The beauty of ARANJUEZ is its greenery – it’s easy to forget just how dry and dusty most of central Spain is until you come upon this town, with its lavish palaces and luxuriant gardens. In summer, Aranjuez functions principally as a weekend escape from Madrid and most people come out for the day, or stop en route to or from Toledo. If you wanted to break your journey, you’d need to camp or reserve a room in advance, as there’s very little accommodation available.
The eighteenth-century Palacio Real (Tues-Sun: April-Sept 10am-6.15pm; Oct-March 10am-5.15pm; ¬4.81, Wed free for EU citizens) and its gardens (daily: April-Sept 8am-8.30pm; Oct-March 8am-6.30pm; free) were an attempt by the Spanish Bourbon monarchs to create a Versailles in Spain;
Aranjuez clearly isn’t in the same league but it’s a pleasant enough place to while away a few hours.
The palace is more remarkable for the ornamental fantasies inside than for any virtues of architecture. There seem to be hundreds of rooms, all exotically furnished, most amazingly so the Porcelain Room , entirely covered in decorative ware from the factory which used to stand in Madrid’s Retiro park. The Smoking Room is a copy of one of the finest halls of the Alhambra in Granada, though executed with less subtlety. Most of the palace dates from the reign of the “nymphomaniac” Queen Isabel II, and many of the scandals and intrigues which led to her eventual abdication were played out here.
Outside, on a small island, are the fountains of the Jardín de la Isla . The Jardín del Príncipe , on the other side of the main road, is more attractive, with shaded walks along the river and plenty of spots for a siesta. At its far end is the Casa del Labrador (June-Sept: Tues-Sun 10am-6.15pm; Oct-March: Tues-Sun 10am-5.15pm; visits by appointment only – tel 918 910 305; ¬4.81, Wed free for EU citizens), which is anything but what its name (Peasant’s House) implies. In a hotchpotch of styles, ranging from Neoclassical to Rococo, it was described by Richard Ford well over a century ago as “another plaything of that silly Charles IV, a foolish toy for the spoiled children of fortune, in which great expense and little taste are combined to produce a thing which is perfectly useless”. Great expense is right, for the house contains more silk, marble, crystal and gold than would seem possible in so small a place, as well as a huge collection of fancy clocks.
The guided tour goes into great detail about the weight and value of every item.
Also in the gardens, by the river, is the small Casa de los Marinos or Museo de Faluas (Tues-Sun: April-Sept 10am-6.15pm; Oct-March 10am-5.15pm; ¬3, Wed free for EU citizens), a museum containing the brightly coloured launches in which royalty would take to the river.
A bus service occasionally connects the various sites, but all are within easy walking distance of each other, and the town’s a very pleasant place to stroll around. Look out for the suitably regal eighteenth-century Plaza de Toros and the newly inaugurated exhibition space entitled Aranjuez – una gran fiesta (summer Tues-Sun 10am-6.30pm; winter Tues-Sun 10am-5.30pm; ¬3, Wed free for EU citizens), part of which is a museo taurino with its trajes de luces , swords and associated taurine memorabilia, and part of which traces the town’s history and royal heritage. Nearby in c/Naranja and c/Rosa are a number of corralas , traditional-style wooden-balconied tenement blocks.