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Madrid: Hike the Cuenca Alta del Manzanares Mountains

Begin your hike from the town of Manzanares el Real, beneath the quintessential Spanish castle. Stand on the pretty lakeshore, look past the castle, and you'll see the peaks rising up behind the town.The climb up into the Cuenca Alta del Manzanares mountains gives spectacular views and a real escape from the city vibe for a discreet night’s bivvy amongst the boulder fields and unusual granite outcrops. If you search well, or ask locals, you may even find the gorgeous swim hole of Baños de Venus de La Pedriza... 

There are lots of short distance suggested hikes (called PR) that run through the park. One popular day hike is the trek to the Yelmo, one of the highest peaks in the area. The route from the village is well-marked by red and white stripes painted onto rocks. It's a long day walk so be sure to pack enough food and water. 

Level of Difficulty: Medium (if you're going to bivvy, Easy if you're just going for a day hike).  Bus 724 from Madrid’s Plaza de Castilla interchange departs every half an hour.

What to pack: Warm clothes (check the weather forecast!), woolly hat, headtorch, raingear, sleeping bag, mat and bivvy bag.

Best time to go: late spring or early summer before the fierce Madrid summer heat descends.

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Europe's third largest city may not have a beach like Barcelona, but if you come on a city break to Madrid sunbathing is the last thing that'll be on your mind.  Spain's capital is one bursting with culture and activities for tourists at every turn, with museums, art galleries and night after night of sexy flamenco.

Madrid's tourism board will proudly inform you that the city has more bars per square metre than anywhere else in Europe.  When it comes to appearances Madrid is hard to beat too, having retained much of its historic and regal flair seen in its wide boulevards, elegant fountains and royal parks. And for those of you who are bad with your bearings, don't worry, despite the size of this metropolis, Madrid's centre is surprisingly small. It has one of Europe's best metros too. 

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Shopping


Hang your head in shame if you leave the city without visiting the Prado art gallery (Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23). The permanent collection is wonderful and the temporary exhibitions are very good too. This month Goya's portrait of Don Pedro de Alcántara Téllez-Girón y Pacheco, 9th Duke of Osuna is on display - on loan from the Frick Collection in New York, where it is normally housed. Until 24 April, museodelprado.es.


The Matadero cultural center in the south of the city is a hub of all kinds of artistic activity, but it also plays host to a farmers market every month. In November, more than 50 stallholders will be plying their local wares to visitors, anything from Spanish cheeses and olive oils, to hamburgers and fresh veg. 28-29 November, http://mercadoproductores.es.


The heat gets cranked up all the way come July in Madrid, so the only place to head is a terrace. Atenas is one of the city's best, located in a park just a stone's throw from the Manzanares River. Expect chilled-out tunes, live music and respite from the soaring temperatures (Calle Segovia/Calle Cuesta de la Vega, terrazaatenas.com).


As the suffocating heat of the Madrid summer begins to ramp up in June, the covers are pulled off the public swimming pools. For those in the city centre, the best option to cool off is the complex at Casa de Campo, which has plenty of space for sunbathers, picnickers and the serious swimmer (7 Paseo Puerta del Angel, Metro: Lago).

Sightseeing


May is a great month to visit Madrid, as the weather is pleasant without being too hot and Madrileños of all ages get out on the streets to enjoy their patron saint festivities (May 11-15). San Isidro is the saint being celebrated, with parades, concerts and fireworks marking the occasion. (www.esmadrid.com/en)


Part of Madrid's so called "golden triangle" of museums, the Reina Sofía is Madrid's home for 20th-century art. Picasso's Guernica is the most famous part of its collection, but there is also work from Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and Juan Gris. Unlike the other museums in the city it's open Monday (but closed Tuesday!).


Madrid's penitents, in their distinctive hooded garb, take to the streets for the annual Easter processions. Check http://www.esmadrid.com/ for the full routes for these atmospheric religious marches, which will run from March 20 to 27.


Forget Father Christmas, for Spaniards gifts are delivered courtesy of the Three Kings, who will be arriving in Madrid with their own special parade on Kings Night, 5 January. The procession is a firm family favourite, and will run from Nuevos Ministerios down to Plaza Cibeles. (http://www.esmadrid.com/en)


One of the biggest football teams in the world, Real Madrid, has a stadium whose grandeur matches its rich history. Even if you manage to get tickets to see a game while in the Spanish capital, it's worth taking the official tour of the ground, which takes in the trophy room, the museum and even the changing rooms and dugout. For more information visit realmadrid.com.


Madrid is blessed with three of the world's greatest art museums, all within a stone's throw of one another: the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen. The latter is particularly interesting given that it is actually a private collection. A visit in October is a must, to check out the first Edvard Munch exhibition in Madrid since 1984. For more information go to www.museothyssen.org.

Key Areas


The ski season might be over but that doesn't stop anyone from hitting the slopes in Madrid. The Snowzone at the Xanadú mall in the nearby town of Arroyomolinos features an indoor real snow experience all year round. With a kart track next door it's a great choice for stag parties. madridsnowzone.com


If you can handle your camera's flash, there's no better place to go for a nighttime photo opportunity than El Templo de Debod. This ancient Egyptian temple was dismantled brick by brick, and given to Spain as a gift from Egypt. Its home, the Parque del Oeste, also affords some stunning views of the capital.


Faced with dwindling custom, the stallholders at the Mercado de San Fernando food market (Calle de Embajadores 41) have taken the initiative and now cook up their produce for you while you wait. Expect affordable prices and a clientele of appreciative locals. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/mercadosanfernando/.


Faced with dwindling custom, the stallholders at this food market Mercado de San Fernando (Calle de Embajadores 41) have taken the initiative and now cook up their produce for you while you wait. Expect affordable prices and a clientele of appreciative locals.


Christmas wouldn't be Christmas in Madrid without a visit to the Plaza Mayor. Come December the city's main square is decked out with dozens of stalls, selling everything from toys and balloons, to nativity figurines and outlandish wigs, which everyone seems to don this time of year. For a traditional snack seek out the bars selling calamari baguettes.


For a gift for that hard to buy for relative, try Antigua Casa Talavera, a family store that opened its doors in 1904 and sells a stunning array of hand painted ceramics, sourced from producers in other Spanish cities such as Seville, Granada and Toledo. Calle de Isabel La Católica 2, Metro Santo Domingo.

Day Trips


The stunning Roman Aqueduct in the nearby city of Segovia has to be seen to be believed. In fact, if you have a decent camera you'll want to spend all day getting the perfect shot of it. A hard morning's snapping deserves a decent feast though, and what better than the city's specialty of roast suckling pig?


A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Alcalá de Henares is just a short hop from Madrid by train, and is brimming with history. The birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the city has a museum dedicated to the author of Don Quixote, as well as being home to the Madrid region's archeological museum. turismoalcala.es

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