Where’s the heart of Spain? Many argue that Madrid is the heart and soul of Spain, having served as El Capital for centuries. Yet others, possessing a love for the Catalonian way, declare Barcelona as the true centerpiece of Spain. And while both are incredible cities, the heart of Spain lies very much in the middle – in Toledo, the capital of the Castile-La Mancha region. The city sits smack dab in the middle of Spain and is the most popular day trip location from Madrid at only 1 hour away by train. Toledo will never be the true destinations that Madrid or Barcelona are, but that’s alright, this city offers amazing sights and a look into Spain of the past. Walking these streets, there’s a unique and medieval feeling and a trip to Spain just wouldn’t feel Spanish enough without stopping here.
Toledo is a UNISECO World Heritage site and for good reason. The center of the city sits on a top of a mountainous hill, surrounded by a natural mote and essentially walled off from the surrounding hillsides in all 360 degrees. The views are stunning and any photo you take seems ready for a glamorous magazine. Compiling a list of highlights is difficult from this trip because it was all new, exciting, and unseen. In many ways, the four days I spent strolling the winding streets of Toledo were filled with highlights. Really the entire trip through Spain was one big highlight: a trip in southern Spain, including stops in Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Nerja, Malaga, and more. Here are some of them, a best of list…a list of things that make Toledo memorable.
Best Front Door to a City
Walking up into this city, you can’t really appreciate how beautiful these views are. You’re pouring sweat – carrying heavy bags and hearing the sun make your skin sizzle. All while hiking for 20 minutes, up a steep curving incline clearly designed to be driven and not walked. You can admire the vistas later, but don’t forget to recognize you are walking through a front door into an ancient city.
Best (and biggest) Plate of Food
Turning down a small side street (all streets in Toledo) I was looking for a local place, serving simple lunch food. You know, Burger and Fries, Sandwich and Soup, etc. I found a place blaring Spanish soccer from several mounted TV’s in each corner and getting fairly rowdy. I ordered the first thing that sounded good on the menu – a huge serving of two fried eggs, french fries, spicy red sausage, green olives, potato chips, and a leafy tuna salad which went untouched.
A great place to find solace away from the hectic mobs of tourists is Enebro, a simple outdoor bar/restaurant that serves up cold drinks and tapas. The sprawling set of chairs and tables, as well as the abundance of trees, are all a welcome oasis to the tight and narrow cobblestone streets and towering medieval buildings. During the afternoon heat this was a great way to meet locals and relax. Flipping through Neither Here Nor There, I ordered Calimocho a typical Spanish drink: a glass filled with ice, then half red wine and half Coca-Cola. Here the drink was made differently, ice and red wine were mixed with fizzy lemon soda and a bit of vermouth, but the standout was the Tapas. A chewy piece of bread with a creamy Manchego cheese swiped across it and a tortilla espanola made of eggs, onions, and potato, on top.
In the heart of Spain nobody understands you when you ask, “Where can I find a nearby Hostel”? You can try every word you think of, “Hotel, Hostel, Hostal, Hosteles, Habitación, Cama, etc”, and get the same response. A wrinkled face and a head shake. The word you want to use is Pensión. Only when you use this word will you be greeted with smiles, a map, and directions pointing you to walk back the way you entered and up a hill to find a Castle. Yes, a giant castle re-made on the inside, and now offering rooms for as low as $15 a night.
Sitting up on top of the city is the Alcázar, a looming stone fortress which sees all. During the Spanish Civil War this fortress played an important role and now houses the Regional Library and the “Museo del Ejército” or the Army Museum. This is a well known and always photographed monument, but the most incredible views are found as you walk along the outer walls, tracing the perimeter of the city and admiring the rugged cliffs and never ending arid land meeting the horizon.
Best (and narrowest) Roads
Toledo is known as a perfect day trip from Madrid – famous for it’s Marzipan and producing Swords long ago. But one of the most notable parts of this city are the cramped, unbelievably tight cobblestone streets. Down certain streets, cars cannot fit and Moped riders for once feel cool as they weave through. These roads are perfect for strolling, but driving inside the city walls can’t be any fun.