The Palacio Real de La Granja does not form part of any catalogue tours but you may be visiting it as part of a special itinerary. It lies on the slopes of the Guadarrama Mountains across the Paso de Navacerrada 5 or 6 miles before Segovia. Even if you are not visiting inside you can stop for a little look at its spectacular gardens (no entrance charge) if you have the time (eg. if you are doing an excursion to Segovia only). The gardens are the real attraction anyway. The interior of the palace tends to underwhelm. From the parking walk up through a long tree-lined avenue of rather run-down outbuildings (stables, servants' quarters etc.) to the garden gate on the right side of the palace. (There are loos here.) The loveliest panorama is from the top of the cascade in front of you.
The town of La Granja de San Ildefonso is also the national glassmaking centre and has a superb museum devoted to the hsitory and production of glassware.
The Palace La Granja is a royal palace begun in the early C18 by King Philip V. Before that, there was a monastery here. The king was attracted both by the loveliness of the site and the ample opportunities for hunting. His C18 successors, most notably Carlos III, created the palace as it is seen today. It quickly became the favourite summer residence of the Bourbon Kings. The style consciously imitates Versailles - very elaborate, with luxury at every turn. There is velvet wallpaper, highly polished floors, and a superb collection of tapestries from all over Europe (the highlight of the interior). The furnishings include Oriental works, following the contemporary fashion for chinoiserie, such as Chinese porcelain table-tops. The two best rooms are the Throne Room and the Sala de la Fuente. Many of the rooms, however, were unfortunately damaged by fire and lost their treasures; others are somewhat heavy in their style and design. The highlight of the exterior is the splendid garden facade, by the Italian architect Juvara.
The Gardens The gardens of La Granja are a work of genius. Carlos III employed a French team who had previously worked on the gardens of Versailles itself. They are full of Baroque fountains and water cascades, and contain impressive statuary, classicising sculptures, plantations of ash, birch and elm trees, ornamental ponds and well-tended flower beds. They form a superb ensemble against the slopes of the mountains. The pièce de résistance is the array of fountains, a C18 marvel of design and engineering, made possible by the strong water pressure from the Guadarrama range.
You are unlikely to be seeing the fountains in their full splendour unless you make a special excursion. Between May and September at 6.00pm every day they are turned on. The display is magnificent, undoubtedly the best in Europe, and also hysterically funny. Hundreds of families with young kids come to get soaked by the water spouting out at incredible power from all directions.
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