At the dawning of summer, the pace of life in Madrid city slows down dramatically. Small shops put up shutters and leave posters promising their return in a couple of months. Bags of ice go flying off supermarket shelves and street vendors take to peddling bottles of water in place of Coors Light. Construction sites are left deserted and school days are suddenly sliced in half. Why? Because summers in Madrid are excruciatingly hot. And nobody can cope. Despite the fact that Madrid’s turning into an urban inferno has been a recurring event for, yo qué sé, several thousand years, the city itself is still not equipped to withstand the fluctuations within its own climate.
Now, Spain is and always has been known for its glorious weather and its breathtaking costas – you’ve got Brava, Blanca, del Sol, de la Luz, Dorada and so on…
But Madrid, being landlocked, literally hasn’t got a costa in sight. “So what on earth do people do?!” I hear you cry.
Well, Spanish people usually retreat to their seaside pueblos and spend the warmer months baking in the luscious gardens of their summer houses. But wayward immigrants such as myself have no such luck, unless your apartment complex comes with a swimming pool or you’re lucky enough to befriend somebody whose does.
During the summer of last year, my friends and I were looking for a way to evade the blistering heat of el verano madrileño and head into nature. After a quick Googlear we stumbled upon a remote little place called Playa de Bolarque in Almonacid de Zorita. (Try and say that five times fast!)
So, at the promise of sparkling blue waters, beige sands and shaded pastures to lounge upon, we stocked up our rental car with pre-packaged salads, Pringles, watermelon and some waterproof SPF 50+ (for me) and set off in search of “the beach of Madrid”.
If I were to tell you, dear reader, that we spent almost 45 minutes driving back and forth in the semi-barren Castilian countryside like headless chickens, you’d be hard pushed to believe me wouldn’t you? What with modern technology and all, you can *literally* find a needle in a haystack these days. However, when I said that Almonacid is remote, I really meant it. Not even today’s technological advancements have stretched to accommodate the entirety of Castilla-la-Mancha, and when typed into our car’s satellite navigation (read: my poor iPhone) the pointer spun across the screen in a frenzy.
A hindrance but not a deterrent. After our unpredicted delay and abundant help from fastidious locals hoeing their land or hanging out their laundry, we finally drove through the entrance gates and so began the mission that was finding a place to park without edging too far over the side of the cliff.
The premise of this place is simple: pay a 6€ entrance fee and then scramble for a vacant patch of grass upon which to lay your blanket without encroaching on the Fernández-Ramos’ 20-person picnic or the couple of topless octogenarians catching forty winks in the midday sun.
Then, once you’ve established your territory, hang on to it for dear life. If that means your group has to take turns to go to the (frankly subpar) bathroom or enjoy a quick dip in the aquamarine waters, then so be it.
Aside from spectacular scenery and a quaint little tuck shop stocked with sugary ice lollies and hot food, Playa Bolarque also offers the opportunity to hire kayaks and pedalos for the more intrepid travellers who fancy channelling their inner Pocahontas and paddling the winding 2km river. We decided that we would indeed risk forfeiting our sunbathing spot for an upper body workout and sunburnt shoulders, and venture out into the deeper waters for a refreshing swim.
With my husband planted firmly in the back seat, and me in the front (and a much-needed shove from one of the coastguards), we set off from the shore and began probably the most exhilarating kayaking experience of my life. Not that I’ve had many, but the last time I kayaked in the south of France I nearly lost my life so this was a definite upgrade from then.
Once we gathered momentum and started paddling together as opposed to flapping about like a pair of jittery octopi, we made some pretty decent headway and descended the valley into one of the ravines to park our boat and jump into the water. The feeling of the cool, silky water over our toasted skin was exquisite. I felt like a child again, twirling around and treading water (read: trying to avoid touching anything either living or slimy and evading my husband’s efforts to test the buoyancy of our life jackets and drown me.)
It’s easy to lose yourself in the moment when it’s 35°C and you’re bobbing about in crystal clear water, but after seeing Joe and Nina row past us quicker than you could say “left-right-left-right”, we realised that our allotted 45-minute kayak rental slot was drawing to a close and that we would have to pay a fine if we were late. So we jumped back into the boat and made our way back to the shore to turn in our boats and lifejackets.
Have you ever had cramp in your tricep? Because I have.
So fear not, Madrid might seem like the last place you’d want to spend the hottest summer months, but just a stone’s throw away are hidden little gems such as Playa de Bolarque to save the day. I would highly recommend crafting a detailed plan of exactly how to get there to save yourselves the stress of driving around fields of ox and ass and cattle without the aid of the northern star to guide you.
But once you’re there, munching on chilled wedges of watermelon and watching families enjoy their down time, you’ll realise that living in the heart of Spain isn’t so bad.**
**If you do indeed go to Almonacid after reading this blogpost and end up loving it, I accept thanks in the form of extravagant gifts or wads of cash. DM for more info.
Are there any other hidden little gems that you have come across in Spain? Let me know in the comments!