Get back to nature in Spain
When people come to visit Spain the often think of the culture, art, palaces and castles they will get to see. You will see all of those things in more abundance than you would ever think possible. But Spain isn’t just about history, castles and culture, it also has mountain ranges, numerous national parks, canyons, deserts and many hiking trails throughout the country. At most tourist information places you can ask about local rutas (routes) or senderismo (hikes). All the routes are well marked and indicated so it is difficult to get lost.
Day trips from Madrid to see nature
I use the word “hike” lightly here. I am not talking about seven hours hiking up 3000 metre mountains. I am talking about going on trails in the forest, some are only a few kilometres, some are a bit longer but most only include a gradual uphill grade. We took the kids to these places when they were toddlers and had to look for areas that they could manage, now we go back to the same places because we know my husband and I can still manage them.
Cascada de Purgatorio (Purgatory falls) at Rascafrio
Don’t get too worried by the name of the hike. The route to the waterfalls isn’t at all dangerous or difficult. The hike (that word again) isn’t at all daunting. It is about 10 kilometres in total and most is on an old dirt road that meanders through an oak forest. I prefer to get off the road and just walk along the river up to the falls, but a couple of times we have gone with friends from Madrid who have never been out of the city in their life and we had to stick to the road. I never knew that walking over rocks and up a small trail was a learned talent until I went on a few hikes with our city friends—they have no idea how to walk up and down trails on a hillside or jump across a small stream.
The oak trees are still rather young and don’t look terribly impressive yet, but they are very beautiful in the fall when all the leaves are changing colour. The last 1 kilometer of the hike is by far the prettiest. Here you are walking on a small trail right next to the river. The wide valley narrows into a box canyon with rock walls on all sides. It is more than worth the effort it takes to get there.
How to get to Purgatory Falls
Take the A1 from Madrid direction Burgos, continue for 60km take exit 69 that says Rascafria/Lozoya M604. Stay on this road for about 15km until you get to the town of Rascafria. Continue through the town (unless you get distracted by the Chocolate shop called Natural Chocolate on the corner) until you get to the Monasterio de Paular. You can park the car in the parking lot. Cross the street over the bridge (puente de perdon) and continue straight along following the signs that say Cascadas de Purgatorio.
On route you will pass a spot where the Lozoya river is dammed up to make excellent swimming holes in the summer. The swimming area is also surrounded by large green lawns and has bathroom facilities and a snack bar—both are which only open in the summer. If you do go in the summer, you may want to take a detour to the pools and have a dip before and after your hike.
The Boca del Asno (the Ass's mouth)
You really have to wonder where some of these names came from.
This one of our favourite staying-cool in summer spots. The large trees shady trees and the mountain stream provide just what you need to cool down in the summer. In early September you will find ripe blackberries along the trail. We always manage to pick enough for our next morning’s pancake breakfast and the extra berries get thrown into a blackberry crumble.
This is a popular place in the summer on weekends, but if you go during the week you are almost on your own here. It is a very peaceful, quiet and gorgeous place to relax and get back to nature. There are well-maintained trails along the river for kilometres in both directions. There are lots of grassy areas along the river that you can throw down a blanket and have a picnic lunch.
How to get to the Boca del Asno
From the M40 in Madrid take the M607. This will take you up to the Navacerrada pass, and into the province of Segovia. You will need to go almost all the way down the far side of the mountain pass. The Boca del Asno is a well marked left-hand turn. There is plenty of parking, and even a small bar so you can grab a coffee or refreshments before you start on your trek.