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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


Visit the monthly farmers market, where producers from around the Madrid region come to the Matadero arts centre to sell their wares and hold tastings and demonstrations. It's great place to pick up excellent olive oil, honey and beer, among many other things. 18, 19 February; 25, 26 March. http://mercadoproductores.es/


Ride the Navibus, the city's “Christmas bus” that takes passengers on a tour of Madrid's glistening Christmas lights and trees. Theres's no better way to soak up the Christmas atmosphere!


Soak up the autumnal colours along the Manzanares river and in the Casa de Campo park by hiring bikes and a picnic from the Matadero, a former slaughterhouse that is now one of Madrid's most happening cultural spaces.


The mercury bursts out of thermometers in July in Madrid, so the best place to head to 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 temperature shoots up in June, all minds turn to matters aquatic. The biggest and arguably most enjoyable pool is to be found in the Casa de Campo (Paseo Puerta del Ángel, 7. Metro Lago) but there is also a swanky rooftop watering hole atop the Emperador Hotel on Gran Vía (www.emperadorhotel.com)

Sightseeing


Running until March 26 is a retrospective of American photographer Philippe Halsman, famous for his photographs of jumping celebrities and Life magazine covers. He also had a long working relationship with Spanish surrealist painter, Salvador Dali. Highlights include his fantastic series of photographs of Marilyn Monroe. It's on at the CaixaForum, http://www.esmadrid.com/en/whats-on/philippe-halsman-surprise-me-caixaforum-madrid


The Three Kings parade. Forget Christmas Day, Spanish children traditionally receive their presents from the Three Kings on January 6th, the Epiphany. Madrid holds a huge Three Kings parade every year on January 5th, with dancers, floats, and of course, Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar, who throw sweets out to the children in the crowd.


Renoir: Intimacy. Don't miss the chance to see some of the French impressionist's most famous works at Madrid's Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, one of the city's ‘golden triangle' of art galleries. It is showing 70 of Renoir's works this winter, focusing on his depiction of intimacy in all its guises. Until 22 January, http://www.museothyssen.org.


Flamenco continues to thrive in the Spanish capital, and while there are plenty of tourist based options, for something a little more underground head to El Juglar on Sunday nights, where up and coming local talent struts its stuff on a tiny stage (37 Calle de Lavapiés, Metro Lavapiés).


For some unbeatable views of the city, check out the Gymage Lounge Resort, which is a gym, hotel, restaurant and rooftop terrace cocktail bar all rolled into one. In the scorching August heat a late-night visit to the roof to take in the sights is the best plan. (gymage.es)


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)

Key Areas


Explore some of the world's most classic cars at ClassicAuto Madrid 2017, held in the glass pavilion of Madrid's Casa de Campo park from February 24-26. english.classicautomadrid.com


Get your sweet fix at Casa Mira, which has been making the Spanish Christmas classic turrón a nougat like sweet since 1842. The turrones are all hand-made and cut and bought by weight, a perfect traditional gift from Madrid.


One of Madrid's most multicultural and up-and-coming neighbourhoods, Lavapiés, plays host to a tapas and music festival this October that is bound to get your taste buds tingling. The area will host 67 concerts during Tapapies, with a diverse blend of music including rumba, blues, retro, swing, funky, afrobeat and samba. There will also be a children's theatre and street circus performances. 15-25 October, http://tapapies.com/ .


A visit to Madrid would not be complete without a trip to the Rastro flea market, which sets up every Sunday and bank holiday down Ribera de Curtidores street in La Latina. From vintage clothing and military memorabilia to classic vinyl and samurai swords, you'll find it all here. madrid.es


Madrid is now teeming with gourmet markets, and it's much the better for it. One of the more interesting options is Mercado de San Ildefonso, which finds its home in the shopper's paradise of Calle Fuencarral. Expect a mix of mouth-watering food, including prawns, calamari, Iberian jamón and Spanish sausages on offer, and a very cool crowd of locals (57 Calle Fuencarral, Metro Tribunal).


If the limited pools in the city centre aren't enough to cool you down, then catch a bus from Avenida de America and head to the brilliantly named Aquopolis water park, where you can enjoy the flume rides, slides and dolphin shows. villanueva.aquopolis.es

Day Trips


Take the 40 minute bus to Manzanares el Real, a town nestled in the Sierra de Guadarrama, from where you can embark on a range of hikes. The town is home to a medieval castle and some local bars where you can enjoy a cold beer and some tapas after a day soaking up the beautiful scenery. Buses leave from Plaza de Castilla, for timetables visit: http://crtm.es/datos_lineas/horarios/8724H1.pdf .


The Puerto de Navacerrada ski resort is just 60km from Madrid and accessible via public transport. Make the most of the wintery weather and spend a day or two on the pistes of the Sierra de Guadarrama.


Pay homage to the ‘Spanish Shakespeare' and author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, by visiting his hometown this year, the 400th anniversary of his death (ironically, the very same day as Shakespeare). Alcalá de Henares is 30 minutes from Madrid and is also renowned for its free tapas, so go hungry!


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?

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