Strolling in Spain (continued) Toledo, Madrid & Segovia

Wheelchair Accessible Travel In Spain - 2004

By Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha

 © Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha 2004




Toledo – Terrain


Toledo is very hilly – the clear, expansive views of the surrounding countryside from the old city and the views of the old city from the hilly countryside are a big part of its attraction.  The former capital of Spain and home of El Greco is extremely well preserved and clean, with stone buildings in an appealing unity of style, many of which are undergoing restoration and renovation.  The main streets are navigable in an electric wheelchair, but many areas have steep compound angles and assistance is occasionally required.  A person in a manual wheelchair would need to be pushed throughout much of the city.  Many of the smaller streets have stairs, so in a wheelchair one often must take the longer route, but the city center is small and distances are short.  Most streets lack sidewalks; it’s essential to beware of cars.  The advantage is that curbs are not an issue. 


We enjoyed Toledo very much and enthusiastically recommend it despite the terrain.  By comparison, Toledo is far less steep, winding and confusing than Siena, Italy, and the streets are not as narrow.


Toledo – Transportation


Because the old city center is compact, we didn’t use public transportation.  The city operates a tourist “train” of several open cars; this didn’t appear accessible. 


Toledo – Hotels


Where We Stayed


Hotel San Juan de los Reyes Four star. Reyes Catolicos, 5.  Phone 011-34- 925-283-535; fax 011-34-925-221-410.


This 38-room hotel is well located in the old city center very close to the El Greco Museum, Transito Synagogue/Sephardic Museum and San Juan de los Reyes Monastery.  It’s not far from the Cathedral as the crow flies but, because many of the small streets have stairs, a wheelchair must take the longer route, which takes about 15 minutes.  The street in the immediate vicinity of the hotel is flat, which is unusual in Toledo. 


Opened in 2000, the hotel is in a 19th century brick building.  One important feature is the garage in the basement, which is accessible via the regular elevators.  This was quite an advantage for transferring and unloading.  There are a couple of stairs at the front entrance and a ramp wouldn’t be feasible because of space constraints and because it would protrude into the street.  Wheelchair access is through the café, which has a moderately steep slope at the entrance and automatic sliding doors.  This was fine because the café entrance is only a few feet from the front entrance and the café is open late.   The hotel has an accessible public bathroom at the lobby level.


We stayed in room 004 on the ground floor.  We were told there is another adapted room identical to it, including a roll-in-shower.  The room is very well lit and has good air conditioning.  There is no view.  The bedroom is small, but there was sufficient space for Howard to maneuver his wheelchair.  Most likely the bedroom is small because the bathroom is so large.


The bathroom is superb; it was by far the largest and best-designed accessible bathroom we saw in Spain, and one of the best anywhere!  The floor and walls are warm sandy colored granite.  There is a spacious, well designed roll-in shower with several grab bars and an easily reachable soap holder.  The shower hose is long and well located, and has strong water pressure.  The floor has good drainage.  The only flaw is that the floor is slippery; it is the same shiny stone surface as the walls and lacks anti-skid tape.  The hotels’ architects and owners are to be highly praised for including roll-in showers when, inexplicably, many other newly renovated hotels in Spain lack this essential feature.


The toilet is large, long and high (a bit higher than typical accessible ones in the U.S.); it is similar to many of the accessible toilets in Italy.  There is a fixed grab bar on one side and a fold-down one on the other, with plenty of transfer space at the side with the fold-down bar.  The sink is large and has a long lever faucet handle.  The towel rack and mirrors are at a good accessible height.  Toledo was one of our last stops and, after having to work around barriers at so many hotel bathrooms, it was a welcome relief to have a nearly perfect one!


A solo wheelchair traveler would encounter some barriers in the bedroom, though fewer than any other hotel we stayed in.  The door is heavy and the room entrance hall is narrow.  The built-in closets are not accessible to most people who use wheelchairs.  Overall, however, we were very pleased with access at Hotel San Juan de los Reyes and would gladly stay there again.


Other Hotels to Consider


The following hotel told us it has an adapted room, though without a roll-in shower:


Hotel Abad.  Three star.  Renovated in 2002.  Real del Arrabal, 1.  Phone 011-34-925-283-500.;


Hotels Without Adapted Rooms


The following hotels told us they do not have adapted rooms:


Parador de Toledo.  Four star.  Cerro del Emperador.  Phone 011-34-925-221-850.;


Hotel Pintor el Greco.  Three star.  Alamillos del Tránsito, 13.  Phone 011-34-902-154-645.

Toledo – Monuments and Museums


Cathedral.  The main entrance is accessible, but you must ask the guard to open the large doors.  There is one high stair to the museum containing several rooms of superb El Grecos and some Caravaggios and Titians; there is a portable ramp but you must ask the guard to set it out.  There are two very high stairs up to the choir and no ramp, but much of the choir can be seen from below.  There is one medium height stair to the treasure room; there is no ramp but Michele was able to tilt Howard’s wheelchair. 


El Greco Museum/House.  Unfortunately but understandably, this Renaissance era palazzo is not wheelchair accessible: all the galleries are up one or two flights of stairs and there is no elevator. 


San Juan de los Reyes Monastery.  This building is inaccessible; the areas open for viewing are up a flight of stairs.


San Tome Church.  This small church contains El Greco’s masterpiece The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, which is in almost pristine condition even though, according to the guides, it’s never been restored.  The building is accessible via an entrance on the left side as one faces the front.  The side entrance is uphill from the main entrance where the ticket window is located.  A guard will open the side doors. 


Sephardic Museum/Transito Synagogue.  This grand, meticulously restored 14th century synagogue features an ornate yet elegant wooden coffered ceiling in Mudejar style, beautiful decorative horseshoe arches, and friezes of Hebrew letters in a variety of styles.  Access is via a narrow but gradual ramp.  There is no elevator, so the second floor isn’t accessible, but the restored sanctuary and many exhibits with artifacts covering ten centuries of Sephardic history are on the ground floor, so a visit is very worthwhile.  We highly recommend the informative audioguide.  There is a patio in the rear with ancient Jewish gravestones; it is accessible via a gradual ramp.  The gift shop is on the ground floor and the bathrooms are on the second floor.  The gift shop has a large selection of books about Sephardic history, including several in English.  Because of the incomplete access, admission is free for wheelchair users.


Synagogue Santa Maria la Blanca.  This beautiful synagogue was built in the 11th century in Arabic style.  Its horseshoe arches, feeling of open space and intricate friezes with abstract patterns echo, on a much smaller scale, those of the Mezquita in Cordoba.  Wheelchair access is via a side entrance with one moderate height stair; the entrance is on the left side of the building as one faces the front.  It took some persistence to get the guard to open the side entrance, but once he did, he was eager to explain the building to Michele in Spanish.  There is only one floor, so it’s easy to see everything.  The area in front of the building is undergoing renovation, so access may be simpler in the future.


IX.             MADRID


Madrid – Terrain


Madrid is Western Europe’s highest capital.  The city center is mostly flat, but some areas have gradual slopes.  A few streets have stairs.  Most intersections have curb cuts or curb ramps, but a significant minority does not, especially near Calle Cava Baja (a popular restaurant street), Plaza San Martin (near our hotel) and other old parts of town.  Many intersections do have gradual curb ramps with textured surfaces for blind pedestrians, and many major crosswalks have audible traffic signals.  There are many pedestrian-only zones and streets, and in some of them, the entire street has been raised to sidewalk level (not only at the intersections), which is excellent.  So even though there are some gaps, the city seems to have an aggressive program to install curb ramps and implement more pedestrian zones.  We took two walking tours on wheelchair-friendly routes with no stairs and a minimum of slopes and curbs (see below).


Several restaurants we had heard about and wanted to try are up two or three    high stairs, or up one and down two, or the dining room is upstairs.  Although only a minority of restaurants had these barriers, we encountered them more frequently in Madrid than elsewhere.


Madrid – Transportation


Buses and Metro.  Because the city center is compact and strolling there is enjoyable, we didn’t use public transportation.  We saw many buses with retractable wheelchair ramps at the side door; they appeared to have the same design as those in Barcelona. 


The Madrid public transportation company has a good website with an English section.


Taxis.  We ordered an accessible Eurotaxi one very rainy late morning and waited only 20 minutes.   The driver was terrific.  We also had a good experience taking a taxi to the airport.  Phone 011-34-915-478-200 or 011-34-915-478-500 or 011-34-915-600 or 011-34-915-471-059.


Madrid – Hotels


Where We Stayed


Hotel Intur Palacio San Martin.  Four star.  Placa San Martin, 5.  Phone 011-34-917-015-000; fax 011-34-917-015-010.


This 90-room hotel opened three years ago.  It’s centrally located - a five-minute stroll to Plaza Mayor and 15 minutes to the Prado - but the immediate area, including Plaza San Martin, is nondescript and drab.  The hotel is in an old palazzo, but is far less grand than “palazzo” connotes.  The renovation is not well done, with mediocre design and finishes.  The large atrium lobby is a missed opportunity – it could have been grand.


One good thing about the hotel is the large, tasty and varied buffet breakfast served in a spacious dining room on the top floor with a good view of Madrid.  A small modern elevator serves this floor; Howard’s wheelchair fit without much room to spare.  Service at the hotel is polite and competent but not as good as one would expect at a four- star hotel.  The room rate seemed somewhat high.  While there is no on-site parking, there is an underground public garage very close.


We were in Room 003 on the ground floor, which we were told is the only adapted room.  The bedroom is medium size, with adequate wheelchair maneuvering space.  It is dimly lit; there are only a few lamps and no recessed lighting; the latter could have been installed easily in the dropped ceiling.  The room is partially below ground level; there is some, but not much, natural light through an opaque window on the upper third of the wall.  There is no view and it’s impossible to ascertain the weather by looking out the window.  On the positive side, the light switches and receptacle for the master cardkey necessary to turn on the electricity are low and easily reachable.


The bathroom is fairly large, but, unfortunately, the architect squandered its size by poor design.  The only bright spot is side transfer to the toilet.  There is a fixed (wall- and floor-mounted) grab bar at one side, and a wall-hung flip-up grab bar at the other, with plenty of space transfer space next to the toilet when the bar is flipped up.  There is a bathtub with grab bars, and no roll-in shower.  There is no shower curtain, so water splashes on the floor when an able-bodied person showers, and there’s not even a curtain rod, so there is nowhere to hang towels or clothes.  The shower spray hose is just too short to reach the sink, so it’s impossible to wash one’s hair in the sink.  The sink is shallow and a bit unstable.  The faucet handle is small and difficult to reach.  There are no shelves for toiletries. 


The bathroom door opens against the toilet, which prevents it from opening completely and complicates access to the toilet, so hotel staff removed it at our request. One of the biggest problems is that the sink is directly opposite the toilet, leaving insufficient space for a wheelchair to face the sink.  So a person in a wheelchair must use the sink from the side, which is extremely awkward.  (This would have been even worse with the door in place.)  Finally, this was our only hotel in Spain where the water temperature fluctuated and the only one with thin, almost threadbare towels.


Other Hotels to Consider


The following hotels told us they have adapted rooms: 


Gran Melia Fenix.  Five star.  We were unable to ascertain the existence of a roll-in shower.  Hermosilla, 2.  Phone 011-34-914-316-700; fax 011-34-915-754-173.


Playa Senator Gran Via.  Four star.  We were unable to ascertain the existence of a roll-in shower.  Renovated in 2002 or 2003.  Gran Via, 21.  Phone 011-34-915-314-151; fax 011-34-915-240-799


Hotels Without Adapted Rooms


The following hotels told us they do not have adapted rooms:


            Hotel Adler.  Five star.  Calle Velazquez 33, Goya 31.  Phone 1-866-376-7831, or 1-305-538-9697 (Miami).


            Hotel Arosa (Best Western).  Four star.  Calle Salud, 21 and Gran Via, 29.  Phone 011-34-915-321-600.


Hotel Bauza.  Four star.  Calle Goya, 79.  Phone 011-34-914-357-545.


           Hotel Carlos V (Best Western).  Three star.  Maestro Victoria, 5.  Phone 011-34-915-314-100.


           Hotel Opera.  Three star.  Calle Cuesta de Santa Domingo, 2.  Phone 011-34-915-412-800.


           Hotel Preciados.  Four star.  Preciados, 37.  Phone 011-34-914-544-400.


           Hotel H10 Villa de la Reina.  Four star.  Gran Via, 22.  Phone 011-34-915-239-101.


Madrid – Tour Guide and Museums


Tour Guide.  We had two lively, fascinating walking tours with Englishman Stephen Drake-Jones, the chairman/founder of the Wellington Society of Madrid.  (Go to his website to find out why the Duke of Wellington is important in Madrid history!)  A history professor and raconteur who’s lived in Madrid for 28 years, Stephen has an infectious passion for Madrid, an historian’s grasp of the broad sweep of events, an encyclopedic knowledge of the details and a personal anecdote about every nook and cranny of Madrid.  Stephen proudly designed two wheelchair-friendly routes with no stairs and a minimum of slopes and curbs.


Stephen Drake-Jones.  Cell phone 011-34-609-143-203.;


Prado Musuem.  This world-class, do-not-miss museum is very well organized, both in physical layout and thematically.  Access is quite good and the staff was extremely helpful to explain the route, so we had no wasted motion. 


The main entrance, the Goya Entrance, is on the north side.  The ground floor entrance is level.  But past the entrance vestibule there are several stairs leading down to the ground floor galleries, with a small stairlift that was too small and had too low a weight capacity for Howard’s wheelchair.  So, in order to access the ground floor galleries, it was necessary to take one of the large elevators near the Goya Entrance up to the first or second floor, go all the way to the other end of the building (near the Murillo Entrance), take an elevator back down to the ground floor and backtrack toward the Goya Entrance.  The elevators near the Murillo Entrance are narrow and not deep; Howard was just able to fit in them.  This process is not as complicated as it sounds, because the building is not extremely long and has a central hallway and a simple floor plan.  All the first and second floor galleries are level.  As you are on the second or first floor anyway, it’s advisable to see those galleries (which feature magnificent paintings by Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, Murillo, Zurburan, Dutch masters, and Rubens and other Flemish masters) before going back down to the ground floor.  Also, the accessible bathroom on the second floor is larger and more modern than the one on the ground floor.


On the ground floor, toward the Goya Entrance, there are a handful of galleries (mostly of Flemish painting) up several stairs from the ground floor itself and accessed only by another small stairlift that was too small and had too low a weight capacity for Howard’s wheelchair; these were the only galleries Howard was unable to see.


Reina Sofia Museum.  This important collection of European modern art, including Picasso’s Guernica, significant works by Dali and works by less well known Spanish modern artists, is housed in an unpleasant, nondescript old palace.  The entrance is level and the large, modern elevators serve all floors except the basement.  The accessible bathroom is adequate.  All galleries are up one high stair from the main hallway, but each gallery entrance has a ramp with an anti-skid surface.  The café is in the basement, so you need to ask a guard to take you to one of the restricted service elevators.


Thyssen Bornemisza Museum.  This cheerful modern building with abundant natural light, wide spaces and an attractive plan has superb access.  The entrance is level, the elevators large, all galleries are level, the accessible bathroom is large and well designed and the gift shop has relatively wide aisles.  The collection is more eclectic than deep.


X.                SEGOVIA


We took a day trip to see the aqueduct, one of the world’s most impressive and best-preserved feats of Roman hydraulic engineering.  Segovia is an easy hour’s drive from Madrid and there are gorgeous lush green hills along the way.


Parking.  There is a convenient underground garage near the pedestrian zone on the side of the aqueduct closest to the old city, with wide disabled parking spaces, a surprisingly large and clean accessible bathroom (up a moderately steep slope) and a moderately steep series of pedestrian walkways to enter and exit the garage.  The garage is approximately two blocks from the aqueduct.  Cars are prohibited in the center near the aqueduct.


Aqueduct.  For information about the aqueduct’s history and architecture, see


 Nearly 2,000 years old and built of stone without mortar or concrete, this extraordinary Roman aqueduct was one of our highlights!  The dramatic section in the center of town has two rows of arches, one on top of the other.  The area surrounding the main part of the aqueduct is paved in rough cobblestones, but it was easily navigable in Howard’s electric wheelchair.  At one part of the aqueduct there is a series of stairways leading to up toward the top of the aqueduct.  But one can proceed along the bottom quite far in the other direction.  There are no stairs but after some distance there is a fairly steep hill; it’s navigable in an electric wheelchair without assistance, but most people in manual wheelchairs would need to be pushed.


Town.  A charming main street zigzags up from the plaza at the bottom of the aqueduct to the town’s main plaza at the hilltop; it is smooth and moderately steep.  It was easily navigable in Howard’s electric wheelchair without assistance, but most people in manual wheelchairs would need to be pushed.  Many of the side streets have stairs.  The main plaza is open and inviting, and there are several interesting buildings, stores and pastry shops along the main street, so the climb is worthwhile.


Cathedral.  The main cathedral at the plaza on the hilltop has only one small stair at the entrance.  A couple of the side rooms have one medium height stair.  There are no stairs to enter the cloister. 



Cordoba & Seville

Toledo, Madrid, Segovia

Additional Information & Appendices A, B & C


Editor's note: Don't miss the following access reports by Howard & Michele Chabner. Just click on the title.


Paris 2003-2007 and Burgundy, Perigord (Dordogne) 2007

Paris Passerelles - Wheelchair Accessible Travel In Paris 2003

Paris Appendices: Hotel Wheelchair Access Questionnaire, Metric Conversion & Hotel Wheelchair Access Survey Results) 


Paris Passerelles Supplement 2005

Burgundy, Perigord (Dordogne) and Paris 2007


Rome,  Florence, Vicenza &  Naples, Italy 2003-2006


Rolling in Rome 2003

Vicenza, Florence & Rome 2005


2006 Navigating Naples 2006

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