Friday Check in at the airport for your flight to Madrid. You will be met on arrival and transferred from the airport to your hotel, the 3 star Hotel Puerta de Toledo in central Madrid, named after the nearby Puerta de Toledo city gate. The first evening includes dinner at the hotel.
Saturday Guided walking tour of Madrid
Breakfast first at the hotel, then the morning's treat is a guided walking tour of the old historic centre of Madrid. We stop first at the impressive Plaza Mayor, one of the most beautiful squares in Spain, then continue to the Puerta del Sol, formerly one of the gates in the wall surrounding the city and now located on a vast pedestrianised public square. It's one of the best–known and busiest places in Madrid, marking the central point of Spain's entire radial road system which extends out from the capital like a spider's web. The Puerta del Sol also contains the famous clock whose bells mark the beginning of the New Year in Spain (see Grape Expectations...).
The guide will point out the city's main landmarks and recount its history as you go along, and the tour concludes at the rather quaint Plaza Santa Ana, fringed with cafés and restaurants and a favourite of Ernest Hemingway. The afternoon and evening are free for you to explore Madrid at your leisure.
After breakfast, we depart for Salmanca where our tour begins in the 18th–century Baroque–style Plaza Mayor, one of the most impressive squares in the whole of Spain. The tour continues on to the University, founded in 1218 as the first Christian university in Europe, which has a striking façade in an architectural type peculiar to Spain - Plateresco - a Gothic–inspired style characterized by ornate surface relief featuring floral designs, chandeliers, festoons and fantastical creatures (for more of those, see The Salamanca Hoax).
Our visit also includes a look at Salamanca's spectacular cathedral (both the old and the new buildings) and the beautiful Casa de las Conchas, another example showing elements of the Plateresco architectural style. After some free time for lunch, you can explore the centre at your own pace before we return to Madrid.
Monday A free day in Madrid. It's a treasure trove of a city for art lovers; you could visit the Museo del Prado, one of the most famous museums in the world and the most extensive gallery in Spain, which houses works by Goya, Velazquez, Murillo, Rubens and Rembrandt. Or, for lovers of modern and contemporary art, the Museo Reina Sofia is a must, as it includes Picasso's Guernica. Another option is one of the most beautiful royal palaces in Europe, the Palacio Real (or Palacio de Oriente), the official residence of King Juan Carlos I, considered to be the biggest in western Europe with an area of over 135,000 m2 and more than 3,400 rooms.
Tuesday El Escorial and Toledo
After breakfast we check out of our hotel and head north west out of Madrid to the palace of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, built in the 16th century by King Phillip II during the golden age of Spanish history.
Juan de Herrera was the architect and his intention was to design a building that symbolised an empire so vast that 'the sun never set'. El Escorial comprises a palace, a monastery (which is still active, housing some 100 monks) and a church which is still frequently used for wedding ceremonies. We'll have time to explore the gardens too, with the spectacular backdrop of the Guadarrama Mountains. After the guided tour there will be free time for a relaxed lunch in the town of El Escorial before we board the coach and make the 90–minute journey to your second holiday base, Toledo. On arrival we will check in at the 3 star Hotel Carlos V, and the first evening includes dinner at the hotel.
Wednesday Guided walking tour of Toledo, the city of three cultures
After breakfast hotel we take a morning walk with an official guide in the historic centre of the city. Beautifully situated on the banks of Spain's longest river, the Tagus, Toledo was famed in the Middle Ages as a beacon of religious tolerance where followers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam all co–existed peacefully together. After a brief history of the city's monuments, which reflect the various religious influences, there will be time for lunch and free time to explore - don't miss the Church of Santo Tome which houses The Funeral of Count Orgaz, by Toledo's most famous resident, the artist El Greco. In the evening there are lots of places to enjoy dinner in the city.
Thursday Guided tour of Royal Palace in Aranjuez, and Chinchón
In the morning a short drive takes us to Aranjuez where, in the 16th century, Spanish royalty decided to locate their summer palace. The palace is right at the point where the River Jarama feeds into the River Tagus, so is blessed with lush orchards and gardens.
This is also the place that inspired Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo to write his Guitar Concerto de Aranjuez, which really put this bucolic town on the international map (see The Orange Juice Song). We then continue on to Chinchón, a quintessential Spanish town, where the 15th–century Plaza Mayor is the perfect place to watch the world go by. There'll be time for lunch and a look around before we return to Toledo in the afternoon.
Friday Breakfast first, then at the appropriate time you will be transferred the 90 km or so to Madrid airport for your flight home.