Taking the road with an established destination but slowly is one of those pleasures of which one never tires. Looking for nature, breathing the air that flows in the most unspoiled corners, feeling far away from everything else. Almost as if one had been left without signal, isolated from any contact other than that offered by the five senses. Looking, listening, smelling, touching and tasting. Connected, but without connection.
That is what we suggest here. To prepare a getaway and then enjoy it fully aware, forgetting that there is a world outside the one experienced in that present moment. The experience we are betting on here is located on the Segovian side of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Specifically, in the mountains of Valsaín, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. These mountains await the newcomer without titles or airs of grandeur, only with the promises that the mountain always offers. Silence, immensity, trails, water, stories. Mobile in airplane mode and the senses awake.
The road that leads to the village of Valsaín is already an experience in itself, especially when approached in the winter months. The trees that guard the road are dyed white, the cold surrounds everything and the curves, once those tall trees are exhausted, give way to the beautiful meadow of Navalhorno.
In the heart of the Guadarrama National Park, in the lands of Segovia, Valsaín forms, together with La Pradera, Riofrío and La Granja de San Ildefonso, the Real Sitio de San Ildefonso. It is a historic place, once frequented by royalty, today devoted to a quiet life at the foot of the mountain. That serene character floods the first sensations, still on the road, while the wooden houses follow one after another. Valsaín is intimately linked to this, as it is linked to its mountains.
Establishing this enclave as a starting point for all the excursions to be made means going to meet a Segovian village. It means savoring its old streets, its typical mansions, the Castilian gastronomy and the feeling of being close to nature, in the middle of the valley, with the mountains guarding the routine. It has barely 200 inhabitants, so it will be surprising, at least at first contact, to discover the richness of its history and with it the ruins of the royal palace.
It is known that the mountains of Valsaín were the object of desire of royalty since the 12th century, when they joined an aristocracy that had soon understood the wealth of the area. At the beginning of the 14th century, this place was a hunting lodge that the Trastámara house used to refer to as Casa del Bosque (House of the Forest). Already in the time of Philip II and with the dynasty of the Habsburgs, it became a palace. From 1552 to 1556 the works of remodeling of the complex were carried out, promoted by Philip II and in the hands of the architect Gaspar de Vega. He designed a building around a large courtyard, flanked by corner towers and with accessory structures that were added in later years. In its period of splendor, the Flemish influences that the architect picked up on his travels through Europe were clearly visible.
Today only ruins remain, partly because of a great fire that broke out in the late seventeenth century, under the reign of Charles II. Decadent and abandoned, there is not much left of the palace in which the crown occupied its time. But the views of the valley from its location are still what they were and this palace is still the great artistic and historical legacy that royalty left in Valsaín.
The connection we propose with the environment, in any case, is more about abandoning yourself to nature. To the mountains of Valsaín, crossed by the Eresma River, where it seems that the view is not enough to contemplate all the elements of interest that are hidden among pines, oaks, oaks and ferns. The various hiking trails lead the traveler between streams, waterfalls and rock formations, discovering viewpoints as you go.
The ascent to the mountain is not always easy, but it is worth it every time. Only thanks to the effort one can contemplate the water falling down the Chorranca waterfall, undoubtedly one of the most spectacular corners of the Segovian mountain range. Up there there is no signal, that’s what this route is about, but the walker does not need it. Nature envelops and isolates, the water thunders in its fall and the eyes are lost, with pleasure, among the rocks and the nooks and crannies of the trees. There are blackberries, mushrooms, the chirping of birds. Lots of life.
In this huge mountain you also have the opportunity to approach a beautiful meadow that in the summer months surprises for its green and in the winter months for its white, almost always covered with snow. Legends dwell in its rock formations. Especially well known is the one that concerns the so-called Monk’s Cave. It tells of a remote time when the search for eternal youth and the philosopher’s stone was the desire of many. A young man named Segura, according to legend, was willing to sell his soul to the devil to achieve it. The devil, tied to the province of Segovia in many ways, agreed, but the young man eventually repented and went to live, as a hermit, in the mountains.
When Satan came to claim his part of the bargain, the young man entrusted himself to the Virgin, who appeared to scare the creature away. Along the way, the devil lost his teeth, which were transformed into the stones that can be seen today in this meadow. The walk to it, from Valsaín, is most pleasant. The eyes are hopelessly lost again.
As they must have lost those of the king consort Francisco de Asís de Borbón, who at the beginning of the XIX century ordered to carve in a stone, in the hill of the Moño de la Tía Andrea, a privileged seat. At an altitude of 1,600 meters, he watched from this place, then, La Granja de San Ildefonso. Today the pines have invaded the views, although they still leave spaces for the eyes to dare to go further.
In the opposite direction, but without leaving the mountain, awaits a special corner: the highest waterfall in the sierra. The Chorro Grande waterfall, which slides for about 80 meters through granite rock, creating a spectacular picture. The climb up to it does not involve great difficulty. However, in the winter months, with certain frozen sections, it is advisable to be cautious and take each step carefully. Perhaps the perfect time to pursue this sound of water is spring, when the thaw allows the flow to become immense.
Much of the way to the waterfall is sheltered under the pines of Segovia, which rise between streams and creeks. The one of Peña Berrueco first, the one of the Fuente del Infante later, the one of arroyo Grande to conclude. The last stretch includes a steep slope, but the final views compensate for any breaths shaken by the effort. There planted, a large granite mass says a lot about the strength of the mountain, as well as the water that slides relentlessly. Even with all this, the consequences of the great fire that ravaged this area of the Sierra in the summer of 2019 are still being felt and mourned.
But the water is still flowing. There was a time when that of the Sierra de Guadarrama was considered almost a sacred water, highlighting within this fascination corners like the Fuente de la Reina, in the Pradera de la Fuenfría. From this place the Siete Picos, one of the most admired mountain formations, can be appreciated. Legends arise again, also related to the search for eternal youth, in this case by a dragon that found here, after traveling the world, perpetual rest. The Seven Peaks that can be seen today are, according to this myth, the shapes of the crest of this dragon that remained frozen here, preserving its appearance, just as he wished.
You should also stop to take a breath and capture the smell of the pine forests of Segovia. It is a characteristic smell, which fills the nostrils pleasantly and soaks the body with intense, but never overwhelming, sensations. The constantly flowing water also seeps into the lungs and has an effect, it generates a humidity with which you breathe better. A walk through the pine forest is refreshing.
The journey goes on through the Boca del Asno recreation area. Whoever wants to listen to another legend, will find the explanation for this curious name in a story for which we must go back to the nineteenth century. It was celebrated, then, in this exceptional environment, the election of a new mayor. Not much given to words, he seemed to be unable to start his speech with such bad luck that, as he was about to do so, a donkey brayed. Everyone present, including the mayor, burst out laughing. Another explanation, perhaps more plausible, looks at another large granite mass that bears some relation to a donkey’s head. This formation awaits the walker on the left bank of the Eresma River.
This riverbed conditions a beautiful spot, with magnificent flora and fauna, which even offers the possibility of bathing in a couple of natural pools. The hiking trails are almost endless, as the paths cross, the forest widens in certain sections and the river leads to other places of equal beauty, such as Valsaín itself. This path that leads to the village runs along the fishing grounds that Carlos III ordered to be restored. These Royal Fisheries were part of the recreational areas where royalty and nobility enjoyed the incomparable freshness that, in summer, provides the Segovian pine forest.
The Royal Site of San Ildefonso is not only about nature baths. In fact, one of the most stimulating walks arises under the shelter of the greatest opulence: the one that Felipe V built in the Royal Site of La Granja de San Ildefonso. The first of the Bourbons to rule Spain fell in love, like his predecessors on the throne, with this natural spot at the foot of Guadarrama. The monarch had lived a good part of his childhood in the palace of Marly, where his grandfather, the French sovereign Louis XIV, spent his days of rest. The Sun King built the impressive Versailles, but it was Marly the place that made a place in Philip’s heart.
From these memories, and the desires they would generate, the Bourbon bought the farm of San Ildefonso from the Hieronymites and built his Royal Site. Theodore Ardemans was responsible for the palace, René Carlier, pupil of the architect of Louis XIV, for the gardens. The style of one and the other, Spanish and French respectively, was noticeable. Some rooms of the palace can still be visited today, and the grandeur of the construction can still be felt.
But if anything impresses are the gardens, with its 26 monumental fountains, most of them dedicated to classical mythology. Several of the most important French sculptors of the time worked on them, who took advantage of what was said that the waters of this mountain were the best. The colors of the garden, the reflection in the ponds, the contrast with the palace… everything changes with the seasons, making this visit pleasant and different at every time of the year.
This disconnecting getaway to reconnect with what is important can conclude by touching the sky of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Discovering the Mujer Muerta and the legend that surrounds this beautiful mountain range, which speaks of the sacrifice of a mother out of love for her two children. From this side of Segovia and in the distance, its forms resemble the shapes of a woman resting. It is a symbol for the Segovians. It is coming home. In this legendary mountain range there are mountains that exceed 2,000 meters in altitude. This is the case of La Pinareja, with its 2,197 meters, or Montón de Trigo, whose 2,161 meters also have their own legend. This is what happens with what feels unattainable: it is imagined and reinvented.
But this Segovian Sierra de Guadarrama, despite that first feeling of isolation between lush forests, large mountains and hidden spots, is close, friendly and very beautiful. A place where the five senses are more alive than ever.
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