On our AirBnB host, Marcos’s recommendation, we made the half hour train trip from Madrid to El Escorial, A monastery and palace of the Spanish royal family for the last 500 years, designed by Juan Batista de Toledo, who had previously worked on Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
It’s a very pleasant journey, and the only place in Spain that we passed through rugged wilderness. The air is cooler and cleaner up in the hills away from Madrid. All that wilderness probably accounts for the fact that theres also a Royal Hunting Lodge, La Granjilla de la Fresneda, 5 km from the palace complex.
El Escorial has always been a monastery , and still is. It’s also a necropolis for the royal family, it has been a hospital and is at present a boarding school. In a two hour walk through the complex, we saw only a fraction of it. The Basilica is quite magnificent, the Royal Library, containing thousands of priceless antique books, and the Necropolis are gaudily splendid. The royal chambers contain exquisite workmanship, and are little changed since they were lived in. Photographs were forbidden, but a few were taken, perhaps by accident. The exterior design and the overall layout is austere, with little ornamentation, and the surrounding gardens strictly formal.
We also visited La Casita del Infante, built in the 1770s by the Infante Gabriel of Spain, son of King Charles 111, as his private ‘hideaway” to compose and play music. It’s a beautiful miniature nobleman’s residence, surrounded, again, by formal gardens. Surprisingly, and anachronistically, it has a modern bathroom, installed some decades ago, when Queen Elizabeth 11, of England had morning tea there, so that she could pee, if necessary, in the comfort to which she was accustomed!