Pantano de San Juan: Madrid’s own beach paradise

Don’t let anyone tell you that Madrid doesn’t have any beaches. Just 70km southwest of the capital in San Martín de Valdeiglesias lies one of the most ravishing outdoor playgrounds in the Region of Madrid: Pantano de San Juan. This artificial lake is the city’s not-so-secret escape, where those in the know can enjoy the great outdoors with a range of active pursuits: watersports, hiking, climbing or, of course, a dip from one of the reservoir’s enticing beaches. And there’s even more to explore, with the picturesque towns of Pelayos de la Presa, Cadalso de los Vidrios, El Tiemblo and Cebreros mere minutes away, the latter two just over the provincial boundary in Ávila. 

Pantano de San Juan: Madrid’s own beach paradise

At approximately 14 square kilometres, Pantano de San Juan is the largest reservoir in the Region of Madrid and the only one where bathing is permitted. Fed by the River Alberche, its sparkling clean waters conceal a medieval bridge with eight arches and several mills, engulfed when the reservoir was created in the 1950s. 

Away from the beach, keen hikers have various routes to choose from, including a spectacular trail to the Mirador del Conde Martín. Beginning close to the water’s edge, it leads you through lovely pine woodland up to a viewpoint overlooking the dam and nearby villages. This area has a lot to offer mountain bikers, too, especially if you have a penchant for dizzying ascents amid the fresh scent of pines. Another must is the Vía Verde, a route that links the San Juan and Picadas reservoirs. It’s a great choice for families with children, taking in some charming bridges and even a cave.

As we look forward to the arrival of spring, Pantano de San Juan should be at the top of your list for a restorative weekend getaway. There’s something for all tastes and temperaments, from watersports (kayaking, paddle surfing, canoeing, flyboarding, water skiing and more) to angling or simply chilling out on one of its fine sandy beaches, such as Virgen de la Nueva or El Muro – both beautifully clean and perfect for bathing. You can hire a boat, learn to sail or even take a course to become a licensed skipper of yachts up to 6 metres in length. 

At approximately 14 square kilometres, Pantano de San Juan is the largest reservoir in the Region of Madrid and the only one where bathing is permitted.

An area brimming with culture

If it’s culture and discovery you’re after, the reservoir’s hinterland offers a wealth of interesting places to visit. From here you can explore Castillo de la Coracera, a 15th-century castle in San Martín de Valdeiglesias, home for a spell to Queen Isabella I of Castile, also known as Isabel la Católica. Or the 12th-century Monastery of Santa María la Real in Pelayos de la Presa, one of the oldest in Madrid. And don’t miss the Bosque Encantado, a quirky botanic garden in San Martín de Valdeiglesias where you can marvel at a collection of more than 300 shrubs with intriguingly animate forms. 


If you find yourself in El Tiemblo, be sure to visit the famous Toros de Guisando, one of pre-Roman Spain’s most impressive and well-preserved artworks. In Cadalso de los Vidrios you’ll find the Renaissance-style Palacio de Villena, with a beautiful garden now listed as a Place of Cultural Interest for its historical importance. Finally, in Cebreros, Santiago Apostol Church, built in the 16th century in the Herrerian style, is well worth a trip. While you’re there, you can also visit the lovely Ermita de Valsordo chapel and La Picota, a 16th-century monument presented to the town to celebrate its jurisdictional independence. This local landmark offers splendid views of the Alberche Valley, the foothills of the Sierra de Gredos and Monte de Guisando – the perfect end to an unforgettable adventure.


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