I'm in Segovia, an ancient city on a rocky crag overlooking golden plains. The town has a warren of alleys leading to palaces, churches, mansions, shady gardens and Roman monuments – the sort of ingredients which earned Segovia UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
There are architectural wonders everywhere... and I'm staring at the sky. The sun has been blotted out by a squadron of huge birds gliding silently above Plaza Mayor. The historic buildings can wait, I want to photograph storks.
Find a tower in Segovia and there'll be a stork standing on top of it, clacking out a rhythm on chopstick beaks from the comfort of its oversized nest. They fly in during January and stay until the end of summer. Some people have even created designer nests on buildings to encourage them to set up home. Plaza de la Reina beside the Alcázar is a popular nesting spot. But I've spied a better one just outside the old town, between the San Justo and San Salvador churches. I make my way there to find a muster of storks atop trees and towers. I'm in my element and about to start snapping away when an enthusiastic local woman drags me into San Justo church to look at ancient faded frescoes which I simply 'must see'. I don't have the heart to tell her I'd rather be photographing storks.
A CASTLE FIT FOR A DISNEY PRINCESS
Next stop on the photographic tick list is Alcázar, Segovia's 12th-century fairytale palace. It's an attractively eclectic fortress with architectural touches added by the House of Burgundy, the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons and Elsa from Frozen for all I know. I've seen photos and expectations are high. They're shattered when I find Alcázar is being given a nip and tuck; much of it is shrouded in a green cloak. However, a few scaffold-free turrets provide the chance to capture some essence of the palace against a golden plain backdrop.
SEGOVIA FROM THE WALLS
Spirits join the soaring storks when I wander along Las Murallas, the fortress walls which enclose the city. To the east is Valle de Eresma whilst to the west is Valle de Clamores. Both offer postcard panoramas, but it's the view looking back on the old town from one of the wall's towers which excites most. It's a superb Segovian scene, the Cathedral's Gothic spires looking snootily down on the tumble of houses which pack the gap between it and the old perimeter.
THE BEST VIEW OF THE CATHEDRAL
The Cathedral itself poses a slight problem. The 16th-century masterpiece is immense, the old town compact. I can easily capture sections in a frame, but am struggling to take a photo which illustrates its full stature. Plaza Mayor provides the solution. From an area to the left of the square's bandstand I can nearly fit in every beautifully carved piece of masonry. It is an exquisite construction, especially when framed against an intense blue sky.
Segovia's streets are lined with camera-friendly buildings. Some are pristine, some exhibit the wear and tear that comes with standing upright for centuries. One that catches the eye is a house on Calle Juan Bravo which has a façade consisting of mini pyramids. For many years it was known as the house of the executioner. When a merchant bought it he understandably wanted to lose the 'executioner' label so ingeniously added the pyramids to give it a fresh personality. From then it became known as Casa de los Picos.
ROMAN INGENUITY... OR IS IT?
Most historic towns boast grand churches and sumptuous palaces. But they don't have a work of architectural artistry such as Segovia's Aqueduct. This marvel of precision and engineering (no mortar or cement was used in its construction) itself warrants a visit to Segovia. The Aqueduct looks fabulous from all angles but I decide to get high and close, climbing steps to a less well used entrance to the old town. From my lofty position I can capture some of the glorious countryside in the background as a bonus.
After a couple of moments clicking away I stop and simply stand, marvelling at this ancient wonder of the world. What skills those Romans had back in the day.
Of course that's if you go along with the history books' version of who built it. Local legend has it a water carrier sold her soul to the Devil in exchange for a vessel which would deliver water right to the entrance of the town. He duly obliged under cover of a raging storm. It seems fitting a place as magical as Segovia should be bookended by a fairytale castle at one end and an aqueduct built by the devil at the other.
Classical Cities of Old Castile
Embark on a historical and artistic voyage through the heart of Spain that explores the extraordinary cultural explosion that occurred in the 16th century. Journeying by rail, you learn about the pivotal events that paved the way for the Golden Age, discover something of its remarkable monumental legacy, and enter the worlds of El Greco, Cervantes and Velázquez.
More about our SlowMotion journey through Castile >