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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > June 2016 > Far from the costas, the heart of Spain is as epic as a tale from Don Quixote

Far from the costas, the heart of Spain is as epic as a tale from Don Quixote

A world away from the busy coastlines of Andalucía and Catalonia, a journey into central Spain will take in sleepy villages where few tourists venture, crumbling Roman ruins and storied university towns, and – at the heart of it all – the brilliant and boisterous capital Madrid.
The Royal Palace of Madrid was built in 1755 and is the largest royal building in Europe
PHOTOGRAPHS MATT MUNRO

@OliSmithTravel

HEART OF SPAIN

Plan your trip

MAP ILLUSTRATION: ALEX VERHILLE. PHOTOGRAPHS: JORG GREUEL/GETTY, GV CRUZ/GETTY, JUAN MONINO/GETTY, MATT MUNRO, STEFANO POLITI MARKOVINA/ALAMY

1 Take a crash course in the wonders of Spanish gastronomy on a night-time tapas tour through the streets of Madrid (p50).

2 Wander the thoroughfares of medieval capital Toledo to find swordsmiths and relics of Spain’s Moorish past (p52).

3 Go in search of one of the world’s great literary heroes in the parched open expanses of Castile-La Mancha (p54).

4 Continue on to Mérida, in little-visited Extremadura, to taste the fnest jamón on the entire Iberian Peninsula (p56).

5 Head to the scholarly city of Salamanca to tread the corridors of an ancient university and listen to busking students (p58).

HOW TO GET THERE

The hub for air travel in central Spain is, of course, Madrid – Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport has numerous flights from the UK. BA and Iberia fly from London Heathrow, while Air Europa, easyJet, Iberia Express and Norwegian Air Shuttle fly from Gatwick. EasyJet also connects from Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Luton (from £90; easyjet.com). Barajas is on Madrid’s very efficient metro network, roughly 15 minutes from the city centre (from £5 one-way). It’s also possible to reach Madrid by train in just under one day from London St Pancras, changing at Paris and Barcelona Sants (from £320 rtn; voyages-sncf.com).

HOW TO GET AROUND

Madrid, Toledo, Mérida and Salamanca are all accessible on the Spanish railway network. Only Madrid is served by high-speed lines, and you’ll have to pass through Madrid to get between Salamanca, Mérida and Toledo by rail – though services are reliable and fares are reasonable (Madrid to Toledo from £16 rtn; renfe.com). To reach Consuegra and to fully explore Castile-La Mancha and Extremadura you’ll need private transport. Car hire is readily available at Barajas airport (from £16 per day based on two weeks; europcar.com).

HOW LONG TO SPEND

A journey taking in all the locations in our feature would comfortably take a fortnight. That being said, there are many opportunities to extend your trip – consider dropping by Cáceres (a Unesco World Heritage walled city), Segovia (also a World Heritage site, famed for its mighty Roman aqueduct and the 12thcentury castle, the Alcázar) and León (featuring fine Gothic, Romanesque and Modernist architecture).

WHAT TO BUDGET

Hotel rates and meal costs in Toledo and Salamanca are roughly the same as Madrid – expect to pay £70–£110 for a midrange hotel, and up to £20 per head for a meal. Going off the beaten track in Extremadura and Castile-La Mancha will see costs coming in much lower, with good meals under £10 and midrange hotels costing £50–£90.

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