Toledo, Spain, lies only a short distance from Madrid yet I’d highly recommend heading there for more than a day trip. Here’s why.
Truth be told, I wasn’t enjoying the journey. Instead, I was feeling pretty sick.
Swerving, albeit at a slumbering pace, around hairpin bends while brimming with not-so-morning morning sickness, prickles of heat picked at my cheeks while I concentrated on the driver’s words.
He wanted this detour, this journey.
He wanted to show us the view.
Ten minutes later, and gulping with the gratitude of a stationary horizon, I understood what the man had meant.
Cloaked in magnificent, threatening purple and rising up in pink and peach stone from the riverbank below stood the imposing city of Toledo.
Spiked. Formidable. Immaculate with its colour coordination, it was hard to imagine a more impressive introduction to the skyline of a city.
Gurgling nausea be damned.
The driver was right: this was worth the view.
The medieval city of Toledo sits proud on the plains of Castilla-La Mancha, only 30 minutes from Madrid by high-speed train. Its guidebook status lists classic sights like St Mary’s Cathedral, the medieval synagogues of Santa María La Blanca and El Tránsito, the Roman Baths and the museum dedicated to former resident and art superstar El Greco.
Such rich pickings reflect Toledo’s capital status until it was unceremoniously overtaken by Madrid in 1563.
Come the European summertime months, the hordes descend on these tiny cobbled streets as daytrippers seek to notch up those sights before zipping back to Madrid before the purple night clouds fall.
But all these years of full time travel have taught me a trick or two, you see.
In this case, the trick lies in bypassing Madrid altogether and making Toledo and its surroundings a destination in their own right. You can either slot the area in to a week or so’s longer plan in Spain or jet across from the UK for a weekend and spend less than you would if you’d stayed in London.
Which is more of less what we did. We made it a long weekend.
Toledo’s surroundings include the infamous windmills of Don Quixote, the UNESCO biosphere reserve of the Tablas de Daimiel and the house and former acting grounds of Shakespeare’s contemporary: Cervantes.
Toledo itself, meanwhile, flourishes its own UNESCO World Heritage Status through bold, block arches above ground and hidden passageways beneath.
Long before it even became a popular idea, Toledo functioned as a hub for tolerance and religious respect. Muslims, Christians and Jews all lived together peacefully, albeit not perfectly, and even though it later turned ugly instead.
Toledo’s other striking accolade involves something rather more modern.
Toledo has ratcheted up the prestigious title of Spain’s Capital of Gastronomy 2016, expanding on its traditional marzipan treats into Michelin-starred dining, wine tasting for beginners, underground bodegas and chorizo-laced migas.
Details, hungry readers, below.
But the real charm, for me, came at night when the tourists faded into the shadows and dissolved back to Madrid. Spain’s famed inability to ever go to bed at a reasonable hour emerged at a gentle, almost twinkling pace.
Echoing courtyards, wine tasting via computer game, chattering beneath floodlit cathedrals.
More tired than usual due to my then-hidden-ish pregnancy, I walked home alone, reflecting on those who had lived together, harmoniously, for a time on these steep, moonlit cobblestones.
And perhaps that was the most magnificent view of all. A glimpse into the past that teaches us, once again, that good things are possible. Always.
For now, goodnight Toledo.
Disclosure: I love Spain well and have visited many times and even lived there for a while. On this occasion, I visited in partnership with iAmbassador and Castilla La Mancha. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. And to go to bed at a reasonable hour, just occasionally, even in Spain…