History is Alive and Flourishing in Segovia, Spain
Overnight in Segovia: Castle, Cobblestone Streets, Ancient Aqueduct
By Tab Hauser
Segovia, Spain is a small UNESCO World Heritage city that offers a large dose of old-world charm.
Located only 90 minutes north of Madrid, this medieval place offers narrow cobblestone streets, a plaza with a large 500-year-old church, the engineering marvel of a 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct, and fairytale looking castle.
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For most visitors, Segovia is a day trip from Madrid. It is easy to take the train in the morning, sightsee the city and be on the late afternoon train back. Day-trippers can also join bus tours.
In 1979 as a sophomore I spent half a day here. At that time I did not appreciate or understand totally what Segovia had to offer.
With my return to Spain as a grown-up, I was anxious to see this place through my more experienced eyes and with my wife and friends.
My goal for this visit was to enjoy Segovia at a slower pace and to arrive in the late afternoon. By doing this we would miss the hordes of day-trippers and enjoy its night time serenity and as well as get a jump on the morning crowds.
A Fairytale Castle to Ourselves
As Segovia was the second stop on our 12-day self-driving tour of Spain and having a car we drove to the old city negotiating the tight one way streets to the Hotel Don Felipe using our GPS and some luck.
After checking in we immediately walked a few minutes to the Alcázar of Segovia. Arriving at the castle at the end of the day was great planning as we had the place to ourselves. (The next morning the parking lot was full of tour buses).
This castle was built on the ruins of an old Roman fort dating back to 1120. Over the centuries it had many rebuilds but it was King Phillip II who in the early 1500’s who gave the fort its classic castle style to copy others in Europe.
The castle has a Cinderella look with towers, turrets, and spires all around. There are references in Segovia as to how Walt Disney may have been influenced by this castle for his centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom. (I am sure other castles probably say the same thing.)
The Alcázar of Segovia sits majestically above two rivers like a bow of a ship looking down to the landscape below giving the city in the past much protection from attackers. Today it offers an impressive view both during the day and at night. Visiting the castle is as regal inside as it is majestic on the outside.
Here you walk through twelve rooms which open onto two main courtyards. Each of the rooms is a mix of Gothic, Romanesque and Moorish styles.
The Hall of Kings is one of the more impressive rooms. This hall has 52 detailed and raised statuettes of various Spanish monarchs’ lined up near the ceilings surrounded by golden-plated frieze.
Finish your tour of the castle by heading up to the roof for an amazing view. Being there a couple of hours before sunset we viewed the old city walls and the tall church steeple of Segovia a glow from the orange sunlight.
We then strolled ten minutes to the Plaza Mayor to find a tapas bar for snacks, followed by a long-delayed pre-dinner siesta.
Pretty at Night
One of the reasons to spend the night in Segovia is because it has a different feel to it than during the day. To me, there is something special about strolling dimly lit old cobblestone streets in a walled city.
Here the Plaza Mayor had a delicate yellow hue from the lights shining upon the large church and surrounding buildings.
Another big advantage of being here at night is that 90% of the tourists are gone and there is an almost intimate feel about the place.
We started our evening with a short drive leaving the walled city and circling it. A highlight was a stop for a view and photos of the castle lit up from above. (Don’t miss this photo opportunity) From the castle, we continued around and entered the old city for a night view and photos at the Roman aqueduct.
We continued up the hill to the Plaza Mayor to park the car and have dinner at
Mason de Jose Y Maria.
This is one of the best restaurants in Segovia and its regional specialty served is roast suckling pig and roast lamb. We started with salad and a first course of aged ham cut expertly table side. For our friends, half a small roasted pig was brought out on a platter and then using the serving plate as a knife, it was cut in half and scooped up.
My wife and I enjoyed the juicy roasted lamb. As flan was also a house special we shared an order that did not disappoint us.
One thing we enjoyed about dining in Spain was the cost of wine. A glass was $3 to $5 Euros with a decent bottle of Tempranillo priced between $20 and $24 Euros.
Segovia by Day
At 9:30 the next morning our private guide met us at the hotel for our three-hour walk around Segovia. Our tour took us on several of the small streets that had Moorish or Roman architecture and sometimes both.
We walked through the narrow streets of the former Jewish quarters as well. (For years the Moors allowed all three religions to live together, it was under Spanish rule that this coexistence disappeared tragically with bloodshed. Its results were also economically hurtful.)
During our walk, we visited the massive Segovia Cathedral church built between 1525 and 1768. This was Spain’s last big Gothic building and it shows with its over the top design.
It is said it was completed during the beginning of the Renaissance era because the church was finished with a large dome and not a spire.
We continued our walk to the top of the old section for a view of the Roman aqueduct. The aqueduct gives the old city a unique look at its entrance. This impressive piece of Roman engineering was built 2000 years ago.
It was originally nine miles long bringing water from the hills to the city.
The famous section here is 2500 feet long and is 93 feet tall. The aqueduct is built on 75 single arches and 44 double arches totally 88 arches when counted individually. It is followed by four single arches, having a total of 167 arches.
These arches contain 20,000 pieces of granite all put together with no mortar. After surveying the aqueduct from the top we took the stairs down for a closer and impressive look street level.
For information on Segovia, visit this website. This site has links to hotels, restaurants, and most information needed when visiting this medieval city.