Capricho park is an 14-acre oasis on the outskirts of Madrid. This park is immaculately kept. It was influenced by Italian, French and English gardens and walking through you can see where one style gracefully eases into another.
It was built in 1784 when the Duchess Lady Maria Josefa de la Soledad Alonso Pimentel (try saying that name quickly) decided she wanted a place for artists and intellectuals to gain inspiration. The name Capricho means whim—although whim makes something sound like a passing fancy—whereas in this case, the Duchess had the money, means and desire to fulfill her every wish.
The park was the playground of royalty while the Duchess and Duke was alive. Great parties and events were hosted here and no expense was spared.
The property stayed in the Osuna family until the last Duke lost everything, including Capricho, in the late 19th century. During the civil war it was used by the republicans as a base and walking through the park you can see a number of entrances to bunkers. After the war, the park continued to be neglected to the point that it was used to store machinery.
Fortunately, the city of Madrid purchased Capricho in 1974 and brought it back to its former glory.
Now the park is open to the public on weekends and holidays. The number of visitors is strictly controlled. Saturday afternoons tend to have long lineups to enter the park. If you want to beat the rush and enjoy a peaceful walk through the park it is best to go early in the morning.
There is also a strict control on what you bring into the park. No animals are permitted, no children’s toys such as balls, bikes, scooters or even buckets and shovels get past the watchful eyes of the guards. Once inside the park you won’t find playgrounds for the kids either, this is strictly a garden setting. However, it is by far the most relaxing and beautiful park in Madrid if not all of Spain.
As you enter the main gate of the park you will see a large central walkway that eventually leads to the palace. To your left, you will see a quaint story-book stone cottage draped with yellow roses. Outside there is a small vegetable garden. Around the cottage, there are numerous lilac pathways that lead up to a large open garden area that constantly has new flowers. Overlooking the open area is an octagonal building that was the ballroom where the Dutchess held her dances.
From the back of the ballroom starts the made-made moat that turns into a small lake. In its glory days, the guests were transported along the lake and down the moat by small boats to access the ballroom.
Now the only ones using the moat or the lake are a few ducks and a pair of black swans.
If you go in the spring the entire park is awash with lilac blooms. There are pathways and hedges that are made up of lilac bushes. The air is perfumed by the scent.
Past the lake, you will come to the English style of the gardens. There are inviting lawns with majestic trees offering ample shade in the heat of the summer. As dogs are not permitted in the park you can safely sit on the lawns with no worry of finding unpleasant surprises—something that you can’t do anywhere else with such freedom in all of Spain.
After a refreshing siesta on the lawns, you can head to one of the most fascinating features of the park. What looks like a small palace was actually an aviary. It was built with large windows so the Dutchess and her guests could watch the bees at work. It explains why there are so many flowering shrubs and trees throughout the park. I can only imagine how fabulous the morning toast dripping with lilac-flavoured honey must have tasted. Unfortunately, the aviary no longer houses bees, but it is still a fascinating structure to see.
From the apiary, the paths wind down the hill to the main palace. Here the gardens take on the French style with long archways of roses and hedges surrounding fountains. Over to the left of the palace is a labyrinth.
Opening times and other useful information:
October to March: open Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays: 9:00 to 18:30.
April to September: open Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays: 9:00 to 21:00.
Location: Paseo de la Alameda de Osuna. Nearest Metro station – El Capricho (line 5)
Telephone: (+34) 915 880 114
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