Peñalara: Madrid’s Winter Wonderland
Inspired by the light dusting of snow central Madrid received and eager to have a change of pace from city life, a few weeks ago, my friend and I headed Madrid’s mountains for snow, hiking, and unbelievable scenery.
Parque Natural de Peñalara is located in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range in the north of the Comunidad de Madrid and is a popular spot for hiking, skiing, and getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Thanks to the recommendation of my friend’s coworker, we got up bright and early and boarded a bus from the center of Madrid to Cotos, a mountain pass on the edge of the park.
The bus trip alone would have been enough, taking us through country roads, cute mountain towns, and road-side snow that got thicker and thicker as we wound our way up the mountain. And our arrival in Cotos was even more beautiful. The thick blanket of snow was illuminated by brilliant sun, backdropped by intensely blue skies and breathtaking views down the mountain.
We stopped into the tourist information center, where we were provided with a map and information on where to rent snow shoes and sleds if we so desired. We skipped those and took the advice of the woman to hike the easier trail, as the tougher ones were basically impossible due to the deep, powdery snow that had accumulated. The train station had a cozy restaurant, where we prepared ourselves with a sandwich and I waterproofed my boots before taking off.
The “easier” trail was a relative term, as we still found ourselves sinking knee-deep into snow, slipping down hills, and occasionally having to get across slippery ice on all fours, but there’s no doubt that it was worth it. The views were incomparable, and, having gone on a weekday, the trails were quiet and peaceful. Our final destination was the park’s laguna, which, we found upon arrival to not only be frozen over but to be completely covered in snow to the extent that we would have had no idea it was even a lake had it not been the end of the trail.
We stopped for lunch at the lake, where the cold quickly set in, and then made our return to Cotos, enjoying the gorgeous scenery every step of the way. Back in Cotos, we nestled up by the heaters and had a few glasses of wine, warm, cozy, and completely content after such a beautiful hike.
Despite all the day-trips I’ve taken from Madrid, this was my first time exploring Madrid’s true nature, and it’s left me with the ganas to go back for more, especially now that spring has arrived. Parque Natural de Peñalara seems to be relatively unknown by guiris, expats, and tourists, so, if you’re looking to get away from the city for a day, I highly recommend a visit, either in snowy winter or sunny spring or summer.
How to get to Parque Natural de Peñalara:
- Catch the 691 bus from Moncloa toward Cotos. Schedules can be seen here. Be sure to get on one of the buses with Valdesqui as its final destination, as many of the 691 buses stop before Cotos in Navacerrada. From Cotos, you can easily walk to an info center, pick up a hiking map, and be on your way! Cost: €10.20 round-trip, or less if you already have a Madrid abono (monthly metro pass). Time: 90 minutes.
- Alternatively, if trains are more your style, take Cercanías line C-2 from Atocha or Nuevos Ministerios to Cercedilla. Then transfer to the C-9 and take it to Cotos. Cost: about €27 round-trip (a bit less if you have an abono). Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.