by Barb Harmon
Located 40 minutes by train from Madrid, Segovia makes an ideal weekend getaway from the bustling city. The historic old town and roman Aqueduct are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites…deservedly so, but there is so much more to this gem of a city. If you are looking for romance, it has the distinction of being one of the most romantic cities in Spain. Food…it is known as a gastronomic center. History…you could spend weeks walking the twisting narrow streets and just scratch the surface.
While there are numerous reasons to spend a weekend in Segovia, here are my top eight.
Approaching the city, the Aqueduct is the first thing you see. It will take your breath away. With 167 arches spanning 2667 feet and a height of 94 feet, it is enormous. It is said to have been built around 50 AD…without mortar. Truly a engineering feat.
Take time to walk the length of the Aqueduct and climb the stairs to the top where you’ll be treated to the best view in town. If you need a map to pinpoint attractions, stop at the Tourist Office before beginning your climb. It is located right next to the Aqueduct.
Plaza de Medina Del Campo
Walking from the Aqueduct to the Plaza Mayor, you’ll pass by this impressive square.Though small, it is filled with history. Flanked by St.Martin’s Church and the well preserved homes once owned by the wealthy, you’ll find the statue of Juan Bravo. He laid down his life for his city in 1521 rather than to give up artillery to the enemy. He is a legend in the town. Located up the stairs behind the statue are small restaurants and bars. This square is lively day and night.
The Plaza Mayor is the heart of the city. This large square is flanked by ancient buildings with terraced arcades housing cafes, restaurants, and shops. The Town Hall with its clock tower is located in the square along with the Cathedral of Segovia. The Plaza is a gathering spot for families, especially in the evening regardless of the time of year. You’ll find generations of families strolling throughout the Plaza till the wee hours. Relax at any of the terraced cafes which provide a pleasant spot for Tapas and drinks…mixed with a little people watching.
The Cathedral of Segovia
Located at the edge of the Plaza Mayor, you’ll find the last gothic-style cathedral built in Spain. Construction began in 1525, with the cathedral being consecrated in 1768. This cathedral was designed to last forever. The honey color of the stones provides a richness and a warm light even on a cloudy day. While it is huge from the outside, upon entering you see just how enormous it is. The size is staggering. There are three vaulted naves, 23 ornate chapels, and 65 stained glass windows. When the sun hits the windows…it is otherworldly. The Cathedral has exquisite frescoes and scores of magnificent paintings.
The Altarpiece was designed by the Italian, Francesco Sabatini who is well known for his work in Spain, especially with members of the Royal family. With various types of marble, bronze, and jasper, it truly is the centerpiece of the cathedral. This is a cathedral where you could easily spend hours.
If you have the energy after touring the Cathedral, climb the steep, narrow steps up to the Bell Tower which rises almost 300 feet.. A guide leads this portion of the tour…for safety precautions. If you do make the climb, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of Segovia and the surrounding countryside.
Admission: Adults- 3E for Cathedral only. Children free. 7E for the Cathedral and Bell Tower.
The hours vary by season so check with the Tourist Office.
Wander through the Historic Old Town
The best way to explore the old town is to put down the map and just walk. Although hilly, Segovia is a walker’s paradise. You may discover a shady miniscule park with a small bubbling fountain and Lilliputian bench as we did. You’ll find numerous churches that have been there since the 12th and 13th centuries. My favorite “small” church is San Millan Church from the 12th century. This is the largest Romanesque church in Segovia.
Rows of ancient buildings, hundreds of years old, still house families. If it is meal time, you’ll find people making their way home to eat. Walking past the buildings with their open windows, you’ll be treated to tantalizing aromas and bits of conversation and laughter.
Shops and small restaurants abound in the old town. The small shops are a great place to pick up a souvenir or two. I found all the shopkeepers very friendly. I always ask “where do you eat when going out?” The best restaurants are those frequented by locals.
Eat like a local – Casa Vicente
Located in the historical old town, this is a true local restaurant and bar. When we walked in, a few men were standing at the bar having a quick drink and chatting before heading home.
The atmosphere is old world but not pretentious…heavy starched linen tablecloths and napkins and a small vase of flowers on each table. The waitstaff with their white shirts, ties, and long aprons were friendly and efficient. We ordered the menu of the day which included a choice of two starters, choice of three entrees, bread, carafe of wine, and dessert. The price was 24E (26US) for two.
As a starter, I tried a spicy Castilian soup while my husband had marinated Spanish beans. Both delicious. My entree was a rich beef stew surrounded by farm fresh vegetables…heavenly. My husband had roast beef which was perfectly prepared. The portions were large but we managed to clean our plates and have dessert. I had a creamy rice pudding, my husband had chocolate cake. Our meal was exceptional.
If you are looking for a non-touristy restaurant…this is it.
Address: Calle Colon 1
Next to the Aqueduct, the Alcazar is one of the most popular attractions in Spain. Perched on a rocky crag, this medieval fortress looks as if it was plucked from the pages of a fairy tale. It is a steep climb to reach the palace but well worth the walk. Walking through the gate, past the immaculate gardens, the Alcazar looms ahead larger that life.
The Alcazar has served many purposes since construction began in approximately 1158. It went from a fortress to a royal palace…a prison, Royal Artillery College, military academy and finally a museum.
Over the years due to fires and the whimsy of various Kings and Queens, alterations were made. One constant has remained: the Alcazar has retained its original shape of a ship. The rooms are ornate with frescoes, tapestries, intricate carvings, and priceless art. It was a lesson in history walking through this amazing structure and seeing the splendor from the past.
If you have the energy, climb the four levels with its 156 steps to the top of The Tower of John ll. Once you reach the top terrace you will be rewarded with a view that seems to go on forever. It was well worth the effort. I should warn that the stairway is a tight squeeze and it is a difficult climb.
Admission: 8E for the Palace, Artillery Museum, and the Tower. 5E for the Palace and Museum. There is an audio guide for 3E with a 5E deposit.
Address: Plaza Reina Victoria Eugenie
Sleep in history-Infanta Isabel Hotel
Located in a 19th century building, across from the Town Hall and adjacent to the Cathedral of Segovia, is the Infanta Isabel Hotel. This classic hotel offers modern day comfort in an old-world setting. The location could not be better for a stay in Segovia. The spacious rooms are well appointed with tea/coffee service, mini bar, big screen TV, Wi-Fi and upscale toiletries. We were fortunate to have a room with three balconies overlooking the Plaza Mayor (room 407). The double glazed windows when closed, worked wonders keeping the noise of the busy plaza out of our room. The beds were comfortable and we slept like babies.
Although not open while we were there, the hotel’s restaurant has one Michelin star. They do have a terrace with seating for drinks, light snacks, and people watching.
Address: Plaza Mayor 12
With its history, food, and proximity to Madrid, Segovia is the perfect destination for a long weekend or a short week. We are looking forward to returning…so much more to see.