger tourist towns, Chinchon attracts relatively few tourists. It’s a historical town centered around a large main square with a dual purpose as a bullring. The square is ringed by some superb local cafes and offers a rare opportunity to dine and drink inside a bullring.
Sesena Nuevo: Ghost city of the financial crisis
In Sesena Nuevo, the original plan was to construct 13,500 housing units at a cost of over 9 billion euros. A substantial town was constructed, reputedly big enough to house 50,000 people. However, with limited employment opportunities and poor transport links, only 3,000 were sold and many of the monstrous apartment blocks are uninhabitable as power and water were never turned on. Giant apartment blocks the size of city blocks now lay vacant.
How could this happen? Well, the water and gas lines were not included in the plans and local officials were reputedly bribed. Since this came to light the developer moved (or fled) to one of Africa’s most corrupt countries, the oil rich dictatorial Equatorial Guinea. It’s also the site of a Top Gear episode, where the set up a race track on the deserted streets.
Aranjuez: Kew Gardens meets Versailles outside of Madrid
Aranjuez was originally developed as a summer palace before assuming increasing importance from the royal family. Aranjuez is also home to exquisite, lush gardens which take you through a mix of local and exotic species – the product of seeds brought back from the new world by Spanish explorers.
Toledo: Imperial city and obligatory tourist stop
Known as the imperial city, Christians, Jews and Muslims all once lived together in a densely packed city. The walled town is a pleasure to wander from café to café and is a great way to break up the start of a trip south from Madrid. The city does become packed with visitors, so I recommend an early visit before the tour guides raise their flag and direct their minions on a walking tour of this picturesque city.
Consuegra: Windmills, Don Quixote’s famous adversary
Situated above this rather non-descript town, on the southbound highway from Madrid, are the famous windmills of Castille and a medieval castle – a sight you’ll recognize from guidebooks and postcards. The area first became famous in the 16th Century care of Don Quixote’s adventures. The hill provides a magnificent vista of (in summer at least) the arid plains and the nearby 12th century castle.
2. Sesena Nuevo
This is a multi-part article exploring Spain by car. Next up: Part Three – North Western Spain or check out the intro The Perfect Country for a Road Trip, followed by Part One in the series beginning in Madrid.