What can you do in Madrid if you’re on a budget and want to leave the city? You can go hiking!
El Embalse de El Atazar, Comunidad de Madrid, Dec. 2013 hike
When most people imagine Madrid, they only think of the enormous capital city and neglect to acknowledge the other towns, villages and natural areas that make up the larger Comunidad de Madrid Autonomous Community (similar to a state in the U.S.). Many think they’d have to take a long-weekend trip to Northern Spain and visit the Picos de Europa, or other famous national parks, to have a good hiking experience. Unbeknownst to many ex-pats and Spaniards alike, there are fantastic hiking trails only 30-40 minutes outside of the capital city where you can truly lose yourself in beauty of small towns, snow-capped mountains and windy nature trails.
Ricketts Glen State Park, Benton, Pennsylvania. June 2013
Growing up in “the middle-of-nowhere,” Pennsylvania (well, maybe it was a little suburban), I frequently went on hikes on the trails behind our house with my father. I always enjoyed being in the great outdoors and exploring new territory. However, I eventually began to resent the location of our house because “none of my friends EVER wanted to drive there to hang out.” During my teen years, it was especially difficult because not only would my friends not drive to my house but I also did not have a car until I was 16 or anywhere to walk to. I decided I was a city person and took off for the big city as soon as I could: when I started college. I realized I loved living in the city but still longed to get lost on a new trail and take in the sites and sounds of peaceful streams flowing over pebbles and animals frolicking through crisp autumn leaves.
Near Chewonki, Maine. Aug. 2013
I realized that although I knew I did not ever want to live in a rural area again, this did not mean I did not appreciate nature. I love city life and I know it is not for everyone. But, I think everyone-including city slickers- can learn to appreciate nature from time to time. That being said, Madrid’s natural surroundings are spectacular and definitely worth seeing on the weekends.
How can I go hiking in the Comunidad de Madrid?
Olive Trees Near Colmenar de Oreja, Comunidad de Madrid. Oct. 2013
Not everyone is a present-day Lewis or Clark, ready to discover new territories with only a map and a compass. Luckily, there are a few hiking groups in Madrid for both ex-pats and locals alike. The one I’ve hiked with, Hiking Madrid (Facebook: Hiking in The Community of Madrid/Senderismo en la Comunidad de Madrid), organizes weekly and biweekly group hikes depending on the season. The hikes are usually led by one person and the trails range in difficulty from beginner to advanced. All of the trails come from an English book, which can be found throughout the Comunidad de Madrid, that details various hiking trails throughout the Community of Madrid. The authors were ex-pats who lived in Madrid and were surprised by the amount of good, undocumented, hiking trails surrounding Spain’s capital city.
Collado Mediano Hike, Dec. 2013
The hikes normally include about 3-4 hours of solid hiking plus a lunch break. For the mere price of 12,o0 € plus transportation, you are provided with: lunch (usually a sandwich, chocolate and chips), a tour guide who knows the trails like the back of his hand, a drink at the end of the hike, and good conversation with fellow ex-pats or locals.
Chinchón, Comunidad de Madrid, Oct. 2013
Another wonderful thing about these hikes is that the trails start and finish in small, charming towns in the Comunidad de Madrid. Most of these towns, or villages, are relatively unknown and off the beaten track. They have not been as affected by tourism, thus the spirit and personality of these towns have been well-preserved. One of these towns, Chinchón, reminded me of stories I have heard of Spain about 200 years ago. The Plaza Mayor was not swarming with tourists and street performers, like the one in Madrid, and it also had a dirt ground which is still used for bull fights.
Castle in Chinchón, Comunidad de Madrid. Oct. 2013
On the first hike, which went between Colmenar de Oreja and Chinchón, I was pleasantly surprised to see a castle along the trail. Apparently, it used to be used as a fortress during the reign of Spain’s “Catholic Monarchs” in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, the castle was attacked and badly damaged by the French during Napoleon’s invasion in 1808.
Chinchón, Comunidad de Madrid. Oct. 2013
After every hike, the group always stops at a bar or café for a drink. On the first hike, we stopped in a place called, Mesón Quiñones: Cuevas del Murciélago (Quiñones Restaurant: Bat Caves). An old wine cellar from the beginning of the 18th century, Mesón Quiñones opened to the public as a restaurant in the 1970’s.
You can enter inside the restaurant and descend into the “bat caves” for a mini-tour of the wine cellar in which you can see the old containers used to store the wine. Also in the “bat caves,” you can take part in a wine-tasting for 1,00 € (already included in our price for the hike) and return home with a free complimentary Mesón Quiñones glass.
How do I sign up for these hikes?
In order to participate in one of the many wonderful hikes that Hiking in the Community of Madrid offers, you must join the e-mail list. You can do this by sending them a Facebook message or e-mailing them directly from their website. As soon as you are on the e-mail list, you will start receiving e-mails about upcoming hikes. Make sure you respond as quickly as possible to assure that you are on the list. There are many wonderful hikes to beautiful places outside of Madrid, like Chinchón and even El Escorial.
The hikes are a fantastic way to exercise, meet new people and take in Madrid’s natural beauty. Even if you are a die-hard city person who prefers skyscrapers to snow-capped mountains, you should participate in at least one hike. I can promise you that you will leave with a new-found appreciation for nature.