Planning Your Time

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Planning Your Time

Madrid is an excellent hub for venturing farther into Spain, but with so many choices, we've divided them into must-see stand-alone destinations, and those that are worthy stops if you're traveling on to other parts of the country. Some are day trips; others are best overnight.

Must-see, short-trip destinations from Madrid are Toledo, Segovia (with Sepúlveda), Sigüenza, and Salamanca. Salamanca should be an overnight trip, because it's farther, and it also has fun nightlife.

Otherwise, if you're traveling to other areas in Spain, we suggest the following stopover destinations:

If you're on your way to Salamanca, stop in Ávila (buses go direct to Salamanca without stopping, but most trains stop in Ávila).

If you're on your way to Santander or Bilbao, stop in Burgos.

If you're on your way to Asturias, stop in León.

If you're on your way to Lugo and A Coruña, in Galicia, stop in Villafranca del Bierzo or Astorga.

If you're on your way to Cordoba or Granada, stop in Almagro.

If you're on your way to Valencia, detour to Cuenca. Most trains, including the new high-speed AVE to Valencia, will go through Cuenca.

Extremadura is a neglected destination, even for Spanish tourists, but it's a beautiful part of the country, with fascinating cities like Cáceres (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and Trujillo. You can get a lightning impression of Extremadura in a day's drive from Madrid. It's about 2½ hours from Madrid to Jerte; from there, you can take the A66 south to Cáceres, then head east to Trujillo on the N521. Split your time evenly between Cáceres and Trujillo. If you have more time, spend a day exploring the Roman monuments in Mérida, and do some world-famous bird-watching in the Parque Natural de Monfragüe, near Plasencia. If you can, visit the Monasterio de Yuste, where Spain's founding emperor Carlos V died in 1558.

Festivals

Central Spain is the land of festivals, and it's the best place to find an authentic, truly Spanish vibe. Cuenca's Easter celebration and Toledo's Corpus Christi draw people from all over Spain, if not the world. During the pre-Lenten carnival, León and nearby La Bañeza are popular party centers. Expect crowds and book accommodations in advance. Cáceres' annual World of Music, Arts, and Dance (WOMAD) festival attracts some 75,000 each May. Although Extremadura is not typically a land of running bulls, the Fiesta de San Juanin Coria in late June, or the Capeas in Segura de León in September, draw bullfighting aficionados from across the country. On December 7, Jarandilla de la Vera fills the city with bonfires to celebrate Los Escobazos, when locals play-fight with torches made out of brooms. And in Mérida, the highlight of the cultural calendar is the annual Festival de Teatro Clásico, held in the Roman theater from early July to mid-August.

Gastronomic festivals abound. In early May, Trujillo's Feria del Queso (cheese festival) is popular with foodies. In Cáceres in September, there's the Celebración del Cerdo y Vino (pork and wine celebration), where the area's innumerable pork products are prepared in public demonstrations.

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