The Good Ship Segovia

Cathedral, Segovia, Spain
Segovia's cathedral is embellished to the hilt with pinnacles and flying buttresses.
By Rick Steves

Fifty miles from Madrid, this town of 55,000 boasts a great Roman aqueduct, a cathedral, and a castle. Segovia is a medieval "ship" ready for your inspection. Start at the stern — the aqueduct — and stroll up Calle de Cervantes to the prickly Gothic masts of the cathedral. Explore the tangle of narrow streets around Plaza Mayor, then descend to the Alcázar at the bow.

Built by the Romans, who ruled Spain for more than 500 years, the 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct (acueducto romano) is 2,500 feet long and 100 feet high, has 118 arches, was made from 20,000 granite blocks without any mortar, and can still carry a stream of water. It's considered Segovia's backup plumbing. From underneath the aqueduct, climb the steps off Plaza del Azoguejo for an overhead view.

Segovia's cathedral — built in Renaissance times (1525–1768, the third on this site) — was Spain's last major Gothic building. Embellished to the hilt with pinnacles and flying buttresses, the exterior is a great example of the final, overripe stage of Gothic, called Flamboyant. The dark, spacious, and elegantly simple interior provides a delightful contrast

Once a favorite summer residence and hunting palace of the monarchs of Castile, the Alcázar castle burned in 1862. What you see today is rebuilt, a Disneyesque exaggeration of the original. It's still fun to explore the fine Moorish decor, historic furnishings, and grand Segovia view from its tower. After its stint as a palace, the Alcázar was a prison for 200 years and then a Royal Artillery School. Since the fire, it's basically been a museum.

Roman and Romanesque Segovia was made for roamin'. Rub shoulders with Segovian yuppies parading up and down Calle Juan Bravo. For subtler charm, wander the back streets, away from the trinket shops and ladies selling lace. Segovia has a wealth of 12th- and 13th-century Romanesque churches. Look Catholic and drop in.

When you're ready for dinner, look for Segovia's culinary claim to fame, roast suckling pig (cochinillo asado) — 21 days of mother's milk, into the oven, and onto your plate. It's worth a splurge here. For lighter fare, try sopa castellana — soup mixed with eggs, ham, garlic, and bread — or warm yourself up with the local judiones de la granja, a popular soup made with flat white beans from the region. Ponche segoviano, a dessert made with a marzapan base, is heavenly after an earthy dinner or with a coffee in the afternoon.

You can easily reach Segovia from Madrid — it's just one hour away by bus or half hour by train. When you're ready to move on, consider busing from Segovia to Ávila for a visit, then continuing to Salamanca by bus or train.