The valley of the churches and the Cistercian legacy

San Martín de Valdeiglesias was the place chosen by the Cistercian Order to develop techniques that today lie at the basis of the making of Madrid wines.

The abstemious lives led by Muslims had a damaging effect on Spanish vineyards; although they did not disappear, they did not develop much further during the age of Arab domination. Luckily, as other European regions, Spain was able to intensify her wine-production during the Middle Ages thanks to the inestimable help of religion. The Reconquest would also unwittingly help the wine industry on account of the migration of settlers to the barren lands deserted by the Muslims. Given that the wine was a key element in Christian liturgy, these began to be dotted with new extensions of vineyards.

In the Madrid Community the labours of wine would be recovered by a religious order, the Cistercian order; the origin of the recovery is to be found in the twelve hermitages located in what was then known as 'Valley of the Churches' which would be united under the Order of St Benedict, that followed the rule of obedience to the abbot of the Monastery of Santa María la Real of Valleiglesias in Pelayos de la Presa, according to the parchment book that recorded the privileges and belongings of churches and monasteries kept there. The book proves that in 1148 King Alfonso VII, aware of the sanctity of the hermits, extended the rights over the surrounding lands and assets in perpetuity. Years later, in 1177, he ordered the monks from Santa Espina Monastery in Valladolid to join the Cistercian Order.

So, the monks established themselves in the valley and founded the town of San Martín to accommodate the new settlers and other servants of the monastery. These would learn the science of wine from the founders, the Cistercian brothers from Santa Espina.

Pelayos de la Presa

Pelayos de la Presa marks the beginning of the route and is a well-known town in Madrid on account of its location in the vicinity of the Reservoir of San Juan. Here is where we find the first landmark on our journey: the former monastery of Santa María la Real of Valdeiglesias. Its origins date back to the age of the Goth Kings, a time when the hermitic life of the Alberche Valley was intense. In 1150 Emperor Alfonso VII granted a royal privilege that grouped the hermitages together in the Hermitage of Santa Cruz, constituting a single community subject to the authority of an abbot under the rule of St Benedict. In 1177 the monastery was incorporated into the Cistercian Order under the auspices of Alfonso VIII, ‘The one from Navas’, under whose discipline it would remain until the Mendizábal Confiscation Law (1835) obliged the monks to abandon it once and for good. Today it still preserves its Renaissance façade (from the late sixteenth century), its exterior walls and the Cistercian cloister.

Another of the temples we recommend be visited is the parish church Our Lady of Assumption, close to which we still find the remains of silhouettes cut into the rock, traces of much older settlements.

Wineries: There is one winery belonging to the Wines of Madrid Denomination of Origin, although as yet it isn’t included in the Wines of Madrid Route.

Pelayos de la Presa—San Martín de Valdeiglesias

We have chosen an indirect route to cross one of the most beautiful pine forests of the area. The road is narrow and winding, of the sort that is barely used today. Sloping hillsides lead us to a mountain top, where we come across an unpaved detour that grants us access to Las Moradas de San Martín, one of the two wineries (together with Valleyiglesias) that can be visited before our next stop in the town in which it stands, San Martín de Valdeiglesias.

San Martín de Valdeiglesias

The building of the parish church of San Martín de Tours began in the sixteenth century under the direction of Juan de Herrera, although the project was left uncompleted. At a later date, following a complaint made by residents accusing the receivers of tithes of having abandoned the construction, a new phase of the building work began: the Council of Castile obliged the noblemen to pay for the church that stands today. Its Baroque reredos with a canvas depicting the patron saint of the church is one of its most outstanding features.

Other religious buildings that reveal the important hermitic past of these lands are the Ecce Homo of the fifteenth century, the Church of the Rosary of the sixteenth century, La Salud (the Church of Health) of the seventeenth century, and the Church of Blood, erected in the thirteenth century yet whose name derives from the bloody confrontations of the sixteenth century between the armies of the Dukes of the Infantado and the people of San Martín, who refused to be subjected to the Dukes. Some early dwellings, such as those popularly known as ‘With Two Doors’ or ‘Of the Saint’ in which the legend tells us that St Teresa of Jesus stayed overnight, still stand.

We cannot abandon the town without visiting its most emblematic monument, La Coracera Castle. Once its construction had been completed by Don Álvaro de Luna in 1434, the fortress was surrounded by thick walls, and an inner courtyard of arms gave access to the chapel with its Renaissance façade. Despite being destroyed by the French troops during the Spanish War of Independence, the weapons are still preserved in a barbican with a battlemented turret, like a bastion, from which the castle could be accessed by a drawbridge.

While the first two wineries could be visited on the way to the town, between San Martín de Valdeiglesias and Cadalso de los Vidrios, our next stop, we can visit Bernabeleva wine cellar.

San Martín de Valdeiglesias—Cadalso de los Vidrios

Taking the M-403 road, after crossing the border of the Madrid Community we take the Arenas de San Pedro detour to the left. We are now in Ávila and we shall soon stop to contemplate one of the best pre-Roman artistic expressions in the peninsula, the Guisando Bulls. Created by the Vettones (a pre-Roman Celtic people) between the second and first centuries BC, the reason why they were made has yet to be discovered: some sources suggest they had a certain magical or religious quality, while others mention the idea that they were designed to protect livestock or delimit the areas of pasture. What does appear to be more likely, according to the Latin inscription on one of the figures, is that they were united as a commemorative group in the age of Roman rule.

Cadalso de los Vidrios

In the town we are surprised by a monument unknown to many, the fifteenth century Villena Palace. Catalogued along with its gardens as an Asset of Cultural Interest, the palace was a place of recreation for Don Álvaro de Luna. Inhabited by Isabella the Catholic during her childhood, by Charles I, Philip II and Charles III, it is to the latter that we owe the glass industry established there and which would end up giving the town its name.

In front of the palace bastion we should stop to contemplate the Muslim fountain of Los Álamos, a former natural spring carved in rock.

Wineries: There are three wineries in the Wines of Madrid Denomination of Origin in the town, although they are still not included in the Wines of Madrid Route.

Cadalso de los Vidrios – Cenicientos

The journey between both towns is short, and presents views of vineyards on granitic hillsides, which grant its wines features that distinguish them from those in the other wine-producing sub-areas. The orography of mountains and valleys produce notable differences between the hills according to their orientation.


We shall cross the town before stopping in the inhabited centre, following the M-544 road to the east. Before reaching the detour of the M-542, on the border between the Madrid Community and Castile – La Mancha, we shall park our car and take a short stroll to the granitic monolith known as ‘Written Stone’. The sculpture depicts a scene with three characters wearing full-length Roman tunics and two silhouettes of animals that could be those of an ox and a sheep or goat lying down; to the left an inscription reads ‘A[NIMO] L[IBENS] S [OLVIT VOTUM] • SISC [INIUS?] Q [UIETUS?], –UART [US?] DIANAE’, a votive dedication to the goddess Diana that suggests the work marked the site of a Roman cave oratory.

On our way back we should stop in the town to visit the parish church of St Stephen Protomartyr. Built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and declared an Asset of Cultural Interest, it is one of the largest single-nave churches in Spain.

Cenicientos—Villa del Prado

When we are halfway along this route we will have retraced our steps from Cadalso de los Vidrios, where we take the right detour on the M-507 in the direction of Villa del Prado. The town stands at the foothills of the mountains that surround the valley of the Sub-area of San Martín de Valdeiglesias. During Muslim rule these were critical lands, an obligatory crossing point between the north and south sub-plateaus. In 1078 Alfonso VI conquered the town once and for all, and in all likelihood its renowned vineyards would from then on be devoted to wine making, with the support of the local monks.

Villa del Prado

The rich historical and artistic heritage of Villa del Prado can be appreciated in its urban layout that preserves the original appearance of popular Castilian architecture, from the blazoned houses to the seventeenth-century Town Hall. Furthermore, beside its hermitages—Christ (the oldest), Santa Lucía and La Poveda—the parish church of St James the Apostle, built between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and declared Asset of Cultural Interest in 1980, is well worth a visit. The sixteenth-century Bell Tower is the most important of the two, and was built by Hernán González de Lara, master builder of the Cathedral of Toledo, and Pedro de Tolosa, stonemason and engineer who worked on the El Escorial Monastery.

Its single-nave interior has Gothic groin vaults, a Renaissance choir, transparent Baroque (five reredos with Baroque images, paintings and sculptures), an eighteenth-century organ that still works, and recently discovered and restored fresco paintings from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The frescos with sacred and civilian motifs, the Gothic plasterwork behind the main altarpiece, the paintings of dragons on the nerves of the vaults, and historical remains such as the papal bulls of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, perfectly preserved, are some of the most outstanding discoveries made here, most of which are unique examples in Madrid’s historical and artistic heritage.

Other places worthy of being visited are the sixteenth-century Christ of Blood Hermitage and the seventeenth-century hermitages of Santa Lucía and Our Lady of La Poveda.

Wineries: There are two wineries under the Wines of Madrid Denomination of Origin, although they are still not included in the Wines of Madrid Route.

Route 2

Pelayos de la Presa—San Martín de Valdeiglesias
Through Pinar de Las Moradas: M-541 & N-403
12,8 km | 17 min

San Martín de Valdeiglesias—Cadalso de los Vidrios
Through Torres de Guisando: N-40 & Calle del Arco
14,2 km | 18 min

Cadalso de los Vidrios—Cenicientos
Avenida de Madrid
5,9 km | 9 min

Cenicientos—Villa del Prado
Avenida de Madrid—M-507
20,8 Km | 25 min

Towns: Pelayos de la Presa, San Martín de Valdeiglesias, Cadalso de los Vidrios, Cenicientos, Villa del Prado.
Wineries: Bodega Alberto Ayuso, Bodega Las Moradas de San Martín, Bodega Marañones, Bodega Aumesquet Garrido
Distance Madrid: 71,7 km | 54 min.
Length: 53,7 km