Leonor says goodbye at Madrid Airport. / EFE

Crown Princess Leonor swaps a Madrid palace for boarding school in a Welsh castle

The King and Queen and Infanta Sofía said goodbye at the airport as she headed off to the school nicknamed Hippy Hogwarts

SARA RUBIO / PAULA ROSAS MADRID / LONDON

Princess Leonor, heir to the throne, started a new stage of her life this week when she left Spain for a boarding school in Wales nicknamed Hippy Hogwarts.

Leonor was setting out for two key years of study; not just like any young person of her age - she turns 16 in October - but also because of the role that history has reserved for her. Next will come military service and, when she comes of age, her own diary of engagements.

Leonor, also known as Princesa de Asturias, arrived in Wales on Monday and met her three new roommates. She is joining Atlantic College where she will study the International Baccalaureate. The school - set in a castle alongside the sea in the Vale of Glamorgan, near Cardiff - is known for its innovative approach to education and emphasis on preparing pupils for leadership roles while encouraging applicants from a wide range of social backgrounds. It has been popular with other members of royalty and one daughter of the King of the Netherlands is also joining this year.

According to the college, new pupils will confront situations to explore their own strengths and weaknesses.

And so Princess Leonor effectively woke up on Monday in a Spanish palace and went to sleep in a Welsh castle.

Family goodbye in Madrid

Her final few hours before travelling at the King and Queen's Zarzuela palace home, a relatively simple official residence, would have logically been full of nerves.

It was expected that the Royal Household would release some images of the farewell but nothing was expected of the princess's arrival in Britain. However, there was a surprise for the media when a set of very natural photographs was sent out showing the Royal Family at the entrance to Terminal 4 of Madrid's Barajas Airport while saying goodbye.

King Felipe and Queen Letizia were there, as was Infanta Sofia, Leonor's younger sister, to hug and give final words of wisdom before checking in. Timeless scenes of a goodbye to a teenager, suitcase in hand, who was going to study abroad (if it weren't for the mask wearing and having to separate at the entrance door to the terminal). Images that said, «We are going to miss you». After the goodbye, Felipe was seen comforting his younger daughter while watching Leonor stride on.

The suitcase was small - in Wales she will have a wardrobe just a metre wide and a chest of drawers to store things. However, pupils at Atlantic College can wear what they want as there is no school uniform.

New arrivals faced 10 days of lockdown at the school in order to stifle any possible Covid cases. Once term starts, classes will begin at 8am and go through to 1.10pm. The afternoons are for sport or other chosen educational or voluntary activities. Two years at the school cost 76,000 euros, which the Royals are paying from personal funds, however many students receive full grants.

«One of the biggest obstacles these days is socioeconomic, so being able to bring together royalty like Princess Leonor with refugees, for example, is a great opportunity to meet as equals and to understand the world where others live,» outgoing school director, Peter T. Howe, previously explained.