Trip to Toledo

The roads in Spain between Madrid and Toledo across the Northern Plain are excellent,
and with the hood down and the dry Spanish wind blowing a treat you get a taste of the
real essence of this remarkable country. Holiday car hire allows you to explore this timeless
landscape at your own pace which has hardly changed since the immortal Don Quixote tilted
at windmills and the Inquisition led heretics to the stake, not all that long ago.

Take the Cibeles exit from Madrid and then get onto the N-401 South and then it’s a clear
two-hour drive to Toledo across a wonderfully Spanish, dry-as-dust landscape. You could
vary the itinerary and opt for a roundabout tour from the other direction that takes in the
Costa del Sol and Granada as well, before driving on to Madrid. The roads are good and
will take you past the majestic Sierra Nevada range of mountains with their zeppelin-shaped

Toledo is about two hours’ drive to the south of Madrid. It was once the capital of Spain, and
it has that magical quality that you find in many of the world’s great cities, with an added
Spanish edge to it – of Toledo steel, you might say.

Most visitors to Madrid make a point of taking a day trip to the old capital, and it’s certainly
well worth the time and effort because of the exceptional beauty of this historic city and the
concentration of stunning sights packed into its relatively small and compact area. Having
your own car means you can travel when it suits you and not join a coach tour.

Christians, Moors and Jews lived here in relative harmony until the 13th century, one of the
few places in Spain where that was the case, and it’s reflected in the fascinating mix of
architectural styles, cultures and cuisine for which the city is still famous.

Toledo has occupied an important defensive site overlooking a bend of the River Tajo
since Roman times. It has been an economic, political and cultural centre ever since, and
a palimpsest of varied influences down the centuries. The overall effect has a definitely
dark and gloomy, even brooding, quality, despite Toledo’s undeniable charm and beauty.
This is probably what the Spanish poet de la Vega had in mind when he described Toledo
as a ‘clear and illustrious nightmare’, and you just have to step inside the cathedral to see
exactly what he meant by that.

The magnificently exotic cathedral festooned with flying buttresses and grinning gargoyles,
was founded by the first bishop here in the 1st century. The Arabs converted it into a
mosque during the Moorish occupation, and when Alfonso VI recaptured Toledo during the
Reconquista it became a cathedral once more.

The main gateway into the city is the Puerta Bisagra, with a great double-headed eagle
carved into it and looking appropriately like something out of a Hammer horror film. This is
also the best place to park when you arrive here, because the medieval alleyways beyond
are a nightmare to negotiate on anything but feet.

Having your own car allows you to explore other nearly attractions and 1-2 hours drive away
is Alcazar is one of Spain’s most famous castles. It was home to Alfonso VI, attracting artists
and architects from across Christendom.

David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s 
spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in
North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap
up the history of great cities.


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