21st Century
The Future
World Travel
Books & Film
Original Fiction
Opinion & Lifestyle
Politics & Living
Film Space
Movies in depth
Kid's Books
Reviews & stories

The International Writers Magazine

Brent Robillard

Aranjuez shimmers like a desert oasis on the dusty Castillian plateau, and the river Tajo runs through it. Five years ago UNESCO awarded the city World Heritage status for its "complex relationships between nature and human activity." After a day spent wandering there, I can understand why.

I arrived mid-morning by train from Madrid. The RENFE system departs from Atocha station every hour, and costs only 6.50euros for a return ticket. The ride takes forty-five minutes or so, pushing south through crowded suburbs and industrial wastelands whose only redeeming qualities are the unlikely clusters of wild red poppies growing alongside the tracks. But once the train shrugs off the last traces of Madrid, the landscape unfolds into horse farms and freshly tilled earth.

I forwent the clattering bus at the station in Aranjuez, and chose instead to walk the five minutes to the city centre, under shade trees and dappled sun. I was rewarded when the street opened up into dew-covered parkland, and the summer palace came into view. Shining pink and white in the sunlight, the Palacio Real is a superb example of Bourbon neo-classical design. Formerly a 16th century Hapsburg hunting lodge, the palace was renovated and expanded by the Spanish kings Philip V and Charles III. Inside, the highlights include a collection of elaborate clocks and the famed Chinese Porcelain Room, delicately fitted and built in the Buen Retiro factory of Madrid.

Around the palace, other stately buildings border the Plaza San Antonio, including the Casa de Caballeros (Knight’s Quarters) and the Casa del Infantes (Infants Quarters), which would have been used to house the hundreds of royal servants required to run the summer court. Their elegant arcades form a sort of colonnade that ends with the Church of San Antonio, itself an interesting architectural curiosity with a curved portico and triangular gable, designed to conform with the palace.

The Bourbons also took advantage of the natural delights in Aranjuez, augmenting them with carefully planned gardens along the green river Tajo which flows quietly past the palace in a bow-shaped course. Three gardens in particular are worth visiting.
The Jardin del Parterre, at the rear of the palace and across from the Plaza San Antonio is the smallest of these. It is, however, the most playful and the most colourful, with its numerous flower gardens and Baroque fountains. The Jardin de la Isla sits across the river from the palace and is populated with a variety of exotic trees and quiet pathways. Sections of the riverwalk are so lush, it is easy to think yourself in the deepest Everglades.
However, it is the 175 acre Jardin del Principe which is most impressive. I entered the park outside Plaza Rosinol, and immediately left the city behind. Its wide promenades are lined with live oaks, whose bowers close in above you. The deliberately plotted forest, full of foreign species from Spain’s New World holdings, is thick and textured. Doves and owls coo and hoot in almost hypnotic harmony, shattered fleetingly by the sharp cries of stranger birds.

Fountains and ponds appear like mirage through the dense foliage. But none is more beautiful than the Chinese Garden, with its domed gazebo and painted pagoda reflected narcissistically in a shaded forest pool amid ducks and other water fowl.

I lost myself searching for the two other royal halls that can be found here. But each was worth the effort of discovery. The Casa del Marinos (Sailor’s House) now houses a water-craft museum, and the more stately Casa de Labrador (Farmers House), which appears at the edge of green meadow, is lavishly furnished in period decor. The height of its rich and colourful interior is the Gabinete de Platino (Platinum Room), which houses a collection of exotic wood curios inlaid with platinum and gold.

Spring is the perfect time for a visit to Aranjuez. The temperature hovers in the mid-twenties, and sunshine abounds. If you travel during the week, the city is still relatively sleepy and rural despite its grandeur. However, you can also take the Tren de Fresa (Strawberry Train) – a replica of a 19th century steam train – from Atocha station on the weekends and celebrate Aranjuez’ delights with visiting madrilenos.
The Feast of San Fernando, at the end of May, features a running of the bulls and special corridas in conjunction with an agricultural fair and a ceramics show.

The city’s proximity to Madrid makes it the ideal day trip; however, if you wish to stay longer, the NH Principe de la Paz on San Antonio offers 86 rooms and two suites in a converted 18th century palace. Bring your checkbook, rates start at 200euros for a double room.

Dining, as with any place in Spain, is always a delight. For lunch, I tried the El Rana Verde on Plaza Rosinol by the river. It is the oldest restaurant in Aranjuez and offers a view of the Palacio Real as well as the Fountain of Hercules in the Jardin del Parterre. But no matter what you order as your principal dish, be sure to end your meal – and your visit – with strawberries and cream.
© Brent Robillard May 2007
lbrobillard at

 Brent is the author of two novels, Leaving Wyoming and  Houdini's Shadow. 
 Watch for Leaving Wyoming and Houndini's Shadow wherever good books are sold, or check out for more information.

Brent Robillard
The moment I stepped off the bus in Chinchon, the rain stopped. An hour later the first rays of sunshine broke through the cloud cover.


 More World Destinations


© Hackwriters 1999-2007 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.