The Community of Madrid offers some incredible hiking that gives you an entirely new perspective of one of Europe’s greatest cities and regions.
Stop and think for a moment about the city of Madrid. What images do you see? Perhaps the sophisticated plazas, narrow cobblestone streets, buzzing bars; maybe the quintessential cafe, packed tapas restaurants, Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia, or possibly the relaxing green spaces like Retiro, Casa de Campo, Parque de Oeste, and more. Four years ago, I thought about Madrid similarly, but today, the prevalent image that shines brighter than the rest for me is hiking. Yes, Madrid has mountains. Some of the best routes are located close to picturesque Spanish towns only thirty minutes outside the city center in the Community of Madrid, and all reachable by public transportation.
There are many places to explore, but one of the best towns to head off to with hiking gear is Manzanares el Real.
Manzanares el Real
Altitude: 908 Meters / 2,979 Feet
Distance from Madrid: 50 Kilometers / 31 Miles
In the town, you’ll find the Manzanares el Real Castle built during the reign of the Catholic monarchs in 1475, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Nieves, an Archeological museum, and rich local cuisine. But what makes this the most visited town in the Community of Madrid is the striking, geological phenomenon, La Pedriza.
Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1992, La Pedriza is a hikers paradise. The rock formations that distinguish this area from its neighbors take up 32 square kilometers of the Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Mazanares. Divided into the Pedriza Anterior, where more boulder-like rocks are found, and the Pedriza Posterior, made up of vertical sheets of rock, it’s no wonder this area was a great hiding spot for famous bandoleros like Luis Candelas and Paco Sastre during the second half of the 19th century. Here you can explore caves, climb to the top of rock towers, stand next to what seems like the biggest boulder in the world (El Tolmo), spot rocks in the shape of animals, relax by waterfalls, and maybe see some mountain goats. Elevations range from a low of 890 meters (2,919 feet) at the Embalse de Santillana and climb to 2000 meters (6,561 feet) at las Torres de La Pedriza.
Choosing a Route
It’s no surprise that La Pedriza offers a plethora of routes, most of which range from intermediate to advanced. So what’s the best one? Well, after walking an obscene amount of kilometers and exploring the area inside and out my favorite is La Gran Cañada.
La Gran Cañada
Total Time: 4.5 – 5.5 hours
Distance: 8.5 Kilometers / 5.3 Miles
What makes this hike stand out from the rest is that it’s easy to navigate. I should mention that most of the routes in La Pedriza aren’t well marked and it’s very easy to get lost. The trail begins and ends in the town of Manzanares el Real. The altitude change is only about 400 meters, which means you’re not too far up in the mountains, but you still experience wonderful views, see rocks in the shape of animals, and explore caves. Along the path is the Risco de Ofertoria (a big rock that many say looks like an engagement ring). The old wives tale says that this rock is where lovers come to propose, or people come to ask the universe to bring love in to their life. After you pass this point, you’ll notice spray painted hearts along the route, which is why the hike is also called the walk of hearts.
Soon you’ll come to a ravine, where large rock formations tower above you. This is La Gran Cañada. The path at this point levels out, which makes sense because farmers used this route to move their cattle and sheep through the mountains.
Access to hikes near Madrid
The great part about many of the hiking routes in the Community of Madrid is that it doesn’t take much time to reach them, and most are accessible by public transportation. To reach Manzanares el Real take bus 724 or 720 from Plaza de Castilla bus terminal. The bus ride takes about 30 minutes and it’s the stop in front of the Eroski supermarket, just after the Manzanares el Real Castel. You buy your ticket on the bus (3.35 euros each way) and if you have an abono (monthly subway pass) show it to the driver and you may get a discount!
Find out more about hiking in the Community of Madrid.
Cynthia Blair Kane is the co-author of Take a Hike: The Best 50 Routes in the Community of Madrid (Ediciones la Librería, May 2011) and has recently teamed up with RamaFood on a free guided tapas tour of Madrid. You can download the app here. While in Madrid, she spends her Sundays leading people out into the mountains, writes the Madrid city guide for BlackBook Magazine, and is a Madrid blogger for EuroCheapo.com. More information about Cynthia at cynthiakane.com