Catedral de Justo, a self-built cathedral in Mejorada del Campo, Madrid


Conceived and brought to life by a present-day Don Quijote and situated in La Mancha, stands a cathedral like no other. Over half a century ago, former monk and visionary, Justo Gallego Martínez, also called Don Justo, made it his life-long quest to build a cathedral in his hometown of Mejorada del Campo, just 20km from Madrid. Today, at nearly 90 years old, he is still pursuing his dream.

I’d been meaning to visit the Catedral del Justo for a long time, although it wasn’t until last weekend that I finally made it out there with my husband, James. It’s a great day-trip destination from Madrid if you have a car, as you can combine it with a visit to Alcalá de Henares afterwards.

To be honest, visiting this cathedral is a visceral experience, making it difficult to describe the feeling of seeing it first-hand. As I approached it, I was first impressed by how big it is. With outer dimensions of 20×50 square meters, it takes up a whole block and has a somewhat whimsical appearance.

Catedral del Justo de Mejorada del Campo by Naked Madrid

As I entered, I noticed a huge dome hovering over me, 40 meters high and 12 meters in diameter. The columns, walls, floors and stairwells are made out of materials that were either found, recycled or donated from local tile and brick factories. Even though parts of the building reminded me of an old scrapyard, it did resemble a cathedral—just from another planet!

The next thing that caught my eye was Don Justo himself, sitting contentedly on a chair, reading a book as if everything surrounding him was completely normal. His little dog was running around and an old TV was playing the same trance-like song, over and over again.

A self-built cathedral, made out of scrap and recycled materials near Madrid

When I got home I started reading up on the history of the cathedral. It turns out that Don Justo never got a legal building permit, nor is his cathedral recognized by the Catholic Church. But for me, there was no question I was entering a spiritual place.

Catedral del Justo de Mejorada del Campo by Naked Madrid

Catedral del Justo de Mejorada del Campo by Naked Madrid

What strikes me the most is the story behind his decision to dedicate his life to building this cathedral by himself. Born in 1925, Don Justo had a religious upbringing and aspired to be a monk. However, his dream was crushed when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis; he promised himself that if he ever recovered, he would build a cathedral from scratch and make a shrine to “Our Lady of the Pillar”. In 1961, he started building on an olive grove that belonged to his family in his hometown of Mejorada del Campo, and he hasn’t stopped since.

Catedral del Justo de Mejorada del Campo by Naked Madrid

A self-built cathedral, made out of scrap and recycled materials near Madrid

He never studied architecture nor formalized any sort of building plan; instead he envisioned it in his mind and drew inspiration primarily from the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica and other churches around Spain. On certain occasions, he received help from professional architects and volunteers, but overall, this cathedral is the realization of one individual’s dream. He has financed his work through renting inherited land and donations.Catedral del Justo de Mejorada del Campo by Naked Madrid

Catedral del Justo de Mejorada del Campo by Naked Madrid

Although it will take at least another 15-20 years to complete the cathedral, Don Justo expects to be there every day, despite his nearly 90 years. Walking through the cathedral’s crypt, courtyard, mini cloisters and chapels; gazing up at the dome and examining the different recycled materials used to make the columns, staircases, and floors—it feels slightly Gaudí-esque. In fact, the town of Mejorada del Campo, which notoriously has not fully embraced Don Justo’s cathedral, eventually changed the name of the street on which it lies to “Calle Antonio Gaudí.”

Catedral del Justo de Mejorada del Campo by Naked Madrid

Catedral del Justo de Mejorada del Campo by Naked Madrid

Not surprisingly, I’ve read that many people have called Don Justo crazy. Watching this present-day Don Quijote sitting on his chair, reading quietly in the cathedral he has been building with his own hands for more than half a century… while it all feels like a dream, the cathedral is real, and so is Don Justo. I highly recommend paying them a visit and enjoying the experience of witnessing such a unique vision come to life.

How to get there:

Catedral de Justo is located in Mejorada del Campo, a small town just 20km from Madrid. To get there, there are two public buses from the center: Avenida de América (line 282) and Conde Casal (line 341). However, going by car is a better option, so you can continue your day-trip to Alcalá de Heneres, Cervantes’ hometown, which is about a half hour away or less.

Address: Calle de Antonio Gaudí
Bus Line 341 from Conde Casal (link)
Bus Line 282 from Avenida de América (link)
 

Also check out our post on 10 best day-trips from Madrid!

 




Barcelona


What to see: 

La ciudad condal (as it’s also called in Spanish) has everything you’d like to see in a city: crazy Gaudi architecture, great food and of course, the Mediterranean. One of the most visited cities in the world, Barcelona has been written about a lot and it’s not our mission at Naked Madrid to show you what the city has to offer. We jus want to tell you how to get there!

From Madrid, there are many ways to get there, although I highly recommend the high speed train (AVE). It takes barely 3 hours and most importantly, it picks you up and drops you off right in the center city (a true godsend). You’ll also skip the waiting time at the airport and the annoying 6-hour drive from Madrid. Plus, it’s not too expensive if you get the ticket in advance and choose the right date (be aware of the public holidays).

To get your trip started, you should read Barcelona yellow post. Here, you’ll find the 10 must-see sites in Barcelona such as Sagrada Familia, Montjuic or Barrio Gótico. Another good one is Devour Barcelona’s blog. But I find my favourite tips in El boquerón viajero.

Gaudi by Naked Madrid

 

 One place to eat at that we recommend is: Colmado

Our friends Bianca and Gaby took us to Colmado, a traditional Spanish restaurant and bar with a terrific atmosphere. You must order their patatas bravas (Potatoes with alioli sauce) and pan tumaca (bread with tomato and olive oil). It was really remarkable. You should call to book a table (a barrel with stools around it) ahead, as the place gets really busy.

Colmados’s main info:

Colmado by naked madrid

Fuet by Naked Madrid

 

How to get there:

  • By Train (High Speed Train – AVE)

            Depart from: Atocha train station
            Schedule:

Departure Madrid-Barcelona (AVE)
Return Barcelona – Madrid (AVE)

            Duration: approx.  2.45 hour
            Price: 50€ (round trip approx. 100€).

*Link to Renfe’s Web Site to get the tickets 

  • By bus (Alsa)

            Depart from: Avenida de America or Barajas airport

   Duration: approx.  7 hour 30  min

            Price: 32,46€ (round trip 64,92€)

*Link to Alsa’s web site to get your tickets

Where to find it on a map:




Madrid's 10 Most Beautiful Surrounding Towns


One of the best things about living in Madrid is that you can easily escape the city center to enjoy wonderful day-trips and weekend getaways. By car or public transport, you can get to Madrid’s beautiful surrounding towns where you’ll find some of the world’s oldest universities, cathedrals, monasteries and historic monuments. You can also find natural swimming pools, mountains, hiking trails and other adventure activities.

So here’s a list of the most must-see towns near Madrid, plus a few things you should know about each one. You can also click on each town below or our category link “How to get to” for a more in-depth post on each place on this list, as well as all the different ways to get there.

    1. Alcalá de Henaresfree tapas and Cervantes’ home
    2. Aranjuezroyal gardens and palace
    3. Avila: old surrounding wall from medieval times
    4. Buitrago de Lozoyacastle and large reservoir
    5. Cercedilla: mountains great for hiking, biking, swimming (natural pool) and other adventure activities
    6. Cuencahanging houses and lamb
    7. El Escorialmonastery
    8. Rascafríanature, restaurant El Paular 
    9. SegoviaRoman aqueduct, cochinillo (suckling pig) and a nearby town called La Granja
    10. Toledo: where three cultures lived in harmony for centuries (Jewish, Christian and Muslim)

 

 

 




Cercedilla


Cercedilla town by Naked Madrid Cercedilla bars by Naked Madrid

What to see: 

When I think of Cercedilla, the first thing that pops into my head is nature. An hour from Madrid, this mountainous town is an incredible place for hiking, adventure activities and typical, not-for-show kind of food. In the summer, there’s also an amazing natural swimming pool (take a look at our post), meaning a manmade pool filled with natural running water from the mountain’s streams and rivers, so you can enjoy a refreshing dip while enjoying the  beautiful surroundings.

If you would like to go to Cercedilla but the idea of hiking scares you, there’s a train that travels around the Guadarrama mountains. The train is called Tren de la naturaleza” and runs every Thursday and Friday from the beginning of July to the end of September.  

How to get there:

  • By Train (Cercanias)

            Depart from: Chamartín train station
            Schedule:
Departure (Madrid – Cercedilla (Cercanias))
Return (Cercedilla – Madrid (Cercanias))
            Duration: approx. 1 hour
            Price: 4€ (round trip approx. 8€).

  • By bus

            Depart from: Moncloa. 684 bus
            Schedule:
Departure (Madrid – Cercedilla (Bus))
Return (Cercedilla – Madrid (Bus))
           Duration: approx.  1 hour 10  min
           Price: 5,10€ (round trip 10,20€)

Where to find it on a map:

Cercedilla Map




Rascafría


Rascafria by Naked Madrid

What to see:

There is a proverb in Spanish that goes: “quien algo quiere, algo le cuesta”. It’s the Spanish way to say “no pain, no gain.” I say this because, if you don’t have a car, Rascafría is far from the city and inconvenient. However, if you have wheels, don’t miss the opportunity to clear up your head and drive along the northern mountains of Madrid. Once you get there, you won’t regret it.

In this northern town, there are plenty of adventure activities to do. Although hiking and biking are the most popular, you can also jump into one of Madrid’s natural ponds. After that, enjoy the rest of the day in one of the pool-side terrazas or at a café in the quaint town.

How to get there:

  • By bus

            Depart from: Plaza Castilla. 194 bus
            Schedule:
Departure (Madrid – Rascafria (Bus))
Return (Rascafria – Madrid (Bus))
            Duration: approx.  2 hour
            Price: 5,10€ (round trip 10,20€)

Where to find it on a map:

Rascafria (Map)




Buitrago de Lozoya


Buitrago_del_Lozoya by wikipedia

Buitrago_del_Lozoya by wikipedia

Buitrago de Lozoya by Lugaresconhistoria

Buitrago de Lozoya by Lugaresconhistoria

What to see: 

After living in Madrid for a while, you learn how to survive the summer heat (pools help a lot) and Buitrago de Lozoya has become an integral part of my method to avoiding the high temperatures. An hour and a half away from the city, you will find this beautiful city surrounded by a wall that was built during the IX and XI centuries. Here, enjoy the breeze from the Lozoya River and the views of the Somosierra mountains. Find your spot in the plaza while drinking a beer and looking up at Buitrago de Lozoya’s Castle.  

A little secret of the town will be revealed soon… so keep an eye on the blog!

How to get there:

Duration: 1 hour (80km)

  • By bus

            Depart from: Plaza Castilla
            Schedule:
Departure (Madrid – Buitrago de lozoya (Bus))
Return (Buitrago de lozoya – Madrid (Bus))
           Duration: approx.  1 hour 40 min
           Price: 5,10€ (round trip 10,20€)

Where to find it on a map:

Buitrago de Lozoya (Map)




Aranjuez



Jardines Aranjuez

What to see:

In the south of Madrid, you will feel royal as you walk through Aranjuez’s lush gardens and visit its impressive Royal Palace. Built as the royal family’s summer house, Aranjuez is best to visit in Spring or Summer so you can take in all the colours of its gardens in full bloom. Unlike most towns in Spain, there are no tiny streets here.  Aranjuez stands out for its large and spacious boulevards. Once you’ve built up an appetite, there are plenty of good Spanish restaurants right along the Tajo river where you can enjoy typical Spanish food and carne de caza (game food).

How to get there:

  • By train (Cercanias)

Depart from: Atocha train station
Schedule:
Departure (Madrid – Aranjuez (RENFE))
Return (Aranjuez – Madrid (RENFE))
Duration: approx. 50 min
Price: 3,30€ (round trip approx. 6,60€).

  • By bus

Depart from: Méndez Álvaro: Bus 423
Schedule:
Departure (Madrid – Aranjuez (INTERURBANO))
Return (Aranjuez – Madrid (INTERURBANO))
Duration: approx. 1 hour
Price: 4,20€ (round trip 8,40€)

Where to find it on a map:

Aranjuez Map

 

Images from turismoenaranjuez.com and wikipedia



Ávila


muralla--644x362

What to see:

There are plenty of reasons to go to Ávila. For example, the city is stunning (especially when it snows in winter), the cathedral transports you to ancient times and the old wall that still stands enclosing the city is simply amazing. It also claims to be the Spanish city with the most amount of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita. Plus it’s the birthplace of Spain’s national saint, Santa Teresa de Ávila. But to be honest, I would go here for the following: judías del barco (beans from Avila), chuletón de ternera (large beef steak) and yemas de Santa Teresa (traditional sweets made with egg yolks).

How to get there:

  • By train (Renfe)

Depart from: Chamartín train station
Schedule:
Departure (Madrid – Ávila (RENFE))
Return (Ávila – Madrid (RENFE))
Duration: approx. 1 hour 20 min
Price: 12€ (round trip approx. 24€).

  • By bus

Depart from: Estación Sur. Méndez Álvaro
Schedule:
Departure (Madrid – Avila (Larrea))
Return (Avila – Madrid (Larrea))
Duration: approx. 1 hour 20 min
Price: 8,90€ (fares + round trip ticket approx. 20€)

Where to find it on a map:

Avila Map

 

Image from Hostal Alcantara and abc.es



Alcalá de Henares


Alcala de Henares Plaza Cervantes

What to see:

In Miguel de Cervantes’ hometown, you’ll find one of the oldest university campuses in Spain–Universidad de Alcalá–which was founded in the 15th century. The city still boasts some of the magnificent buildings from that time. History aside, I’d say that Alcalá de Henares is most known for its generous and free tapas. So after you visit the University and walk through the town to see its monuments and plazas, you should rest at one of the bars close to Plaza Miguel de Cervantes and enjoy a cold beer that is sure to come with a nicely-sized tapa. The most famous tapas bar in Alcalá is El Índalo, but there are many others. This cute town is perfect for a relaxing day trip!

Here’s a great post on what to see in Alcalá in a day

How to get there:

  • By Train (Cercanias)

Depart from: Atocha train station
Schedule:
Departure (Madrid-Alcala de Henares horarios y precios (RENFE))
Return (Alcala de Henares – Madrid horarios y precios (RENFE))
Duration: approx. 35 min
Price: 2,50€ (round trip approx. 5€).

  • By bus

Depart from: Avenida de america: Buses 223, 225, 227
Schedule:
Departure (Madrid-Alcala de Henares horarios y precios (ALSA))
Return (Alcala de Henares – Madrid horarios y precios (ALSA))
Duration: approx. 40 min
Price: 3,60€ (round trip 7,20€)

Where to find it on a map:

Alcala de Henares Map

 




Toledo


Toledo callejuelas

What to see: 

The breathtakingly beautiful city of Toledo lies to the south of Madrid and was Spain’s former capital.  Although there are plenty of things to do here, nothing beats getting lost amidst Toledo’s tiny and windy streets. If you are looking for a gift (check out Best Gifts from Madrid list), Toledo is well known for its mazapán (marzipan) and navajas (swiss army and pocket knives), which can be found throughout the city.

How to get there:

  • By high speed train (AVE)

Depart from: Atocha AVE station (take metro line 1 to Atocha Renfe)
Schedule:
Departure (Madrid-Toledo horarios y precios (RENFE))
Return (Toledo-Madrid horarios y precios (RENFE))
Duration: approx. 35 min
Price:  12,70€ (round trip 25,40€).

*Note. You will have to walk 15 min or take another bus to get to the center.

  • By bus

Depart from: Plaza Elíptica bus station
Schedule:
Departure (Madrid-Toledo horarios y precios (ALSA))
Return (Toledo-Madrid horarios y precios (ALSA))
Duration: approx. 1 hour
Price: 5,63€ (round-trip 11,26€). Buy tickets on the bus.

 Where to find it on a map:

Toledo Map