Living in the Centre of Spain
Much of Central Spain is made up of the Castilla–La Mancha region, as well as the Community of Madrid – home of Spain’s capital city and one of the smallest regions of mainland Spain.
Located at the very centre of the Iberian peninsula, Castilla-La Mancha is one of the most sparsely populated of Spain’s autonomous communities and the heartland of old Spain. It is here that the renowned novel Don Quixote was set, which has helped to put the region on the map – alongside its vineyards, sunflowers, windmills and Manchego cheese.
Like much of mainland Spain, the climate here is Mediterranean, albeit more continental than some areas – and with it Castilla-La Mancha also enjoys the extreme temperatures typical of a continental climate due to the lack of marine influence. Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures often reaching higher than 30˚C and even 35˚C, while in winter it will very often hit below 0˚C. Very little precipitation falls on the region – although it is more common on the mountainous areas.
The landscape here falls in two distinct types – uniform plain with little relief (known as the Manchegan plain), and the mountainous zones that serve as the region’s natural border.
Castilla-La Mancha is where the renowned novel Don Quixote was set, which has helped to put the region on the map.
Located here are numerous provinces, cities and towns of monumental and historical importance, such as:
The former capital of Spain and the capital of the Castilla-La Mancha region, Toledo is one of Spain’s architectural treasures, a living museum. Historically, the city was known as the ‘City of Three Cultures’, thanks to the historical influence of the co-existence of Christians, Muslims and Jews. It was also the hometown of the Spanish Renaissance artist El Greco, and was the main venue of the court of Charles I of Spain. The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, having been declared an Historic-Artistic Site in 1940; major attractions here include the tomb of Saint Beatrice of Silver (founder of the Order of the Immaculate Conception), the 11th Century Tornerias Mosque, the 13th Century Gothic Cathedral and Santa Maria la Blanca – the oldest synagogue building in Europe, now owned by the Catholic Church.
The historic walled mountain city of Cuenca is known for its enchanting landscape and incredible beauty, and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNSECO. Like Toledo, there are numerous architectural highlights here – including the famous Hanging Houses, built over a rock above the Huecar River gorge, and the Cathedral of our Lady Grace and Saint Julian (the first gothic style Cathedral in Spain) – as well as beautiful nature parks surrounding the city. The most famous of these is Ciudad Encantada (the enchanted city). Foreigners are relatively scarce in this part of the country, and it would suit would-be expats looking for a slice of a real and genuine Spanish life.
Guadalajara comes from the Arabic meaning ‘streambed/valley of stones’ and has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period. Numerous cultures have made home here since then, from the Romans to the Mendozas, to those in the military who settled here in the mid-19th Century. Major attractions in the province of Guadalajara include the Mudejar influenced church Santa Maria la Mayor, the Moorish town-walls and bridge, and the medieval town Siguenza – especially its fortress and cathedral.
The gastronomy of Castilla-La Mancha here is typical of Spain – notably you will find stews, game, sausages and of course, Manchego cheese, along with excellent regional wines.
This region’s official name is the Community of Madrid, but as a region with one province and the capital city of the entire country, the region does get swept into the name Madrid. Madrid has been the capital city of the country since 1561, and officially designated as such in the 1978.
Like Castilla-La Mancha, the Community of Madrid has a temperate Continental Mediterranean climate. Winters are cold, and temperatures can reach below 0˚C, while summers are very hot and can often reach 40˚C in July and August. Precipitation levels are fairly low, on average, and are evenly distributed throughout the year.
The Community of Madrid may be one of the smallest regions on mainland Spain, but it is also one of the most densely populated
The Community of Madrid may be one of the smallest regions on mainland Spain, but it is also one of the most densely populated – with around 5 million people living in the city of Madrid alone. Outside the capital, the Community has some remarkably unspoiled areas, including the mountain peaks of the Guadarrama mountain range and the Park Regional del Suroeste.
The city of Madrid itself is incredibly popular with the younger generation of those moving to Spain, thanks to its vibrant lifestyle. While retirees are often searching for sunnier shores, those emigrating to further their careers in Spain will without a doubt be attracted to the quality of life in Madrid. Life here is cheaper than other equivalent capital cities, such as London – but expats are also warned that salaries are usually much lower than in these other cities as well. Housing here is relatively difficult to find at a good price, making it important to invest in the services of professionals who can help you with this process. There is a sizeable expat community here; around 20% of the city’s population are immigrants.
Those expats looking for a more rural, authentically Spanish life will tend to look at the areas further out of the capital city. San Sebastián de los Reyes, for example, is just over 10 miles north of Madrid, with great connections to the city and the airport; this is a perfect area for expat families, and home to some major shopping destinations. Slightly further north, you will find Tres Cantos, a city of science and innovation – and home to many bilingual schools.
There is also plenty to see in this region outside the city of Madrid. Aranjuez is located towards the south of the Community; this has been one of the Royal Estates of the Crown of Spain since 1560. The city was declared Conjunto Histórico-Artistico (Historic Artistic Junction) in 1983, and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001; significant sites here include the 17th Century Mariblanca and the Plaza de Toros, as well as Saint Pascual’s Royal Convent and Charles III’s Royal Theatre. We would also recommend San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the location of the renowned monastery of El Escorial, and Chinchón, known for its festivals and Plaza Mayor.
Attractions in the city of Madrid itself include the famous art museums that make up the Golden Triangle of Art – the Prado Museum, where Diego Veláquez’s Las Meninas hangs, the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, established from a private collection, and the Reina Sofia Museum, home of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. In the city you will also find the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Museum of the Americas and San Nicolás de los Serboyas, the oldest church in the city.
There are no international airports in the region of Castilla-La Mancha itself, but Barajas Airport in Madrid is within easy access (around one hour – to one and a half hour’s drive). This is served by over 93 airlines that connect central Spain with the rest of the world – including British Airways, easyJet, Monarch, Norwegian Air Shuttle and Ryanair. It is the main hub of Iberia Airlines.
Long distance railway services connect these two regions to each other and beyond, with the majority of trains into Castilla-La Mancha radiating from Madrid. Travelling from the UK can be done via the international trains from London to Paris and on to Barcelona, before the six hour train journey down to Madrid.