One of the less imposing of the royal palaces, El Pardo is worth a visit just to see some of the early Goya tapestries, the other decorative arts, and the gardens. Built in the 16th century as a hunting lodge and backup fortress where Carlos V could feel safe from his many enemies, the palace sits only 10km (6 1/4 miles) from the Palacio Real in central Madrid. It was an easy morning’s ride on horseback, now a quick trip on the bus. Yet El Pardo remains surprisingly bucolic, thanks to the royal protection of the surrounding forests. When the palace burned in the 18th century, Carlos III had it rebuilt by Francisco Sabatini and decorated with full Enlightenment grace. A young Francisco de Goya was chosen to paint the cartoons for a number of rather sweet tapestries showing country idylls. (The paintings themselves are in the Museo del Prado.) The tapestries were woven at the Real Fábrica de Tapices and in many cases cover the walls like wallpaper. Alas, Carlos V was not the only one who considered El Pardo a safe haven. Francisco Franco made it his home after the Civil War and many Spaniards still find the association with the dictator to be offputting. Others shrug and enjoy the grounds—and the rotisserie restaurants on the nearby roads.
- Frommer's Staff