On my first stay in Spain, over twenty years ago, I was living at my friend’s flat in Madrid, only a quick jaunt to Toledo by car and an easy 35-minute train ride from the Atocha station. In those summer days of teen-hood, my friend and I were more intent on savoring and sampling the famed nightlife – or more like the early morning life! – of Madrid and it’s lively lavish clubs on the outskirts of the city. In over a month, we never found the time, (or woke up before noon), in order to make the day trip. On my fourth visit to the region I finally secured a date with the ancient city of Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site noted for its rich cultural history, well preserved in architecture and traditions.
City on a Hill
First look at Toledo, as I approach the old city from the train station.
Portal to the city, Toledo, Spain
I actually was very interested in seeing this beautiful city on a hill, and had heard it was a must-see. Which makes it all the more odd that it took so long to finally squeeze in a delightful day trip to Toledo.
Ancient towers and stone gateways of Toledo, Spain
When I arrived, I was not only presented with a gorgeous ancient city, but the balconies, narrow cobble stoned streets and plazas – especially the main Plaza de Zocodover – were resplendent in banners and flowers and lanterns – oh my! I’m not going to say it. I know you want me to…the phrase that is something akin to “sacred Toledo”, but I’m just not gonna. Even though I found myself in this colorful and historically rich city during their most holy festival, Corpus Cristi. How prodigious for me, as I had merely selected a free day on my calendar during my last week on this trip.
Balcony bedecked in flowers, lace, and fringe for Corpus Cristi, Toledo, Spain
Lanterns, flowers and banners festoon the streets of Toledo, Spain
Making a habit of holy days in Toledo
As is the practice during many celebrations throughout Spain, the residents had literally smothered the streets with rosemary. The heady aroma created by the throngs of people tromping on this herbal carpet during the holy processions and by the spectators is intoxicating. The Spanish word for rosemary is “romero”; their same word for “pilgrim”. I suspect there is a connection here. The perfumed streets are an added bonus to the symbolism of devotion.
But it’s not just Catholics that celebrate their holy days in this over 2000-year-old city; Muslim and Jewish cultures coexist in Toledo, home to the oldest intact synagogue in Europe.
Even Spanish Clouds Are Extravagant
I had to duck for cover periodically as some late spring rains doused me during my gawking of the festivities and decorations. Any inconvenience these showers brought was forgiven when the cloud formations showed themselves. Ever since my first foray into the plains of Spain, I’ve gawked heavenward at what I could swear are truly different shapes and patterns of the clouds here compared to southern California. I don’t know, maybe one’s entire perspective and appreciation for surroundings is heightened when traveling. I’m certain mine are. You know you have a hopeless crush on a country when you romanticize their cumulo-nimbus.
Lady in black Spanish lace, Toledo
“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.” ~ My Fair Lady
Bold clouds over Toledo, view from the Alcazar
Roaming the streets of Toledo, exploring at my own pace. (I miss those Spanish shoes!)
It’s OK, really…on one of these attempts to escape a light drizzle, I entered a confection shop and felt obliged, of course, to purchase some of the delectable marzipan for which Toledo is renowned. Such sacrifices. I actually have a picture of the shop that was my dietary downfall.
Covering Lots of (Rosemary Covered) Ground and History
In my one day there, because I was alone, I got to focus all my attention on my “date”; Toledo. I roamed the outskirts of the Alcazar, enjoying the dramatic vistas laid out from its ramparts as it was, sadly, closed. No problemo – I view such seeming disappointments as justification to return. I did, however, have the delightful experience of entering and enjoying the stunning Sinagoga De Santa Maria La Blanca, the previously mentioned prized ancient synagogue.
Pristine arches of the interior of the Sinagoga de Santa Maria, Toledo
Cloisters and Courtyard of Santo Domingo Monastery
I admired the Gothic cathedral and the extensive and impressive collection of paintings by El Greco, Van Dyck, Titian ,Lucas Jordan and Rafael on proud display within. I meandered deliberately and serenely through the cloisters of the monastery, Monasterio de Santo Domingo El Antiguo, and gawked at their fine collection of paintings by the celebrated El Greco. I bought a few mementos of traditional Damascene jewelry (named for its Damascus origins) and even had the good fortune to watch an artisan tinker away at a new piece in his shop.
Damascene artisan busy in his shop in Toledo, Spain
Cloisters and Courtyard of Santo Domingo Monastery
Graceful architecture of Santo Domingo Monastery, Toledo
There were so many sights I visited as I walked all over the city and the old quarter, stopping for quick tapas when I needed refueling. I leave you with these images of a lovely day spent in a culture-rich city, traveling solo and soaking it up. Yes, Toledo has earned a second date – I just need to clear my schedule.
View of Toledo
Leave it to an American traveler to suss out the classic Coca Cola sign in the backstreets of Toledo
All Photos by Gina Stark (unless I’m in them!)
Top photo: Banners in the Plaza de Zocodover, Toledo, Spain
This post, written by me, originally appeared on the Spain Holidays travel site . Reprinted here with permission – and a shared love of all things Spain! Have a look at my other stories of the Iberian peninsula and their entire library of great articles for travelers.
For more on Spectacular Spain, see Oh My Gaudi! Being Broadsided by Casa Batllo in Barcelona
or the foot stomping, hand clapping passion of Sevilla: Flamenco Fabulousness