El Retiro on a perfect fall day

Everyone I knew who had been to Madrid implored me to visit Retiro Park during my time in the city.   Saying that was good advice would be an understatement.  After an afternoon spent wandering around the Reina Sofía museum, on a spectacular October day, we walked about fifteen minutes to make our way inside “El Retiro” through one of its western gates.

This park couldn’t be anything less than stunningly beautiful even on its worst day, but in the middle of fall on a mid-week day with the leaves starting to change colour and the park not overrun by visitors, it had a very special charm:

Late afternoon in Retiro Park

By this point in our Spain trip, my wife and I were fully on-board with the eating schedules of this country.  With the clock telling us this meal should be closer to a traditional dinnertime meal in Canada, we broke out a rustic late lunch on a bench.  Gluten-free muffins (for her), a baguette (for me), ham (I’m sure that’s one the quadrants of Spain’s food guide), cheese and a beer for me.

Picnic in Retiro Park

With a bit of fuel in our bellies, we continued to explore the park.  The late afternoon light and the tranquility of the surroundings had me swooning at every turn.

Late afternoon in Retiro Park

On our must-visit list was the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace).  This was built in 1887 as a greenhouse and was designed to be able to be moved to different locations, though it has remained in this spot through its life.

Palacio de Cristal

The Crystal Palace now serves as a gallery and exhibit space.   It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place in which to view art.  For me, the building itself was something to behold.  Under perfectly blue and cloudless skies, with the colours of the trees outside and the shadows from the low angle sun moving across the floor, the building itself felt alive.

Palacio de Cristal

One of the best parts of traveling in Europe in the mid-fall is the glorious lack of crowds.  I’m sure this place would have been wall to wall people in July or August, but not on this day.  All the better to enjoy.

In the Palacio de Cristal

I’ve always found some of my fondest memories of our European trips have been wandering through city parks and public spaces – Letna Gardens overlooking Prague, Villa Borghese in Rome, Warandepark in Brussels or Vondelpark in Amsterdam – El Retiro is right there among my favourites.  It is certainly one of the most visually stunning parks I have ever visited.

Fall day in El Retiro

We made a point to walk past one of the more popular attractions – the Monument to Alfonso XII.  The monument stretches almost 90 metres wide and the top of the statue of King Alfonso XII is 30 metres above the pond.  Although the monument itself is impressive, the attraction for us was to simply watch people row past on the pond with such a magnificent backdrop.

Monument to Alfonso XII of Spain

With most of the day spent on our feet, we decided that a siesta back at our apartment was in order.  Unfortunately, we didn’t make it back to El Retiro on our trip to explore more of its charms in depth, but we were both grateful for the taste we got and what it added to our visit to Madrid.


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