It was a perfect autumn week in Madrid when friends from Manila and other parts of the world gathered for the wedding of bright and beautiful couple Alex Suarez and Jaime Urquijo.
The groom’s gracious aunts, siblings Cristina and Monica Zobel de Ayala, cooked up a day trip to Toledo to entertain the few of us who had flown in early, a day before the official wedding festivities began.
The skies were a vivid cerulean blue, and a gentle breeze was blowing that Wednesday morning as we hopped onto the private coach that would take us to the historic city, a leisurely hour’s drive away. Everyone was excited to be meeting up serendipitously in Madrid, and eager to embark on the fun “field trip.” Instantly, the volume of conversation went several decibels up as the bus headed out.
Before long, Toledo appeared in the distance—towers and ancient fortifications perched majestically up in the mountains, with a river and greenery surrounding the city that we approached slowly through winding roads. As the scenery drew us in, everyone on the bus began to sit up and quiet down; the non-stop chatter turned into oohs and aahs, and the air was filled with the clicking sound of multiple phones trying to capture the impressive views.
We made a quick stop at a charming courtyard cafe by the entrance to the ancient walled city. It was exactly the coffee boost we needed before beginning a guided walking tour of this Imperial City, a Unesco World Heritage Site teeming with cultural and historical monuments. Toledo’s undulating cobblestone streets walk you through a living museum that highlights the city’s fascinating Christian, Muslim and Jewish past.
Once upon a time, Toledo was, successively, the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom, a Berber Muslim Taifa and seat to the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in Spain. It was also home to the Spanish Renaissance painter El Greco for much of his life, and a repository of the artist’s unique Mannerist paintings, including “The Disrobing of Christ,” a sight to behold in the Sacristy of the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo.
With its spectacular artworks, stained glass rose windows, altarpieces, ornately carved choir stall, and 18-kg gold Monstrance (the Great Monstrance of Arfe), this church melds a variety of influences—Moorish, Gothic, Baroque—into one dazzling visual feast! I could easily have spent an entire day soaking up the cathedral’s treasures alone.
While a day is certainly not enough to explore Toledo, we definitely worked up an appetite after several hours of sightseeing. It was close to mid-afternoon when we stepped out of the Cathedral and, in typical Spanish fashion, we were right on time for the next stop on the itinerary: lunch at a private home on the outskirts of the city.
It was quite amazing when the home we were led to turned out to be a gem of Mudejar architecture, the exquisite Galiana Palace by the banks of the Tagus River. The structure’s origins date back to the 11th century under the Islamic Monarch Al Mamun. The property changed hands continuously through the centuries until 1959, when it was acquired by the illustrious Araoz and Marañón families, to whom it belongs to this day. It is thanks to the extensive restoration they carried out in the ’60s (under the historian Manuel Gomez-Moreno and architect Fernando Chueca-Goitía) that La Galiana remains as splendid as it is today.
What a privilege to be welcomed by our most charming hosts, Lucas Urquijo and his wife, Beatriz, into the delights that lay behind the stone walls and towering Cypress trees of La Galiana.
A delightful aperitivo consisting of a variety of jamón, cheese and other traditional nibbles awaited under a canopy by the impeccably landscaped gardens. We meandered through romantic Moorish and Romanesque archways, discovering La Galiana’s splendid spaces, before enjoying a beautiful lunch within the palace’s tranquil interior courtyard.
We then whiled away the afternoon chatting over espressos and wine in the upstairs salon, with the most wonderful views of Toledo and beyond. It was, quite literally, unforgettable. INQVisits to La Galiana can be arranged by special appointment, and on occasion, private events can be held in the palace garden. Email [email protected]