February 20, 2022: High Expectations Exceeded
I came to Spain for my friend Ricardo’s wedding in El Escorial, near Madrid.
After two days of working, partying, and sightseeing, I wrapped up my stay at the powerful and controversial Valle de los Caidos. But it was time to head on.
I drove north through the Guadarrama Mountains. On the far side of the mountains, the landscape shifted drastically into a flat plain. 15 minutes later, I had reached the city of Segovia.
Segovia is one of the most famous and historic cities in Spain. The city was founded by Celtics more than 2,000 years ago. The Romans captured the city and built of their grandest monuments of all time: the aqueduct.
Segovia passed into Visigoth and them Islamic hands. It was taken by the Christian kings of Castile around the year 1070 who turned it into a center of trading and textiles buoyed by a significant Jewish population. This was the city´s golden age. Isabel la Catholica (aka the Queen Isabella who financed Columbus) was crowned Queen of Castile in the city´s main square in 1475.
After the creation of a capital in Madrid in 1561 (prior to that, the monarchs of Spain moved around the territory), Segovia slowly faded into political irrelevance. Today, Segovia is the capital of Spain´s 3rd least populated out of 50 provinces. However, the city is one of Spain´s top tourist destinations for both its historic sights and its gastronomy.
The undisputed highlight and symbol of Segovia is the Roman aqueduct. Built in the 1st-2nd centuries AD, the aqueduct is one of the greatest examples of Roman architecture in the world. The aqueduct contains 25,000 stone pieces and spans 170 arches. The highest arches are 29 meters tall. Miraculously, the aqueduct is still used to deliver the city´s drinking water.
The aqueduct towers over the old city. The arches form the entrance to the city, so all visitors are forced to gaze at its grandeur.
For a random Sunday in February, I was surprised by the crowds. Segovia was PACKED with people. There were a few foreigners but the majority of people were Spanish.
I wandered the town and found my way to the main square and soaked up the lively atmosphere. Based on a recommendation, I made all my food reservations ahead of time, so I had time to kill. I ended up going to the home of Spanish poet Antonio Machado. As someone who did not know his work, I found the house to be skippable.
For lunch I made a reservation at the world-famous Meson de Jose Maria. This is considered the top restaurant for traditional Segovian foods. The most famous of these foods is cochinillo or suckling pig. While the dish can be found all over Spain, The dish is made from a 3-week old pig baked in the oven. The skin is crispy, but the meat is juicy. A single pig can feed 4 people, so I got a quarter pig. It was really really delicious, and I completely understand the hype
In the afternoon, I got to visit Segovia´s two other main attractions. First, the cathedral. The massive cathedral, which sits in the middle of the old town, is unique because it a Gothic church built in the mid 16th century. By this period, Gothic was out of fashion and church architects had moved on to Baroque.
Later styles of architecture did influence the design of the side chapels. In addition to the massive interior, the cathedral also has a cloister with chapter room and museum.
My final sightseeing activity of the day was the Alcazar. This ancient fortress has guarded the city for nearly 1,000 years. It is located atop an impossibly steep cliff and impressively has never been captured. The castle served as the chief inspiration for either Disney World´s Cinderella´s Castle or possibly also Snow White´s castle in the 1937 Disney film depending on who you ask.
The self-guided tour goes through most of the rooms on the first floor. There is an option to add on the tower, but I did not want to pay the extra money.
The rooms are in impeccable, albeit restored, condition. That said, all the furniture is original or from the time period (at least 500 years old). The most impressive artifact was a crossbow used by Spain´s legendary King Charles V.
I really enjoyed the tour, but the rooms were SO COLD. The weather outside was chilly, but the stone walls and lack of heat, made the inside of the castle even colder. My hands started to freeze.
Afterwards I spent some time walking around the city and getting better views of the landmarks. My hotel was located 2 minutes from the aqueduct.
For dinner, I visited Meson Candido, the most famous restaurant in Segovia. Kings and celebrities have dined here for over 100 years. The chef here (4th generation of the same family) famously cuts the cochinillo with a plate to show its tenderness.
Having had cochinillo for lunch, I instead got a steak with a local bean stew to start. It was delicious.
At the end of my meal, I noticed that the walls were covered in foreign currencies. I happened to have 5 Cayman Island dollars in my wallet and decided to give it to them as a gift, as I am sure they have never seen this currency before.
After I wrote a note on the bill, they accepted it and in exchange gave me a small clay vase. A perfect end to a perfect day.
Segovia has it all: 3 blockbuster sights (aqueduct, alcazar, cathedral), nationally-famous gastronomy and a pretty town. While I drove, it is easily accessed by a 30-minute high speed rail from Madrid. Most people spend the day here, but I would recommend staying the night so you can get two meals.