Take a walk, cycle or enjoy the lake, says Cathy Packe

The Temple of Debod is surprisingly well-preserved considering that its construction began in the second century BC. The reliefs on the walls are worn, but the figures, such as Roman Emperor Augustus offering up food and wine, are clear. What is even more surprising is that this particular temple, built to stand in Lower Nubia, is here at all. But under threat as the Aswan Dam was built on the Nile, it was rescued from Egypt and moved, stone by stone, to Madrid's Parque del Oeste, where it has stood since 1972.

Here, it is an unofficial gateway to the Parque del Oeste, the first public space of its kind to be created in Madrid, and part of a green frontier on the western side of the capital. The park was designed in a manner popular in Spain a century ago, the "English countryside" style, and its gentle slopes and wooded areas add a rustic feel to this part of the city centre.

More like real countryside is the Casa de Campo, just across the narrow Manzanares river, and connected to the Parque del Oeste by cable car. This former royal estate of 4,500 acres is a popular weekend retreat, somewhere to take a long, country walk, ride a bike, or enjoy the large lake. Looking east from the lake, there is a view across to the Royal Palace. This has its own lovely grounds, the Parque del Campo del Moro, so called because this was where the Moors camped out when they were trying to recapture Madrid during the 12th century. Felipe II acquired the land in the 15th century, but it wasn't until some 400 years later that it was laid out in its current plan, a formal expanse sloping down from the palace, flanked by wooded areas dotted with summerhouses and statues, where peacocks gently peck at the ground.

Cross the city to the opposite edge and there is more green space. Metro line 5 connects the Casa de Campo with Canillejas, and from there it is only a short walk to the park of El Capricho de Osuna. This charming late 18th-century estate was built by the Dukes of Osuna, who created a park stuffed with colonnaded walks, pavilions, and a "Casino de Baile" whose guests arrived by boat along the artificial river. Equally enticing is the maze, whose tall laurel hedges make finding your way out a serious challenge.

Few visitors spare the time to explore these green spaces, but most will drop into El Retiro, some 300 acres that form an eastern border to the city centre. Designed to complement a royal palace, they outlived the building itself, and were turned into a public park. It has wide avenues, woodland areas, fountains and flower beds. Its lake is very popular, dominated by a grandiose monument to the 19th-century's King Alfonso XII. Hire a boat and row out across the water for peace and quiet that'll make you forget you're still in the city.


Admission to all of these locations is free.

The Temple of Debod, (00 34 91 366 74 15; www.munimadrid.es/templodebod), 9.45am-1.45pm and 4.15-6.15pm Tuesday-Friday, 10am-2pm at weekends October-March; hours vary slightly during the summer.

El Campo del Moro, 10am-6pm daily, later in summer.

El Capricho de Osuna, 9am-6pm October-March, until 9pm the rest of the year, at weekends only.

El Retiro, 6am-10pm daily October-March, until midnight the rest of the year.