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Don't go to Retiro Park in Madrid without your camera. You will kick yourself if you do. Magnificent, historic architecture, well laid out lakes, formal gardens and all around holiday-makers and locals meander, sit awhile to appreciate this stunning park near the centre of Madrid.
Parque de El Retiro, is dubbed as the cities most important historic/artistic park and a visit around its 130 hectares (320 acres) proves this just has to be so. I went on my own and spent the whole time telling myself how silly I would have been not to have included it in my Madrid ramblings.
Built for Spanish King Phillip to complement his 1632 Real Sitiodel Beun Retiro Palace, Retiro Park was opened to the public in 1868. The king used the palace and the Retiro Park for his family's summer retreat, hence Retiro (retreat).
Nowadays royalty don't take walks, jog, play petanque, sit to eat and drink in the cafes, watch skaters, buskers, boaters and rollerbladers, buy from the stall-sellers, but thousands of others do; Sunday's are apparently the best day but I will never forget my Saturday stroll around there. I don't have much chance because a full roll of film now provides me with instant memories of a truly beautiful early autumn day. Easily I recall the sights, sounds and smells of Madrid's spectacular Retiro Parque... just a little thing, but a neat memory is the tiny puppet performing for little kids and kids who used-to-be-little - made me chuckle!
The colours in the trees and bushes around the 1887 Crystal Palace, a glass exhibition hall now with a delightful, small lake in front, were absolutely superb. Families were throwing bread to the ducks and other wild-fowl and others were popping into the colourful exhibition you could see through the thousands and thousands of panes of glass which make up the Palacio de Cristal, a replica of the London namesake.
Now, the size of King Alfonso's mother's tribute to her son is just mind-boggling. A massive half colonade of huge, white columns is just so magnicient and dominates just about the entire side of the man-made lake, the Estanque del Retiro. An impressive statue of King Alfonso sits easy in this monument which you can walk around and sit on the steps, which lead right down onto the lake. While I was there, several people had hired boats and were rowing right up to the statue where they would have a startling view of this remarkable edifice.
There are two other historic buildings, in fact the only remains of the original palace. I tried to visit both, as they are museums, but they were unfortunately closed; the Museo del Ejercito and the Cason del Beun Retiro.
Another wonder is the Angel Caudio (The Fallen Angel) which is huge, architecturally memorable and depicts Satan. It is situated in the famous rose gardens, the Roselada which I found lovely even at the end of summer.
I strolled around the formal gardens which I really did like for its statues, boxed hedges and huge, shaped trees where there were literally hundreds of people walking around and like me taking heaps of photos.
Throughout the park there are plenty of wide, open pathways with many thousands of colourful trees, bushes and other plants - it is so well set out, you can follow the park plan no trouble but I did just ramble around, such a beautiful place to be.
One thing I will mention is that I found it a little frustrating that the signs in the park were only in Spanish and I am sure there would be people like me who don't speak that language. It would have been helpful if there was an English version because there are thousands of Engish-speaking people who want to know information, especially as there are such impressive, historic things to view and experience. (I know they cannot provide the language of all visitors but I think English is understood by so many modern, informed travellers.)
Retiro Park is one of 40 Madrid city parks, totalling 33 million square metres in the city - it is the only one I visited and I have to say it truly is magnificent. It is easy to find, near the Prado Museum with the main entrance being by the Alacala Gate at Plaza de la Independence.
I walked there but you can reach Retiro Park by underground, bus or on the Hop on Hop Off buses.
A king and his family were the reason Retiro Parque came into existence and it is now a right royal place to visit, you don't need a regal invitation, it is free, near the heart of the city and a must when in Madrid.