“The finest sight in Castile, is how Segovians sweepingly define the first appearance of their city and I agree with them: there are few urban compositions on earth to equal the impact of Segovia….” – Jan Morris – ‘Spain’
After we had finished our drink in Ávila it was reluctantly time to leave. We had liked it here but it was time to go and drive to our final destination, Segovia, about thirty miles away to the east. This involved a drive along the line of the Sierra de Guadarrama, the central mountain range of the Iberian Peninsula which effectively splits Spain in two, north and south.
The approach to Segovia was truly wonderful and still some way out we could see a golden city on a convenient rocky outcrop rising majestically from the plain with a spectacular mountain backdrop and the Cathedral and the Alcázar reaching dramatically into the blue sky.
I was determined not to repeat the parking difficulties of Ávila but this plan went spectacularly wrong after I drove through the gates into the old city and tried to guess a way to the Plaza Mayor where our hotel was waiting for us. We made a couple of circuits stopping here and there to consult an inadequate map and then by chance arrived at the main square where our path was blocked by one of those steel retractable bollards and my dramatic entrance raised the eyebrows of some nearby pedestrians.
Some men in a bar directed me to another entrance and this had a bollard in the down position and an intercom to request permission to enter. There was no answer and I was nervous about driving across it in case it raised up without warning and the CCTV cameras would catch the moment and I would forever be shown on television repeats of the Spanish equivalent of ‘Caught on Camera’. I could sense that a bus driver behind was getting impatient so I had to go and I revved the engine and popped the clutch, spun the wheels and dashed across as quickly as I could. Nothing happened – the bollard stayed down of course.
We were staying at the Sercotel Infanta Isabel and we had one of the best rooms on the second floor with a perfect view of the Plaza Mayor lined with cafés and bars and with the Cathedral directly opposite.
As it went dark it was nice to sit and watch the square melting from afternoon into evening with plenty of street activity. There were lots of Segovians walking out in families and we joined them in the busy streets and looked for somewhere to eat. We walked further than planned and ended up at the Aqueduct, which we were really saving until tomorrow so finding ourselves at the bottom of the town we walked back and by my choice found a little restaurant that turned out to be quite disappointing.
The next morning after breakfast we walked out into the sociable main square and followed a street adjacent to the Cathedral and walked in the direction of the Alcázar, which according to visitor statistics is the most visited castle in Spain.
The route took us through narrow streets, past craft shops and churches and eventually brought us out at the north of the city on the top of a rocky outcrop that was the location of the fortress that was begun in the twelfth century and was subsequently occupied by a succession of Castilian monarchs from Alfonso X to Phillip II and Charles III.
Segovia and the Spanish tourist board would have us believe that the Alcázar was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland and Disneyworld but there is no real evidence for this. In fact it is more likely that the famous icon of the Disney empire was inspired principally by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and several picturesque French palaces, most notably Louis XIV’s Versailles although it is also quite possible that the Alcázar in Segovia may also have been an important influence.
We purchased tickets to visit the Alcázar and paid a little extra to climb to the top of the Torre de Juan II (total price €6 each). The castle was busy with a coach full of Japanese tourists and several school visits so we had to try and arrange our journey through the rooms and exhibits to try and avoid the busy sections and the crowds. After visiting the state rooms and the armouries we ended our visit with a climb of three hundred and twenty steps up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower where we were rewarded for our efforts with fabulous views over the city and the surrounding countryside.
It had taken most of the morning to visit the Alcázar and after we were finished we walked back to the Plaza Mayor for a drink and a tapas and selected a bar with tables in the sun and sat and enjoyed watching the residents of Segovia as they went about their business of the day in probably the same way that they have for a thousand years. A walk around the square, a sit down, a chat, a walk around the square, a sit down, a chat and so on and so on.
It was hot now and we were enjoying the sun so when the bar owner pulled down the canopy for shade we moved on back into the side streets to find a photo opportunity of a medieval door that had inspired us from a description in a guide book that we had purchased at the castle. With mission accomplished and pictures in the can we returned to the square and stopped at a different bar for more drink and more tapas and then left and walked in the opposite direction towards the Roman Aqueduct.