Madrid’s history is as compelling as it is unique. It is the only European capital with Islamic roots; still visible in its Arab walls and Mudejar architecture. The historic capital of the Spanish Empire, whose vast palaces were funded by New World gold, it remains the centre of modern Spain, and has a turbulent history marked by conflicts from Napoleon to Franco and the Civil War. Explore Madrid’s fascinating history, exceptional collections of Old and Modern masters, and spectacular architecture on this new study tour, which includes day trips to Toledo, Chincon and Segovia.
World-class art galleries, including the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza
Toledo, the Visigothic capital where three cultures once lived in a peaceful state of convivencia
Spanish royal power: the palaces of Madrid, the Escorial and their gardens
Segovia’s awe-inspiring Roman aqueduct and Gothic cathedral, and the charm of the Middle Ages in Chinchon’s beautiful plaza
The Iberian Peninsula’s ancient past in Madrid’s superb archaeological museum
Detailed lecture series, providing extensive context for the city and its art
Local experiences, from the best markets to tapas bars and performing arts centres
Days 1–3: Walking tour of early Madrid, visits to the history museum and archaeological museum. El Retiro park’s grand gardens and a thrilling Flamenco performance.
Days 4–5: The power of the Habsburgs at Madrid’s Palacio Real. Excursion to Toledo.
Days 6–7: Background lecture, full day in the Prado. Day trip to Escorial palace and Segovia.
Days 8–9: A wealth of art at the Thyssen- Bornemisza, the Reina Sofia and Espacio Miro. Performance at Circulo Bellas Artes on the art deco rooftop terrace with its spectacular views.
Days 10–12: Sunday markets, the Sorolla Museum’s lush Belle Epoque. Excursion to medieval Chinchon, with a wine-tasting.
The tour begins and ends at our hotel in Madrid. Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and Cathay Pacific all offer suitable connections to Madrid from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B and D.
Friday 4 September: Arrival and orientation
Meet your tour leader in the bar area of the hotel for a welcome drink and a short orientation walk of the Chamberí district, where our hotel is located. Dinner in a local restaurant. (D)
Saturday 5 September: The history of Madrid
Today we focus on the history of the city and its culture, from its origins to the present. After a morning lecture, we take the short metro trip to explore the oldest part of the city, the narrow streets of the Medieval Quarter, ‘la Latina’. Here we discover the secret garden of Anglada, plus the museum of San Isidro which contains fascinating artefacts from Madrid’s early history. After free time for lunch on the oldest square in Madrid, la Paja, and perhaps a beer in the shade of the church, we head to the Museum of the City of Madrid which showcases the arts and customs of the city from 1561 to the present day. Evening at leisure. (B)
Sunday 6 September: Archaeology
Madrid, as a national capital, plays an important role in preserving the past of the Iberian peninsula and the cultures that have inhabited it. This is nowhere better seen than at the recently reopened National Archaeological Museum. It houses a superb series of ‘universal art’ from the Iberian Peninsula: Visigothic votive crowns from the 7th century displaying excellent goldsmithing, Spanish Islamic ivories and a highly regarded collection of Greek vases. The crowning piece of the collection is the ‘Lady of Elche’ sculpture, an Iberian bust from the 4th century BC. She shows a strong influence from Greek art, but her beads and headdress are local. After exploring the collections, we break for lunch we take a stroll around the nearby Retiro Park, a favourite place for Madrileños to relax. The park dates from the sixteenth century and was once owned by the Royal family. Later in the evening, there is the option of joining the tour leader for sunset at the Temple of Debod. This ancient Egyptian temple was donated to the city when Spain helped save the Abu Simbel temples during the construction of the Aswan dam and is now a favoured place to watch the sunset after the heat of the day. (B)
Monday 7 September: Madrid de las Austrias
Under the Habsburgs, Madrid was extensively rebuilt to make it a fitting centre of an empire that extended across great swathes of Europe and the New World. This new Madrid – “el Madrid de las Austrias” – was enriched by Charles I with palaces and monuments, and greatly enlarged by his son Felipe II, much of whose austere architecture survives intact. This morning we take an extended walking tour of Habsburg Madrid, taking in the main squares, the vast Royal Palace, the Almudena Cathedral and the Market of San Miguel, a food lover’s delight. The afternoon is set aside as free time, and you may wish to visit some of Madrid’s many excellent smaller museums. In the early evening we meet for a talk on the Art Triangle, preparing us for the three main galleries to be explored in the next few days (B)
Tuesday 8 September: Toledo
Today we travel by train to the former Visigothic capital of Toledo, one of Spain’s most magnificent cities. Sitting high above the plain of La Mancha it is often referred to as an ‘open air museum’ as it retains its 11th century layout with few modern interventions. Toledo grew to prominence under the Visigoths, but it was from when the Moors arrived in the 8th century to the end of the Christian reconquest in the 15th, that it became renowned as the ‘City of Three Cultures’, where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived alongside each other in a peaceful state of ‘convivencia’. The architecture from this time when the city was a hub of erudition is a delightful mix of influences: the Synagogue of El Transito for example, is Mudéjar in style (Arab Christian), contains geometric and floral motifs like a mosque and inscriptions in both Arabic and Hebrew. Toledo was immortalised by the painter El Greco and much of his work can still be viewed here, such as the Burial of the Count of Orgaz in the Church of Santo Tomé. Returning to Madrid, the evening is at leisure. (B)
Wednesday 9 September: The Prado
The Prado is one of the world’s foremost collections of Old Master paintings. The Spanish Habsburg and Bourbon monarchs had acquired an exceptional collection of art over the centuries, and their collections became core of the new public museum in 1819, and the collection has been augmented since through careful acquisition. The Prado has many iconic masterpieces, by artists such as Velasquez, Goya and El Greco. This morning we take a tour of key works in the collection, after which there is time to continue exploring the museum independently, or continue to stroll and discuss with the tour leader. In the early evening we meet for a talk on modern Spanish history and artists, before dinner in a nearby restaurant. (B, D)
Thursday 10 September: Escorial and Segovia
Today we take a full-day excursion out of Madrid by private coach. In the morning we visit the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial. Commissioned by Phillip II to commemorate the defeat of the French at St Quentin, this vast structure of over 4,000 rooms was both monastery and austere royal residence. Our tour takes us through the monastery, royal apartments, basilica and library as well as the mausoleum, the final resting place of almost all Spanish monarchs since Charles V was interred in 1558. After a break for lunch we make our way to Segovia, beautifully sited on a rocky ridge above the Castilian plain with an impressive Roman aqueduct at its heart. We enjoy a walking tour of the centre before making our way up to the cathedral and past the extraordinary Alcázar, a beautiful turreted fantasy which reputedly inspired Walt Disney. On the way home we pass by General Franco’s controversial ‘Valley of the Fallen’ monument and catholic basilica. Erected after the Civil War, it was supposed to signify atonement and reconciliation for both sides, but it is largely associated with Franco himself, who ordered its construction and was later buried here. Evening at leisure. (B)
Friday 11 September: Modern Spanish Art and Flamenco
Spanish artists are among the best-known and most-loved artists of the twentieth century. This morning we explore the exceptional collection of modern Spanish art at the Reina Sofia, whose permanent collection includes works by Juan Gris, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. A highlight here is Picasso’s Guernica, painted in response to atrocities committed during the Spanish Civil War; it is one of the museum’s most famous pieces and is complemented by a series of preliminary drawings which show how the major work was developed. After a break for lunch there is the option to visit the nearby MAPFRE Foundation which houses a permanent exhibition of 65 of the colourful and whimsical works of Joan Miró. In the evening we have dinner and attend a performance of Flamenco in a celebrated and intimate ‘Tablao’. Whilst the dance originated in Andalusia, the finest performers come to Madrid to advance their careers. (B, D)
Saturday 12 September: Thyssen Bornemisza and the Caixa Forum
The morning is devoted to the last part of the Art Triangle, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, an exceptional private collection with over 800 works dating from the 13th century to the present day. Partially acquired by the state in 1993 from Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (and the deal is continually renegotiated), the collection includes magnificent works by Raphael, Titian, the Impressionists and many other artists. Before heading back to the hotel, we stop at the Caixa Forum, a cultural centre designed by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron in the deconstructivist style. It is famous as much for its design and vertical garden as for its temporary exhibits. In the evening there is a talk in the hotel on the Spanish artist Sorolla, ‘Master of Light’. (B)
Sunday 13 September: El Rastro Flea Market and Sorolla
Nothing is more popular in Madrid on a Sunday morning than a stroll around El Rastro, the vast flea market that overtakes the narrow streets of the Medieval Quarter, La Latina. Over 400 years old, the market sells a wide variety of goods and is perfect for the special Spanish souvenir. Once you have had your fill of the markets there are superb tapas bars in the area to grab some lunch. If you enjoyed the works of Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla at the previous evening’s talk then your tour leader will escort you to his museum/home before returning to the hotel. Evening at leisure. (B)
Monday 14 September: Medieval Chinchón
On our last full day, we take a leisurely local bus ride to beautiful Chinchón to enjoy a lunch in its medieval square and a wine tasting. Here we can see a Goya painting in the setting it was designed for and witness the theatre where the Spanish Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, had his works performed. In the evening we meet again for our final talk (and a bottle of Cava), which explores a ‘Labyrinth of Passion’ Madrid’s counterculture, or La Movida, which sprang up after the transitions to democracy in 1975 after Franco’s death, and the works of film directors, such as Pedro Almodovar, who helped cement the new Spanish identity. (B)
Tuesday 15 September: Departure
The tour finishes after breakfast but for those who have a little longer, your tour leader has a wealth of further sites to recommend according to your interests. (B)
A practicing painter and expert on the art of Spain, with degrees from the University of Sydney and the National Art School.
Elena Ortega is a practicing painter who regularly exhibits her work, has a Bachelor of Arts from Sydney University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the National Art School, where she is currently undertaking a Masters. She has won numerous academic prizes for her study in art history and theory, including a scholarship to the London Royal College of Art.
Elena is a host at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, where she enjoys sharing her enthusiasm about art, and teaches Spanish language, culture and society at WEA, Sydney. She lived in Granada for a number of years and loves this region, immortalised by Ernest Hemingway and Gerald Brenan, but she has also spent time living in Madrid and Barcelona – as well as her native Zaragoza, of course!
The Leonardo City Centre hotel is a fully renovated modern three-star hotel, located in the quiet and traditional Chamberí district, offering a ‘village feel’ only two metro stops from the major hub of ‘Sol’. The Gran Via can be reached in 10 minutes on foot and the surrounding area abounds in authentic restaurants and bars. The neighbouring districts of Argüelles and Moncloa have a fun ‘studenty’ vibe. We have secured superior rooms which have coffee and tea making facilities and a small fridge, plus a work desk and French balconies.
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller. We aim to be fair and reasonable in all our dealings with our clients. We aim to provide full and accurate information about our tours and promptly provide information of any changes or alterations that take place before departure.