The Strawberry Train is a unique initiative which comprises leisure, culture and tourism. The historic train follows the old Madrid to Aranjuez rail route (the second railway to be built in Spain and the first in the Region of Madrid) every Saturday and Sunday in Spring and Autumn, and leaves from the capital's former Delicias station, today the site of the Madrid Railway Museum.
The section of railway line between Madrid and Aranjuez dates back over 160 years. Inaugurated on 9 February 1851, it gradually ushered the Spanish capital, the Royal Site of Aranjuez and the towns through which it passes (Villaverde Bajo, Getafe, Pinto, Valdemoro, Ciempozuelos and Seseña) into an industrial age driven by a new mode of transport which soon became known as the “Iron Way” (Camino de Hierro or Ferro-Carril in Spanish). The reasons why the first line out of the Spanish capital led precisely to Aranjuez are to be found, on the one hand, in the desire to establish a rail connection between Madrid and a Mediterranean port and, on the other, in the fact that the monarchy and successive governments were keen to link two royal residences.
The antique train which currently runs on this historic route comprises four ‘Costa’ passenger coaches, a ‘DV’ van and a ‘J’ wagon, which were restored and adapted to provide service during the Strawberry Train seasons. The ‘Costa’ coaches form part of the long-running series which the company MZA acquired between 1914 and 1930 with the aim of modernising and unifying its fleet of hauled stock for Commuter services. After being transferred to RENFE, these rolling stock vehicles continued to provide commuter service until the 1960s, and were even used subsequently as service trains for employees. In the 1980s, of the four coaches which are now looked after by the Madrid Railway Museum, three were restored in the RENFE’s Forestry Workshop Division and one by the Railway Military Service.
The train runs to the city of Aranjuez, whose ‘Cultural Landscape’ was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 owing to its indisputable wealth of heritage assets from the ecological, artistic and cultural point of view. Aranjuez’s geographic location at the confluence of the Tagus and its main tributary, the Jarama, makes it a veritable ‘garden city’ set within a rich and varied landscape characterised by a wide variety of flora and fauna.
In 1561, at the behest of Felipe II, Aranjuez became one of the Royal Sites, a collection of residences for an itinerant court which spent the winter in Madrid, the spring in Aranjuez, the summer in La Granja and the autumn in El Escorial.
The Palacio Real, whose construction began under this king’s reign, remained barely unaltered until the arrival of the Borbons and, in particular, Fernando VI, who ordered the architect Santiago Bonavía to design the main façade, and Carlos III, who added two wings perpendicular to the main façade, the Plaza de Armas and the Parada de Palacio. Carlos IV gave the city the Real Casa del Labrador, a beautiful neo-classical building situated in the Jardín del Príncipe, where defiant, magnificent and picturesque nature affords
the visitor a wonderful opportunity for a pleasurable stroll.
Indeed, gardens constitute another of Aranjuez’s major attractions, from the French-style Parterre to the Italo-Flemish inspired Jardín de la Isla, as well as more intimate retreats such as the Jardín del Rey, hidden away in the grounds of the Palace.
Also linked to the monarchy is the Museo de Falúas, which houses a collection of royal pleasure boats formerly used for royal cruises along the Tagus; likewise the city’s famous tree-lined groves (Sotos y Paseos Históricos) or the grand Calle de la Reina, a magnificent avenue flanked by 40-metre-high plane trees.
Various historic buildings line the streets and squares of Aranjuez, where the visitor can take a stroll, do a little shopping, or relax at one of the many pavement cafés. One of the most outstanding sights is the Plaza de Toros, listed as a ‘Monument of Historical-Artistic Merit’ and home to the Museo Taurino. During the Fiestas of San Fernando, the city’s patron saint, the bullring’s most important traditional bullfight is held on 30th May.
As a City of Culture, Aranjuez frequently hosts music festivals, concerts and theatre performances. It is a paradise for nature lovers and sports enthusiasts, and is also an ideal destination for those who wish to enjoy a wide range of gastronomic delights which combine the best of traditional and nouvelle cuisine.