The main attraction is a truly immense monastery unlike any you've ever seen.

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San Lorenzo de El Escorial

An absolute stunner.

To the north-west of the Community of Madrid, 47 kilometres (29 miles) from the capital city, El Escorial is the perfect place to seek relaxation, peace, and quiet. The centrepiece here is, of course, the colossal monastery built by order of Phillip II to commemorate Spain's victory over the French in the Battle of Saint-Quentin in 1557, which occurred on the feast day of St Lawrence (San Lorenzo in Spanish). The sheer grandeur of the place, both inside and out, as well as its striking natural setting and other factors led to its inclusion in UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1984. The construction was carried out by Juan Bautista de Toledo, then finished by his disciple Juan de Herrera in 1584. In addition to taking in the monastery, a walk along the two-kilometre (1¼-mile) Luis Ceballos Arboretum trail is also highly recommended to experience some of the nature in these mountains (other great trails include the Senda de la Herrería and the Senda La Silla de Felipe II. Crossing the local peaks is another highlight - especially on the Feast of St. Lawrence (10 August), when more than a thousand participants make the Abantos summit amid a festive atmosphere.

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