Hiking near Madrid
Casa de Campo in Madrid
The most important job of any park, I have always felt, is to provide the “visitor” with an idea of what the city would have looked like if it had never been built. (A city’s inhabitants are visitors, too, they only stay longer.)
Some cities do this outstandingly well (London, New York), others very poorly (Paris, for example – unless you are ready to believe that the Ile-de-France would naturally be full with cone-shaped bushes and square trees).
All parks are landscaped, otherwise we would not call them “parks” but “jungles”. But it is the poorly designed parks that call attention to this. We condemn them in the spirit of the gentleman connoisseur who objects to poor breast jobs of the girls in his favourite magazines: it is not so much the fact that it has been done at all that scandalizes him but that it has been done with such blatant disrespect for verisimilitude.
On this scale of verisimilitude, Casa de Campo in Madrid ranks alongside the finest parks in the world.
Actually, it outranks nearly all parks that I know. I have no idea if the land around Madrid would really look like this if it had been left in its pristine state.
The actual “countryside” around Madrid gives you very few clues on which to base an informed judgment. It does, however, feature some of the ugliest urban sprawl I have ever seen. Compared with this, Los Angeles looks like 14th century Florence.
But with its vistas of rolling hills and loosely spaced pine trees, particularly when set against a blue sky, the Casa de Campo in Madrid appears to represent the very idea of Mediterranean bliss. No other view in the world – not even palm trees and the deep blue sea – can fill a northern soul such as mine with as much yearning for “The South”.
And perhaps the best thing about the Casa de Campo is that it is so conveniently located: close enough to the city that it can be reached within minutes by the local subway – or even on foot – and that it can be easily fitted into even the tightest sightseeing schedule.
Here is what we did:
On our first morning in Madrid, after a brief exploration of the city’s major sights, we walked downhill behind the Catedral de la Almudena, eventually joining the main road (Calle de Segovia) and crossing the wide bridge ahead of us.
As it happened, we arrived on the other side of the Manzanares river just in time for a cup of hot chocolate and a delicious portion of “Spanish doughnuts”, called churros when thin and porras when a bit sturdier, in a Churreria (this one opens at noon). Look for it on your right hand side, in the first block behind the bridge.)
Continue down the busy main road, called Paseo de Extremadura, past the metro station and turn right into Paseo de la Puerta del Angel, eventually crossing the highway-like Avenida de Portugal and passing the metro station Lago on your left hand side.
Take a train to this station if you want to go directly to the Casa de Campo, cutting out the walk bit until here to preserve your energy for the park itself (and if you are ready to forego the churros).
Head for the lake and, leaving it on your right hand side, march up the hill. Continue straight, past the tennis courts and the football field on your right. (This is the suburban side of the park, but don’t worry: it will soon change for the better.)
Take a path on your left to turn into the parkland proper, and soon you will find yourself in the thick of the Casa de Campo’s Mediterranean idyll – any further instructions would only kill the fun of exploring it on your own terms.
Just one advice: Strut out with confidence.
The Casa de Campo in Madrid is large with a total surface area of about 10 km² (not counting the zoo-plus-luna-park and the sports complex of the hockey club at its southern and northern edges), but while there will generally be far fewer visitors in the (occasionally) rugged and rocky outer sections, you will rarely walk for more than a few minutes without anybody coming into sight.
What I am trying to say is: do not worry too much. You cannot really get lost here in the same way you could in a forest or the open countryside. Remember that, at the end of the day, this is still a park.
Just to make sure, however, you should perhaps use the Luna Park roller coaster – whose distinct shape is clearly visible from afar – as a rough point of orientation.
At the end of your visit, you may want to look for the Casa de Campo station of the 2.5 km long Teleferico cable car line that connects the park with the city centre (the downtown terminal is near the metro station Arguelles).
The station at the Casa de Campo end of the line is located in the southeast of the park. You can’t really miss it: pylons and cables are pointing the way. It’s a great way of returning back to town, 40 meters above both the serenity of the park and, for the final stretch, the hustle and bustle of the city.