Spanish residents love the weekly fountain displays at La Granja palace near Segovia. But this month, due to low water levels, the 26-fountain show will only occur on July 25.
Spain’s first Bourbon ruler, King Philip V (1683-1746), was raised at the court of his grandfather, French King Louis XIV. Needless to say, Versailles left an indelible impression on the young monarch, who would go on to build one of Spain’s most sumptuous palaces in the early decades of the 18th century.
Located about an hour north of Madrid on the north-facing slopes of the Guadarrama mountain range, La Granja was conceived as Philip’s private retreat. It features some 1500 acres of lush French-style gardens dotted with Versailles-like fountains—which can typically be seen in all their glory on specific dates from May through November, when a selection of a half-dozen fountains are set in action.
But this July, due to reduced water levels in the nearby reservoir (the fountains still run on the force of gravity just as they did in the 18th century), the weekly fountain displays have been cancelled. The lone opportunity to see all 26 monumental fountains functioning will be at 5:30 pm on July 25, in celebration of the feast of Saint James the Apostle.
Amid endless acres of manicured gardens punctuated by magnificently grand marble and bronze fountains, you’ll have no doubt that this was once a treat reserved exclusively for royalty. But the modern experience is not all about kingly refinement and decorum.
Groups of children visiting with day camps seem to relish getting wet when the fountains are at their most exuberant (for children it’s not a bad idea to bring a change of dry clothes for the trip home). The fountains with the highest streams—such as the majestic Fountain of Fame (which shoots water more than 130 feet straight up into the air)—can quickly soak all present on a windy day.
The palace can be reached by a series of busses and trains from Madrid, but the most direct and scenic route would be to rent a car and drive, stopping in the fairytale-pretty hilltop city of Segovia prior to the late afternoon fountain display at La Granja. The palace remains open until 8 p.m. (last entrance at 7 p.m.), allowing visitors to tour the interior after the gardens.
Andrew Ferren is on the Spain beat for Travel + Leisure. He lives in Madrid.