Four Part Series on Royal Residences and Gardens Near Madrid, Spain – Part Two
Like many, we keep adding to our bucket list over the years. With Aranjuez Spain topping the list, we spent a day there as a side trip from Madrid last year. We soon realized that one day was not sufficient. So, Aranjuez went back on the bucket list. We recently achieved our goal of following in the footsteps of Charles IV through the Prince’s Garden to the Casa del Labrador.
After a flight to Madrid and one night at a hotel there, we caught a morning train to Aranjuez. We checked into the hotel, deposited our luggage, grabbed the cameras and stepped out of the hotel on the trail of Charles IV.
Aranjuez was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001. This stunning, easy to navigate city, built along the Tagus River offers many choices for visitors. Heading toward the Prince’s Garden we walked past the Royal Palace and gardens with their ancient fountains. We spotted a wedding party posing for photos in front of the enormous fountain of Hercules and Antaeus in the Parterre Garden.
Running across the busy intersection where the streets are laid out like a trident, we headed down Calle de la Reina. On our left we followed the Tagus River with the impressive Church of Iglesia de San Antonio on our right. I made a mental note to visit the church and the riverside restaurant where the wafting aroma of food being prepared aroused my taste buds.
Five miles in circumference and 371 acres, it is the size of a city park. Having visited the other gardens, we declared Prince’s Garden the greenest of the three. Three enormous trees shielded us from the sun, with the look and feel of a forest.
As the Prince of Asturias in 1772, Charles IV commissioned the garden. It was completed during his reign as King (1789-1808). As a young man, Charles enjoyed walking from the Royal Palace to this woody area which follows the bend of the Tagus River.
Actually a series of landscape gardens, while there we took in broad winding avenues, fountains, statues, ponds (with its ducks) and meandering peacocks. The staggering species of trees include magnolia, cypress, elm, pine, banana, pomegranate and more. Many of the trees were imported.
Altogether there are eight diverse sections within the garden. The sculptures, fountains, and urns are enormous and in wonderful condition considering their age. In my favorite section, the sixth called “Anglo-Chinese”, the path winds through a gentle hilly area.
The Chinese Pavilion sits here in the Chinese Pond. I could have spent the rest of the day watching the ducks glide around the pond but the Casa del Labrador was waiting.
Timing is Everything
Walking briskly down the avenue toward the neo-classical mansion, the splendor of the building and its grounds struck us. The Greco-Roman marble busts topping the pillars on the iron gate in front of the mansion grabbed my attention.
Following him through the entrance of the Casa, we realized we were the only people on the tour. Cristiano, our guide said in English, “It is a beautiful day, people are enjoying the garden and courtyard so you will have a private tour.” Timing is everything.
No pictures inside the building and please do not touch anything. The gentleman behind you in uniform is an armed guard but very friendly. He will follow us as we explore.”
Casa del Labrador- the Tour Begins
After donning our slippers we walked toward a vestibule housing a semi-circular stairway from 1799. While slightly bowed, the mahogany stairway showcases incredible workmanship.
According to Cristiano, the house was originally built to be very plain. A country house, where the King and Queen could go to relax, it was to be a rustic house. After 4 years, the King decided to turn it into a petite palace and redid the exterior. This became the King’s jewel, his treasure box. This could have been one of the first fixer uppers.
Surprisingly, the house contains no bedrooms. Cristiano explained that royalty would entertain or have lunch here, play billiards and then go back to the palace for the evening. They never walked here, arriving by carriage or barge on the Tagus. Life evidently changes when you become King.
The majority of the furnishings are original. Many of the floors, made from tiny pieces of porcelain or marble, display intricate mosaics. Hand embroidered wall coverings consist of silk thread so delicate it is almost impossible to see the fine stitches (even with your eyes up to the panels). Colorful frescoes that differ wildly decorate the ceilings in each room. Numerous niches with sculptures and busts, made of plaster to look like marble, add to the elegance. Budget made to look expensive. Next, we continued to the ballroom.
A table and chair made from malachite sit in the middle of the large ballroom, a gift from Tsar Alexander lI many years after the completion of the ballroom. Of the numerous chandeliers in the Casa the two in this room stand out, enormous and spectacular. The chandeliers, made of baccarat crystal, are very heavy and priceless. From inside, the house appeared much larger than we originally thought.
Our last stop was my favorite, the Platinum Room. All but the floor was designed and built in France and then shipped to Spain. The best workmen of the time completed this task. The rich décor incorporates the monograms of the King (C) and Queen Maria Luisa Teresa (MLT). Used throughout the room platinum is inlaid in the heavy door. We agreed with Cristiano, it is magnificent.
A big hug for me and a hand shake for my husband and we prepared to leave. The guard waved to us from entrance of the Casa as we departed. What an extraordinary day. Timing is everything.
When you go
Royal Palace of Aranjuez
Plaza de Parejas
Check online for hours
Tel +34 918 91 1344
NH Collection Palacio de Aranjuez
Calle de San Antonio 22
Located across from the Royal Palace and housed in a historical building. Ask for a room with a view.
El Rana Verde
Calle de la Reina, 1
Tel +34 918 91 12 25
Serving Spanish and continental cuisine, this restaurant is popular with locals and tourists. Delicious food and ambiance. Sit on the terrace along the banks of the Tagus River for a memorable experience.
Follow along with Barb Harmon as she completes her tour of Spain.