Swiss writer and philosopher Pascal Mercier once said: “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find only again by going back there.” I agree with Mercier…whole heartedly.
We first visited Toledo on a day trip from Madrid…only 33 minutes by fast train. It became clear that a day trip would barely scratch the surface…the city deserved more time. Recently we returned for a longer visit and fell under the city’s spell.
Step into another world
Walking through the Moorish inspired train station we step into another world…exotic, vibrant, pulsating with life. We know what lays beyond the bend in the road. The Alcazar stands guard on a hilltop, the Tagus River winds itself around the base of the city, the skyline screams history. UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage Site in 1986…deservedly so. Scores of people cross the bridge and stroll through the gate on their journey to the historic center. Our taxi climbs the hill weaving through streets so narrow the side mirrors must be pulled in. Several minutes later we jump out of the taxi and walk into history.
Stay in History at The Hotel Santa Isabel
Location, location, location…and price. Situated a stone’s throw from the Toledo Cathedral, the hotel started life as a noble family’s house in the 14th century. At check in we are encouraged to climb to the roof terrace for the view. After depositing our bags we climb the steep steps for the best view in town…the Cathedral surrounded by ancient, honey-colored stone buildings with red tile roofs. Laughing, we realize this is the view from our room. The price was an astonishing 100E for two nights without breakfast. If you choose to stay here, you will not be disappointed.
Explore the narrow streets
During the Middle Ages, the walled city was known as The City of Three Cultures because Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived side by side religiously and culturally. The well preserved architecture reflects the city’s culture. The Gothic Cathedral, the larger than life Alcazar,1st century ruins of Roman baths under a plexiglass floor (in a woman’s clothing store)…there is something historic to see around every corner. Pace yourself and wear comfortable shoes. The city is spread out and many of the narrow streets are steep. No need for a gym when exploring this town.
Gothic and glorious—The Toledo Cathedral
The Cathedral is awe-inspiring in its beauty and immense size. Building began in 1226, ending in 1493. As the city grew it crowded the Cathedral, making it difficult to comprehend how large it truly is. Over the years, treasures have been added. It is filled with priceless paintings, statues, 750 stained glass windows, carvings, gold, silver and gems…it is well worth the admission. You will be on sensory overload. The detail and workmanship is exquisite both inside and out. Take time to walk the perimeter….you’ll be richly rewarded.
12.50E for full admission including the bell tower. No photos allowed inside.
Fortress on the highest hill—The Alcazar
Structures have been on this site since Roman times. Charles V was the King behind the large rectangular building we see today. Workers were instructed to tear down the previous castle when he decided to start building his fortress in 1545. He intended to use the Alcazar as a Royal residence. The building is enormous! My favorite place is an exquisite staircase housed under a barrel vault ceiling. It really is like something from a fairytale. Ironically, the King never spent a night in this jewel of the crown.
The Alcazar has an unfortunate history. Several fires caused serious damage and the Civil War destroyed it in 1936. It was rebuilt to the original design. Today it houses the Army museum and is filled with interesting displays and artifacts. The view from the top is not to be missed.
Admission is 5E. Free on Sunday.
Unique shopping experience—The Legendary Koker
Toledo has a plethora of unique shops…from Damascene jewelry to Toledo silver swords…and everything in between. Stop by the women’s clothing store the Legendary Koker for a unique shopping experience. This is not your usual clothing store. Beneath the plexiglass floor are ruins from 1st century Rome. In 1628 while constructing a new building, the ruins were discovered. Archaeologists verified the authenticity decades ago. It is definitely worth your time. How often does one have the opportunity to browse amidst Roman ruins?
Plaza Amador de los Rios S/N. Hours: Monday-Friday-10:30- 7:30, Saturday-11-8, Sunday-11:30-2:30
So many restaurants, so little time
Restaurants and sidewalk cafes are scattered throughout the city. Prices vary depending on location. We stumbled upon a small, simple restaurant where we had a traditional meal. There were 7 tables, with one occupied by the waiter’s young daughter. She chatted with her father and the chef while eating her three course meal. It was charming!
For a starter I had a Castilian soup which contained Iberian ham, an egg, and lots of garlic. It was a meal in itself. My husband had bean and spinach soup. Both starters were flavorful and filling. My entree was salmon, roast potatoes, and salad. I ate every bite. When my husband saw lamb stew on the menu, he stopped looking at other entrees. The stew came with a small salad. It was rich, well-seasoned, and delicious. Desert…ice cream for my husband while I indulged in Grand Marnier cake. That piece of cake was worth every calorie…the best…ever. Both meals came with bread and wine. The price was unbelievable at 27.90E for two.
La Taberna del Pescador is located at Calle Ciudad 7. For traditional Castilian dishes, you can’t go wrong here.
Toledo gets into your soul
With so much beauty and history around every corner, Toledo deserves more than a day. We were fortunate to have three days…but still so much to see. This city gives you a reason to return.