Many visitors to Madrid are tempted by an excursion to Toledo, but the experience can often be marred by the packs of tourists that it attracts, especially during popular travel months. But Segovia, located one hour north of the capital and tucked into the foothills of the Guadarrama mountains, remains relatively unspoiled. The city presents plenty of reasons to visit, including Roman remains, Medieval Romanesque Churches, poets, and palaces—here are my top five picks in the city, compiled with the expert assistance of art historian Almudena Cros.
The 2,000-Year-old Aqueduct
Segovia is home to the impressive, 29,000-foot-long trajectory of a 1st century AD Roman Aqueduct. A marvel of civil engineering, the aqueduct is the best-preserved in Spain. In addition to its remarkable length, the 25,000 granite stones are held together without any mortar. These incredible attributes earned the aqueduct a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1985 (as did the old town).
The Romanesque Churches
Segovia’s Romanesque churches are also some of the best in Europe. Dating back to early Middles Ages, the Romanesque style is notable for its simple form, tall bell towers, and intricately carved capitals. One of our favorites is San Justo, which has delicate 12th-century frescoes and the mysterious wooden sculpture Christ de los Gascones. There are dozens of these churches in Segovia; though they're worth a visit individually, as a whole they provide a textbook depiction of the Spanish Romanesque style.
The Last Gothic Cathedral
As they grew out of the Romanesque era, some countries—including Spain—embraced the French initiated Gothic style. Throughout the country, you can visit splendid gothic churches; Segovia, however, is home to the last Gothic cathedral built in Europe. Commissioned by Charles V in 1525, the Segovia Cathedral contains all the usual gothic features, including stained glass windows, pointed arches, and a peaceful cloister—but pay particular attention to the beautiful tracery in its vaults. It's masterpiece.
The Antonio Machado House
Spanish poet Antonio Machado made Segovia his home from 1919 to 1932, during his time as a teacher. His house has now become a museum showcasing his life in the 1930s, allowing guests a glimpse into life leading up to the Spanish Civil War. The house provides interesting insight into the historical context of the time, as well as a wonderful display of Spanish literature.
Our wanderings through Segovia invariably lead us up uphill to the Alcazar, especially on clear days. Dramatically clinging to a rocky cliff, the foreboding Alcazar is visually astounding, but don’t be fooled by appearances—most of what you see today is the 19th-century reconstruction of the fire-raged fortress. Nevertheless, its importance to Spanish history—from it’s time as a local Arab fort to its prominence under the reigns of the monarchs of Castile (especially Isabella, future wife to Ferdinand II and queen of unified Spain)—as well as its unique architectural shape and features, still make it a highlight of Segovia. We love it for the excellent views of the city and the neighboring countryside and fresh air.
More from Condé Nast Traveler: