One of the many wonders of Madrid is its proximity to some astounding natural scenery. Less than an hour's bus ride northwards and you can breathe pure mountain air and escape the crowds in the wilderness of La Pedriza. This 32 sq km (12 sq mi) granite massif, a spur of the Sierra de Guadarrama, is a mind-blowing landscape of golden-pink granite spires and domes, veined with streams. Crazily complex rock formations sprout out of the woods, with names like El Pajaro (the Bird), La Foca (the Seal), and La Tortuga (the Tortoise).
Wild goats roam among the granite slabs and falcons and vultures whirl through the sky.
La Pedriza is incredibly popular among Madrilenos for the hiking and climbing here but it's not much frequented by tourists. There are numerous romantic legends and anecdotes attached to the area. It is all too easy to lose one's way among the granite cliffs and slabs, making it a haven for 19th century bandits and later a Republican hideout in the Spanish Civil War.
At the foot of La Pedriza lies Manzanares el Real, a faintly bohemian village inhabited by artisans, artists and musicians. From here you can walk along the tranquil tree-lined banks of the River Manzanares, swimming in one of the waterholes on your way up to the shrine of Peña Sacra for a spectacular view; or, for a more testing journey, take the 4 km (2.5 mi) zigzag route to El Yelmo (the Helmet), a high rock dome to the north of the village, perhaps the most famous feature of La Pedriza. Whichever route you take, you cannot fail to be awestruck by the beauty of this unique landscape.
WHEN TO GO
April to October
TIME IT TAKES
A daytrip from Madrid with a 2-5 hour walk.
Castillo de Manzanares.
16th century Church of Nuestra Senora de las Nieves.
Panoramic view from La Ermita de Nuestra Senora de la Peña Sacra.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
If you want La Pedriza to yourself, go on a weekday. You need to be fit to scramble across the granite slabs in your path. This is a great place for climbers of all levels.