Sunday, 10 October 2010

Far from the Maddening Crowds

By Richard Morley.

A couple of years ago some friends and I thought that a pleasant way to celebrate the end of a working week would be to pass lazy summer Saturdays having picnics in a park. Each of us took our contribution and although I invariably got the job of bringing the drink, the stuff that weighs a lot, I remember those Saturdays with pleasure.

The first picnic was taken on the sloping lawns of the Parque Berlin and the idea developed that we should picnic in a different park each week. This we did, with the proviso that each park should be close to a metro station because those cartons of fruit juice and glass bottles of something stronger didn’t need to be carried for long, and so we enjoyed happy times on the banks of the lake in the Casa del Campo, in the Arabic garden of the Parque Juan Carlos Primero and so on.

There are many parks in Madrid. Of course the most famous is the Retiro, and its fame brings the crowds and one of the joys of picnics with friends is NOT to share them with the madding masses. There is also the Parque del Campo del Moro behind the royal palace, the Parque del Oeste with the adjoining Parque de la Bombilla and the Parque de San Isidro. But these parks, like the Retiro, are not far from the centre and, should you want to eliminate the city from your senses they only succeed to a certain extent. Another of my favourites, the Parque Enrique Tierno Galvan, with its high spurting fountains, forum, shady plantations, and very steep embankment, has its peace shattered by the horns of passing AVE trains and the rush of neighbouring motorway traffic.

One of the fountains at the Parque Enrique Tierno Galvan

So I was intrigued when an attendee at my Friday evening English Speaking Group mentioned “her” favourite park and I hadn’t heard of it. She told me of its tranquillity, of how she would go to peacefully read or study. I was even more astonished to find it was in my part of Madrid - well four stops on the metro, so it’s not far.

Following her directions I took the metro to Suanzes (line 5) and emerged on to Madrid’s longest street, the busy Calle de Alcalá and according to her I was there, at the park. But there was no park to be seen. Just a high wall painted in fading pink with an inset building with barred windows. However, my heightened powers of observation noticed that some of my fellow alighting passengers were disappearing through an arch in the wall. So I followed.

In fact the arch is a short tunnel which opened into a small courtyard lined with shady trees and pink flower beds. The height of that hideous pink wall and the narrowness of the tunnel effectively killed the noise and the bustle of the Street outside. It was like entering a secret world.

Before me stretched a long avenue of trees and on either side spread twenty seven hectares of green lawns, small, shady spinneys and wide walkways of peace. That’s about 67 acres for my US readers.

I was in the Parque de la Quinta de los Molinos.

Leaving the small courtyard and following the slightly inclined tree lined path ahead leads you wide open areas, an orchard of almond trees, a hidden depression, a temple. Before the park came into public hands the Quinta de los Molinas was a private garden. Here stood the home of César Cort (y) Boti.

Cort Boti was an architect and considered a pioneer in the contemporary urbanisation of towns in the 20th century. His work can be seen around the Plaza de Olavide in the Trafalgar district and he was professor of Urbanisation at the Madrid School of Architecture. In 1928 he worked on the expansion of the city of Murcia and later reformed the town centre of Valladolid.

For most of his life he worked and lived in Madrid, but he was born (in 1893) in Valencia and arranged to die (in 1978) in Alicante. Whether by whim or perhaps through a feeling of homesickness for Catalonia, when he designed his garden in 1925 he stocked it with plants indigenous to the Mediterranean coast.

The name, Quinta de los Molinos, comes from the wind driven pumps that extracted the water for the estate.

I know nothing about the names of plants or how they grow, but I like surrounding myself in their tranquillity. The nature of Cort Boti’s selction of trees and plants meant the park reached maturity quite fast and in places seems overgrown and tangled. The park authority must work hard to maintain it, but it is far removed from the showpiece landscaping of the Retiro.

Also, before I get too bucolic I should mention that despite the peace you can find there, the grounds are over-looked by high apartment blocks and that at the northern end the city encroaches, as the agreement between Cort Boti’s family and the Madrid Ayudamiento allowed for some land to be retained then sold for building.
Apartment blocks peer down through the trees.

The land dips and rises, the paths take unexpected turns. When I explored a charming small gateway I found myself cruelly cast out into the real world of suburban street life. But there are hidden corners where I found a student spread out with his books and unwittingly intruded on a courting couple’s privacy. There are areas to sit and think and flowerbeds to contemplate.

A small pond with a central fountain cast my mind back immediately to a similar area in the park in my English home town. A stream bed lies nearby; dry when I went, but showing signs of activity when it rains. And just beyond that a small grotto for secret trysts and, unfortunately, graffiti artists handiwork.

The secret grotto cut into the rock.

"Welcome to the Jungle". I am pleased to see the Graffiti painter learned something at school.

It is a well used park. Footpaths criss-cross the grassed areas to allow passage from one barrio to another. Joggers run and dog-walkers amble. A row of exercise apparatus runs along a wide path along the central crest. They come with instructions though I saw no one using them.

This is not the Retiro. This a simple open area for the use of the people. One of the intentions of this blog is to show that Madrid is so much more than the three Ps of Prado, Palacio Real and the Plaza Mayor. Here you could have a completely undisturbed picnic. A sign warns of squirrels, though I saw none. It is well out of the centre of the city, yet just eleven stops from Gran Via on the metro line 5.

All you have to do is find it.

The Entrance to the Park.


  1. the best time to go, is when the almond blossom in february

  2. That looks amazing. Now I just have to get to Spain.

  3. You were in Colonia Jardin and didn't stop by for a cuppa..???

  4. Jo, are you commenting on the correct post???? Colonia Jardin was in the future of this one.

  5. one of my favourite Madrid finds too! The almond blossom was worth the wait - it was very late this spring. Beautiful and heady with its amazing scent!