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Day Trip to El Paular
The Monastery of Santa Maria de El Paular is located in the small town of Rascafria, about 83 km north of Madrid in the Sierra de Guadarrama, in the mountains. The monastery is a beautiful monastery and the road trip from Madrid is very scenic. However one needs a car to see it and it is best to go there in spring, summer, or fall. Winter is not advisable because the mountain pass at the Puerto de Navacerrada is 1858 meters high (there is a ski resort there) and there may be snow. Also this day trip is best done on a Sunday because that is the only day that the church can be seen, with the Mass at noon. The monastery is also closed on Thursdays. The Mass is a wonderful experience because it is sung by the Benedictine monks using Gregorian chants. The main altarpiece is spectacular and the experience of seeing it while the monks are singing is a very unique experience.
To get maps for this trip, one can use Google Maps and get a map that goes from Madrid (use the Plaza de Colon as an example) to the Puerto de Navacerrada. This part of the trip is 59.1 km long and takes 51 minutes. Get another Google map from the Puerto de Navacerrada to Rascafria. This is 24.4 km long and takes 31 minutes. So the total distance is about 83 km and this takes about 82 minutes. One can leave Madrid at 9:30 am and arrive at the monastery just before 11 am, when the monastery opens. On the second part of the trip from the Puerto de Navacerrada, the road goes down the mountain. Be on the lookout for Restaurante Pinosaguas at Km. 32 at a place called La Isla, because this is a very good restaurant. More on this restaurant later in the article. The monastery can be seen easily on the road and it has a large parking lot.
Here is a Trip Advisor article about the monastery:
Be sure to stop at the monastery store to buy the cheese and the liquor to support the monks, who are preserving the patrimony of Spain. One can enjoy these products when one gets back to Madrid.
After seeing the monastery, walk next door to the luxurious Hotel Sheraton Santa Maria de El Paular because this is a beautiful hotel that now occupies where the palace of the monastery was. The building has a very large patio with a fountain, large gardens and a small chapel. The public rooms of the hotel have unique decoration, many using antiques.
Across the road from the hotel one can find a little park with a bridge that crosses the Lozoya River, and the bridge is called the Puente del Perdon.
The small town of Rascafria is not too far away from the monastery and one can see the main plaza there. There are several restaurants if one wants to eat there.
The Restaurante Pinosaguas at Km. 32 is a wonderful country restaurant. Reservations can be made at 918-691-025 (a good idea to make a reservation because on Sundays this place fills up quickly). The star item on the menu is the jabali estofado (wild boar stew). This is very tender and delicious. Other good items on the menu are the croquetas, cazuela de chorizo y lomo, patatas guisadas con cordero y setas, entrecot de ternera con patatas pobres, callos caseros con garbanzos. The tarta manzana is a very good dessert and is presented in a very unique way. The best thing about this restaurant is that prices are very reasonable.
Beside the restaurant one can find a fast moving stream that later becomes the Lozoya River. One can take photos there at the small bridge that crosses the stream.
Going back over the Puerto de Navacerrada, when going downhill, there is a roadside fountain called the Fuente de los Geologos, dated 1932. One can try the purest water there that later becomes the tap water of Madrid. Bring an empty plastic glass for this.
When one reaches the small town of Navacerrada, one can walk about. It is a pretty little town that has a reservoir nearby. This day trip allows one to enjoy nature and if it is done on Sunday, there will be little commuter traffic, so it is a very pleasant drive.