In La Granja de San Ildefonso, a once glorious playground for the royals just outside of Segovia, the chilled fall air slides down through the valleys from the tops of the hills, and the smell of fireplaces and roasting lamb wafts in the streets. The air is thin and cool, and the residents of Madrid make the short drive to the village and bring their mid-season gloves and fleeces for weather just slightly cooler than the city.
On Sunday, there were the clangs of the old bronze church bells at the town cathedral calling all who were interested to celebrate a special mass for the Virgin of Almudena, a patron saint of the city and archdiocese of Madrid. Catholics are most charming in their small anachronisms.
The village was once glorious because it was a stylized, carefully manicured microcosm of the privileged, but nowadays it enjoys an unspoilt appeal that small Spanish villages often display, an appeal furbished by fire-roasted lamb and pork dishes, garlic soups, white judión bean stews and the rich, ponche segoviano, with its toasted marshmallow taste and cream-filled cake wrapped in a soft marzipan.
And as the seasons turn and the winter air brings snow and freezes the water of the lake above the village, the bronzed statues and fountains will seem to jut out of the cracked ice, and La Granja will once again serve as a refuge from the anxiety of the city, and warm us with its fireplaces and hot stews and old buildings.