Toledo, Segovia and Avila are the most popular day trips from Madrid, but recently a Spanish friend tipped me off to Chinchón. This delightful little town — an easy 45-minute bus ride from a stop near the Conde de Casal metro station — is renowned for its stunning Plaza Mayor, an oval space surrounded by houses with green-and-white façades and small wooden balconies, as well as its excellent food.
Just 30 miles from Madrid, it offers a relaxing break from the big city, plus a fascinating glimpse of a small, traditional Spanish town that has not been disrupted by tourism. Arriving midmorning, I made my way to the clock tower of the old parish church of Nuestra Señora de Gracia and climbed up for the view over the warren of narrow lanes.
Later, I visited the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, which was sacked and burned by Napoleon’s troops in 1808. The current church was completed in 1828 and is a blend of Gothic, plateresque, Renaissance and Baroque styles. Its highlight is the magnificent “La Asunción de la Virgen,” by Goya. Afterward, I headed for the town’s Convento de la Madres Clarisas, which is locally famous for the pastries made by the nuns. The “tetas de novicia” and “pelotas de fraile” are both flavored with anisette and filled with cream, chocolate or raspberry preserves.
After wandering streets lined with old aristocratic mansions identified by their coats of arms, it was time for lunch at the excellent La Recua del Pelicano, which serves a contemporary riff on traditional Castilian cooking, including dishes like empanadas filled with duck, dried fruit and nuts, and wine-braised beef cheeks (Cuesta de Quiñones 2. Tel.  91-832-0129).