Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

September 2010: Toledo

Situated about an hour's drive south and a little west of Madrid, the small city of Toledo is one that has wielded considerable power and influence throughout most of its history, having served as capital first of the Visigothic Kingdom and then of Castile, prior to the formation of modern Spain. The old walled city is built on a secure hilltop location surrounded on three sides by a sweeping bend in the River Tagus (Rio Tajo in Spanish). Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986, the old city is a treasure trove of historic streets, alleyways and buildings, dominated by the 16th century Alcazar fortress and the considerably older cathedral.

Of all the buildings that I visited, my personal favourite was the beautiful San Juan de los Reyes monastery. While many of Toledo's interesting structures are Christian churches, monasteries and convents, the city also has a number of notable Jewish and Islamic buildings, including the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe, now preserved as a museum in the care of the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed it is said that, prior to the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain over 500 years ago, people of the three great monotheistic faiths lived in harmonious co-existence within the confines of Toledo's walls. Perhaps in that respect, this venerable city could teach the modern world a thing or two.

Today, the city is famous for its marzipan, for the craftsmanship of its metalworkers (especially in the production of ceremonial weaponry), and for staging one of the most spectacular Corpus Christi processions in the world. The tourist can experience any or all of these, although the last mentioned would require careful planning. For me, it was enough simply to stroll through the streets, soaking up the atmosphere and visiting a selection of the most interesting buildings.

With the advent of the high-speed train, visitors to Madrid can reach Toledo in a mere 25 minutes, making it an easy day trip destination for those based in the capital. Alternatively, the city makes a good short break destination in its own right. Whatever the nature of the trip, my advice would be to start your explorations early, as negotiating the sometimes steep inclines can be hard work in the afternoon heat.

San Juan de los Reyes

This beautifully restored Franciscan abbey, constructed 1477-1504, was a highlight of my visit to Toledo.

Base: Hilton Buenavista