Madrid - An Unforeseen Marvel

As the capital of Spain, expectations are inevitably high for a city break in Madrid, so what’s the reality for the highest capital city in Europe?

Madrid has been the capital of Spain since the 17th century, with its name originating from the Arabic word ‘magerit’, meaning place of many streams.

One of the first things on our list was to visit valle de los caidos (valley of the fallen). Just outside of Madrid, this Catholic basilica is the final resting place of the infamous dictator, Francisco Franco. This fascist monument is set in over 3,000 acres of Mediterranean woodland and granite boulders and was build to honour the fallen during the Spanish Civil War. The journey to the top by car alone took us a good 10 minutes.

Once out the car we couldn’t really see much as there was an eerie mist that covered most of the building. Before entering we were warned that there was a ‘religious occasion’ taking place. Once inside the crypt we were honestly lost for words.

It felt like we were in a Lord of the Rings fi lm inside a giants castle, colossal statues adorned 
the stone carved archway.

Once we finally got to the end the religious ceremony was almost over so we were allowed through but were told not to take any pictures whatsoever. There were little entrances into prayer rooms off the main area, inside these we saw groups of monks huddled together whispering prayers to each other. One foolish person attempted to take a photograph of Franco’s tombstone, but was quickly escorted out of the building. After one more walk around we decided to leave. 

Fortunately the mist had almost disappeared so we could appreciate the sheer scale of the place. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before, both inside and out. It’s worth mentioning that I have also been to the Vatican, and therefore no stranger to grand religious structures. 

We walked away from the entrance to get a full view but nothing prepared us for what happened next. As we turned around we couldn’t see the famous cross that stood on top of the monument, then as if by magic or some other divine intervention they parted to reveal the Basílica de la Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos (Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen) in all its glory. To put it into perspective the angel of the North stands at 66ft tall, where as this cross stands at 500 ft, making it the tallest memorial cross in the world. Religious or not this place is an absolute must visit when you go to Madrid! 

As you’d expect, Madrid is a vibrant city that offers plenty of great places to eat and drink. We found that on every occasion the best places to eat were always just off the main tourist hot spots, or as we call them – tourist traps. A good sign is when you see and hear a lot of locals in the bar or restaurant and this didn’t let us down. We often ended up stumbling across little tapas restaurants that offered top quality food and drink for reasonable prices. A good example was a restaurant called La Alemana, which first opened its doors in 1904 and to this day still beholds much of the same décor, a hidden gem for sure! Overall Madrid is well worth a weekend away, ideally between April-September, you wont be disappointed.

TravelTim Byrne