The reservoir of El Atazar, Madrid’s very ocean

If we travel north from the very heart of Spain’s capital, we’ll soon see a vast lake spreading through six municipalities of the region of Sierra Norte. The lake has a depth of more than 300 feet, and it makes one forget about the city’s pavement and roads —just as if they belonged to another time and space. But the truth is, we’re still in the Community of Madrid. A different Madrid, bluer and greener. We’re in the reservoir of El Atazar, the one and only ocean in the Spanish capital.

The history behind the largest reservoir in the Community of Madrid

The construction of the reservoir began in 1965 under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco; this was, in fact, the last reservoir built during the dictator’s regime. The artificial lake was finished in 1972 with the massive expense of 5000 million pesetas, even though it was meant to only cost 1000 million.

The techniques used to build the largest reservoir in the Community of Madrid were certainly innovative. For the first time in Spain’s history, they used a double-curvature vault, and the structure’s weight was supported by natural ground. However, the slate rocks couldn’t bear the load and tension created by the lake and the dam, so they had to reinforce some areas with concrete. Nowadays, the reservoir is handled by Canal de Isabel II, a company that manages the water supplies for Madrid, and the reservoir of El Atazar gathers 46% of the whole reservoir volume in the region.

A green landscape, with some rocks on the front and a lake in the distance

The reservoir of El Atazar from the distance. | Shutterstock

Six municipalities and one association

As we have seen, this artificial lake encompasses six municipalities which constitute the Association of the Reservoir of El Atazar. That is, El Atazar, El Berrueco, Cervera de Buitrago, Patones de Arriba, Robledillo de la Jara and Puentes Viejas. Other municipalities that are close by are Buitrago de Lozoya, La Hiruela and Rascafría. These villages are quite popular in the area, and many consider them the most beautiful villages of the whole Community of Madrid.

There are many things to do in the surroundings of El Atazar. There, one can easily choose a path and go for a walk, or spend the day visiting the villages and dams surrounding the lake. It’s also a good idea to take a couple of days to get to know the area. In fact, there’s a trail called the Path of Genaro that goes on for 37 miles, bordering the lake and going through the most notable villages. We’ll need more than a day to finish it start to end.

The reservoir of El Atazar: dams, lakes and roads

There are different ways to access Madrid’s ocean, but the most popular one goes through the village of El Berrueco. The main reason behind it is the fact that the highway Autovía A-1 has its first diversion there. Besides walking through the streets of the village and visiting the Water Museum or the Museum of Masonry, we can also go for a hike in El Berrueco.

A river in the middle of two rocky cliffs, and a forest on the left side of the picture

The dam of Villar. | Shutterstock

Without a doubt, the highlight of El Atazar’s surroundings are the dams. Apart from Puentes Viejas and El Atazar, Villar has a remarkable dam too. There, water and rocks paint a beautiful landscape. Another option —which, of course, can be arranged together with the rest of the activities— is to pay a visit to the lookout points scattered around the reservoir. Luckily, the most charming ones are located in El Atazar.

The roads in the area are an adventure in their own right. M-127, M-133 and M-134 are perhaps the most remarkable ones. All three of them are narrow secondary roads, but their turns and panoramic views are impressive, especially in M-133 and M-134. Indeed, many bikers enjoy these peculiar roads on a daily basis.

A new world of possibilities

A person windsurfing in the blue waters of the reservoir of Atazar

A person windsurfing near Cervera de Buitrago. | Shutterstock

Considering all this, it becomes clear that there are many activities to do in El Atazar. Moreover, every season has different things to offer. For instance, summer is the perfect time to bathe in the lake —always bearing in mind in which areas we’re allowed to do so. In fact, it’s very common to see people playing water sports like kayaking or paddle surfing in the lake. On another note, the nearby villages are best known for their great gastronomical and housing services.

Going for a walk, biking, wandering through the winding roads of Sierra Norte, either by motorbike or by car, diving into the reservoir’s water, visiting the villagesThe possibilities here are endless and we can plan the day in very different ways.

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