Visit focuses on one of the greatest collections of paintings ever formed
Three guided early morning visits to the Prado, all timed to begin before the museum opens to the public
The most important Royal Palaces also included
Very comfortable city centre hotel, close to the Prado
Ample free time for private explorations
Madrid came to prominence in the sixteenth century when Spain emerged as a nation under its Habsburg king, Phillip II, son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (who in Spain was known as King Charles I). The Habsburgs ruled Spain and its many dominions until the male line of this branch of the family died out in 1700 - the other branch ruled the Holy Roman Empire, based in Austria and its surrounding territories. It was then that the last monarch of the line, Charles II, left Spain to his French kinsman, Philip of Anjou. This inheritance was challenged by the rest of Europe, leading to the War of the Spanish Succession. Philip’s claim prevailed, thus initiating several centuries of Bourbon rule, which continues today with the present House of Bourbon-Parma.
Over four centuries these two dynasties accumulated one of the finest collections of works of art in Europe, particularly rich in paintings and tapestries, the two ‘must have’ art forms for Europe’s royal elite. These were housed in a series of royal palaces in Madrid and the surrounding countryside. Though not all of these have survived, we shall visit the most important, supported by a series of related collections.
Phillip II inherited many works of art from collections formed by the various families whose blood flowed through his veins: Isabelle of Castile and her husband, Ferdinand of Aragón; the Dukes of Burgundy; and the Habsburg Archdukes of Austria and Holy Roman Emperors. When eventually inherited by Phillip, they provided an extraordinary foundation on which he and his successors built. Our visit will trace the formation of the Spanish Royal Collections, much of which is now in Madrid’s fabled Prado Museum, which we shall visit on three mornings before it opens to the public, a wonderful opportunity to see remarkable paintings at close quarters.
Like his father, the Emperor Charles, Phillip was a major patron of Titian and consequently the Prado contains more masterpieces by the Venetian genius than any other collection. He also collected Flemish paintings on a large scale ranging from Rogier van der Weyden to Bosch – indeed it is here that you will find the finest collection of Bosch’s surviving works. Later generations were no less acquisitive, particularly Philip IV, for whom Velázquez created so many memorable images such as Las Meninas. Philip IV was also lucky as he was able to acquire wonderful paintings from the collections of England’s Charles I and the Duke of Buckingham, dispersed as a consequence of the English Civil War. Finally, from the later Bourbon period we shall see the greatest group of paintings by Goya in the world.
Beyond the Prado there are a series of remarkable royal palaces which we shall visit: the Royal Palace in Madrid and in the surrounding countryside, Phillip II’s El Escorial and the delightful eighteenth century Palacio de Aranjuez. Other visits, including the Thyssen Collection, will also feature.
Led by Tom Duncan, with renowned local art historian, Mauricio Macarrón, we shall be based at the comfortable 5* Hotel Villa Real, a short walk from the Prado and many other important museums. The pace of this visit will allow time to explore the sites included and there will also be ample time set aside for private exploration.
Day by day
- Day 1: Monday 23 October
- We fly from Heathrow mid-afternoon on British Airways arriving in Madrid early-evening. We transfer to our city centre hotel, the 5* Hotel Villa Real, for six nights. Later that evening dinner will be in our hotel - wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
- Day 2: Tuesday 24 October
- We travel by coach the short distance out of Madrid to visit El Escorial, the monastery cum palace built for Phillip II in the latter sixteenth century. After a leisurely visit and a group lunch, we have an afternoon introduction on foot to the historic centre of Madrid. This includes the justly famed Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, a regal foundation which still functions as a convent. It has an unbelievable art collection due to the great wealth it has always enjoyed. We return to our hotel and the evening will be free.
- Day 3: Wednesday 25 October
- We walk the short distance to the Prado Museum for the first of three visits, entering at 9.00 am before it opens to the public. The bulk of the many masterpieces from the Spanish Royal Collection are housed in this wonderful museum and this first visit will be devoted to the Italian pictures from the early Renaissance period up to the late seventeenth century. There are paintings by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Raphael and their contemporaries but the dominant theme is Venetian art; above all the most important group of works by Titian housed in a single gallery in the world.
- After some free time for lunch in the museum (not included), we continue by coach to the Royal Chapel of San Antonio de la Florida, with frescoes by Goya and by coincidence it is also his burial place. We then spend the rest of the afternoon in the Royal Palace. Built by the Bourbon monarchs in the eighteenth century, it is still used by the Royal Family and is sumptuously decorated and full of treasures. We return to our hotel and the evening will be free.
- Day 4: Thursday 26 October
- This morning we drive out of Madrid to visit the Royal Palace of Aranjuez. This delightful palace and its surrounding gardens were an attempt to recreate a mini-Versailles. After a group lunch, and some time to stroll in the adjoining Royal Park, we return to Madrid where the evening will be free.
- Day 5: Friday 27 October
- We return to the Prado before it opens to the public and this morning we concentrate on the marvellous Flemish paintings. These range from the profoundly moving religious works of Rogier van der Weyden to the highly eccentric visions of Hieronymus Bosch. From a later period there are fine pictures by Rubens, Van Dyck and many others.
- After some free time for lunch in the museum (not included), the afternoon will be devoted to a visit to the Thyssen Collection, sold to Spain in 1983 and at that time the greatest art collection in private hands - indeed outshining the Prado in some areas! The evening will be free.
- Day 6: Saturday 28 October
- On our third formal visit to the Prado, again before it opens to the public, we will explore the Spanish collections. Two artists stand out – Velazquez and Goya, and we shall see their most important masterpieces. After our visit the remainder of the day will be free for private explorations and we have our final dinner in a local restaurant close to our hotel.
- Day 7: Sunday 29 October
- On our last morning in Madrid we visit the Reina Sofía Museum with its renowned collection of modern paintings, including Picasso’s Guernica. There will be time for lunch (not included) before we depart for the airport and our flight back to Heathrow.
- Price: £2,395 per person
- Price without flights: £2,295
- Deposit: £300
- Single Supplement: £395 (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: David Sketchley
6 nights with breakfast at the 5* Hotel Villa Real, Madrid
BA460 Departs London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 1405, arrives Madrid 1730
BA461 Departs Madrid 1750, arrives London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 1910
2 dinners & 2 lunches with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, City Tax, entry fees & gratuities, services of Tom Duncan, Mauricio Macarrón and our local tour manager, David Sketchley
Travel to/from Heathrow, 4 dinners & 4 lunches
Weather Conditions for Madrid in October are:
Average Temperature between: 10oC - 19oC / 50oF - 66oF
Rainfall: 53mm / 2 inches
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.