Just a short train ride away from Madrid is the charming fortified city of Toledo. This city’s history dates back to the Roman empire and is often associated with two of its most famous residents, El Greco and Cervantes. When planning your trip to Toledo, I would recommend booking train tickets ahead of time. In addition to being a popular tourist destination, this is also a commuter train route in and out of Madrid.
One of the hallmarks of Toledo are the varied architectural influences that can be seen throughout the city. The different gates of the city represent the different cultures that have called Toledo home from Visigoths to the Moorish empire.
When entering the walled old city, one of the largest sites is the Alcazar, the former main military fortification of the city. While we did not stop to tour the military museum housed within, it is worth stopping for the views.
Our next stop (and mid morning snack break) was one of my favorite places in Toledo…the Museo del Queso Manchego!!
This was one of my absolute favorite places we visited. In the back of the small shop are displays outlining the history and production of the region’s specialty cheese, Manchego. After viewing the museum, it was time for the tasting! For a small fee of about 12 euro, we were able to sample three different aged cheeses along with pate and a glass of local wine. The very sweet and knowledgeable employee walked us through the tasting notes and productions of each cheese. Delicious and informative! The small shop also sold a wide array of local wines, beer, and foodstuffs. I grabbed a few bottles of the local craft beer to take home as a souvenir.
Despite the light rain, we continued our our walk through the old city of Toledo. The area is so compact that it is easy to explore in a day.
In a city of churches and cathedrals, one of the most impressive is the Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo. In addition to ornate woodworking, there are many paintings from the masters such as El Greco, Caravaggio, Van Dyck and Goya. The wealth of this region is evident in the spectacular decorative elements.
Our next stop was the Convento De Santo Domingo El Antiguo, the convent in which El Greco is buried. A warning to visitors, there are no pictures allowed. The nuns on duty are very strict about the rules.
After all these El Greco sites, it was time for a quick bite. We ducked into Taberna Embrujo for a patatas bravas and tapa break. The service was fast and efficient, we refueled to continue our tour.
The streets of Toledo offered a myriad of interesting architectural features.
Nearly ancient, elaborate doorknockers adorn many of the buildings. It is well worth it to slowly amble through the twisty streets, taking in all of the details.
The Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes is another highlight of the city. This two storied cloistered monastery is beautifully ornate. The Gothic arches and beautiful landscaping provide a picturesque scene.
Toledo isn’t just stunning architecture, churches, and El Greco, they have some fun bars and restaurants including Korokke. What made Korokke unique was that they had an entire display case of different croquettes from savory to sweet. All you had to do was pick out the ones you wanted, and they were fried on the spot for you. What’s better than a fresh fried croquette? They had several local wines and brews available. I tried a delicious white white. I also had to try the eponymous Cantharellus Korokke, a mushroom Saison. I can’t say that I tasted any hits of mushroom, but it was an earthy Belgian style beer.
Late afternoon was a approaching as was our train back to Madrid. Just to be safe, we had booked our train tickets ahead of time.
The central square, Zocdover square, is home to the Cervantes statue and plenty of souvenir shops.
Even the train station is beautiful! If you are in Madrid for more than two or three days, I highly recommend taking the day trip to Toledo. I don’t think a guided tour would be necessary, we found taking the train and doing a self-guided tour to be pretty accessible.
Back in Madrid before taking a much deserved siesta, we stopped to get a box of secret nun cookies. Seriously, secret nun cookies. Monastery of Corpus Christi is known for their cloistered nuns who sell their baked goods through a very unusual process. To the side of the monastery is a small door with a buzzer marked “Horario: Venta de Dulces.” But be warned, they only keep very specific hours. You buzz the door and follow the signage to a small window with a lazy Susan. On the dark other side of the lazy Susan is one of the nuns. You have to order from her in Spanish, placing the cash on the lazy Susan. A few quick turns, and you have your cookies!
For our final night in Madrid, we decided to do some bar hopping to experience the evening tapa scene first hand. We basically worked our way down Calle de Cava Baja, one of Madrid’s most famous streets for tapas. By stopping in different bars to grab a drink and sample some bites, we were able to try a variety of dishes. We, of course, had to try the classic vermouth. Patatas bravas with sausage was another highlight. The bar was crowded, we had to shout our order over a huge crowd, but it was well worth it. We ended the evening with paella. Calle de Cava Baja is well worth a visit, take the time to slowly make your way from bar to bar.