During a visit to Valencia, Spain, a couple of girlfriends and I decided to drive to Toledo for the weekend.
Nestled over a gorge overlooking the Río Tajo, Toledo is an easy 3-and-a-half-hour drive from Valencia and about an hour south of Madrid.
This city is a must see/visit not only for its beauty and centuries old history but because you will be mesmerized as you stride along Toledo’s crammed and dense historical core, chuck full of Horseshoe-arched mosques, Sephardic synagogues and one of Spain’s most beautiful Gothic cathedrals.
We decided to rent a car from Valencia and drive. The drive itself was uneventful. I was expecting forts and castles as if Don Quixote was still wondering around the area. Instead, there were several wind mill farms and very few rest stops/gas stations along the way but we did notice several black bull billboards (just the shape of a bull with no writing or pictures on them).
However, as you get closer to Toledo , you can clearly see from afar the majestic cathedral towering on top of the city as if it were the crowning jewel in the center of the city.
Once inside the city walls we were following directions in the car to the apartment we rented and struggling in the process to get there. Street signs are often hard to see and or read as they are placed on the side corner of buildings. We were also driving inside the city walls of a city that was built in the middle ages. These streets were meant for pedestrians and carriages not modern time cars, not even the smallest ones.
As we drove through winding, narrowing streets, I started feeling almost claustrophobic and overcome with the feeling that we were about to be a European movie cliché by driving our rental car through a street so narrow we would get stuck, trapped and unable to get out. Unknown to us, driving inside the city walls of Toledo is restricted to residents with a parking pass. Luckily, we stopped to ask for directions and a local told us we were not supposed to be driving inside the city walls and helped us get to a parking spot, (not many around but there are several spots where you can pay to park).
Keep this in mind when you pack, it could be a long torturous road hauling your luggage through inclined cobblestone streets from your car to your destination.
Now the fun part, Toledo is known as the ‘city of three cultures’ where Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities peacefully coexisted in the Middle Ages. Their influence and charm continue to be present today.
Toledo has 3 distinct neighborhoods, a Christian, a Muslim and a Jewish one and as you stroll around you can clearly see and feel the influence as each culture is very much present through its own unique architecture, food, stores and people. Walk through every part of town, explore, visit, smell, eat, shop in one of the unique stores to buy for example, magnificent handmade pottery or enjoy serrano ham in any of the many places that offer. You can even explore your heritage and find out what your last name means and where it comes from.
Art is also very much present in Toledo. If you like art and or enjoy museums, you must visit the famous El Greco Museum, which houses the canvases of El Greco, the influential painter with whom the city is synonymous.
Allow yourself to explore and get lost through the narrow streets of Toledo. If you do get lost, it won’t be for very long, the city is small enough that you will find your way back to your original destination. You may even find yourself in corky stores and meeting the most interesting people along the way.
For instance, as I was strolling through the Jewish part of town I stopped at a store front to gaze at some postcards, as one of my friends was interested in mailing one and I asked the store clerk a question in Spanish. It turns out that he was from Colombia and lives in Toledo with his family. This store is also a place where you can learn about Jewish history and learn if you have a Jewish heritage.
Overall, Toledo is a beautiful, medieval, historic place with a plethora of picture opportunities and well worth a detour. If you are already visiting Spain, find time to visit, you won’t be disappointed.