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My kind of weekend in rural Spain..including homage to Charleton Heston

My kind of weekend in rural Spain..including homage to Charleton Heston

Old Mar 29th, 2009, 06:41 PM
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My kind of weekend in rural Spain..including homage to Charleton Heston

We have a German exchange student this year, so I wanted to take him to some more remote parts of Spain I like that are not too far from our town of Valencia. These places are equally close to Madrid, too (about 2 hours once on the road).

Another friends' daughter from Berlin also joined us, as did a new acquaintance and her husband from the USA who are living here for several months.

Up early and off to our first stop: "Alarcón" and to the National Parador. The skies were menacing, and the weather report said "rain " over most of the country. But off we went this Saturday with the intentions of touring, hiking and having a lovely picnic sitting on some medieval wall, gazing across the river towards the steep walls of the protected castle and its surroundings.

The landscape, once you are off the main highway, is so buccolic.. pastoral.. whichever word sounds best to you. It is so relaxing to have the visual perspective of nothing but rolling hills, vineyards and deep orange, tilled land. It's vastness is such a contrast from the rest of Spain. This is "La Mancha". Home of Manchego cheese, Don Quixote, some up and coming wines, and Gazpacho Manchego (shepherd's stew).

Alarcón has enjoyed quite a face-lift over the years. Several "casas rurales" have opened, as has a beautiful 4 star hotel almost next to the Parador. And it now has a lovely 2 hour tour on the weekends ( in Spanish only so far, except by appointment) that takes you into the locked churches and interesting buildings of this once important town. A town that used to have 4,000 inhabitants and now has 180.


One of the highlights of this tour, or on your own ( 2 euros) are the modern UNESCO protected "Pinturas Murales" in la Iglesia de San Juan. Click on "las pinturas". The font on this website is very tiny.


After the tour we ate our picnic under the city hall pórtico protected from the predicted rain. We had a warm espresso at the bar across the plaza to tide us over til our next stop.

The terracota/green patchwork landscape, sometimes dotted with olive or carob trees and rounded canopied pine trees along the crests of the hills in the distance, was so soft on your eyes. The only buildings are the occasional white, grey or stone farm sheds. This scenery of "isolation and tranquility" continued on every leg of the trip. We rarely saw cars on these secondary routes, either.

We stopped in San Clemente, a monumental town with numerous photo opportunites reflecting the importance of these interior towns in centuries past. This local website is a bit difficult to navigate, but if you go to the right hand side and at the menu open "Lugares" and also "ciudad monumental".


We arrived at the totally deserted lunch hour, which made for great photos not having to dodge any unwanted people in the pictures! We leisurely enjoyed another coffee before we headed through the damp plains along the Don Quixote route to see the gigantic windmills that perhaps were the ones fought against in Cervantes' novel.

The drizzling rain stopped almost every time we seemd to want to alight from our toasty vehicle. Temperatures had dropped, and my winter jacket was not too heavy against the now freezing wind coming from???. When the wind is that cold, I know it has snowed somewhere upwind. We had had 70-80 degree weather two days earlier and now this.

We went inside the Windmill Museum, but the man attending must have been very disappointed in us as no one went up the narrow staircase to see the mill, (seen plenty ) nor did we buy any of the cheesy souvenirs! We got some great photos though!

One of our next stops, and I will write more later.

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Old Mar 30th, 2009, 03:14 AM
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On our way to Belmonte we stopped at a lovely new winery just a few miles before: Mont Reaga. The setting is just beautiful, and they have spared no expenses on the buildings.


Several tastings, 3 bottles and a property tour later by the resident Bulgarian grounds keeper, we were finally heading towards Belmonte, the film setting for "El Cid" and our XVI Century inn for the night, El Palacio Buenavista.


Belmonte castle is one of the best preserved in Spain. These now "off the beaten path" villages and towns were once the center of rich trading, now are the agricultural support for grains and sheep for most of the country.

It is not unusual to find numerous churches and convents, of which some have been turned into cultural centers or museums as the population has dwindled.

What I like about this type of route is the tranquility that surrounds you, SO different from urban Spain, where noise, heavy traffic and parking difficulties are prominent daily factors.

We rode up to the castle to take advantage of the break in the drizzling rain (This would have been a nice stroll otherwise). Unfortunately, the castle was closed for repairs, but we were able to get some good shots without the sole crane from certain angles.

This is where we took a moment to imagine Life back then, which has been immortalized in the very true-to-fact film "El CId", with Charleton Heston in the lead role. Part of this film was also set in Peñiscola, where Mr. Heston returned for many film festivals until a few years before his death.

Castles, plains, peace and tranquility.. you have it all in Belmonte.

I had never slept here, only stopped for coffee and a short stroll and photos on our way elsewhere, but was glad to have decided on this for our evening stay. The rest of the Don Quixote route is a hop away.. Consuegra,( for example) then Toledo is no more than an hour or so.

We settled in and arranged to meet in the lobby for a glass of the purchased wine. I rested but then decided to go out and take my own walk up to the church adjacent to our inn.

The castle in the distance was lit up with a golden hue, perched in the darkness on an invisible crest, floating in the sky.

Another man was also walking around and I asked him if he was from the town, and he said "yes". He then recommended the two restaurants he thought we should choose between for our only meal . Our Inn, or "La Muralla". I decided La Muralla would be better.. to take a nice walk and see more of this sleepy town.

He then took me around and pointed out a new town government project renovating a lovely ruin into a Parador type hotel. It should be finished in 2011. It certainly will put this town on the map.

As we were walking back towards the Inn after our enjoyable chat including renovations, agriculture. wineries and cheese, he stopped at the historic building across from our Inn and said "and this is where I live should you need anything". "Do you want to see my house?".

I smiled and stood on the street at the doorway admiring the timbered ceilings and walls full of memorabilia and family photos, when he called out to his wife (I think to make me lose my fear of going in) and said "come in..," leaving the door ajar as his golden retriever came to greet this new visitor.

He proudly showed me his XVI century home. The ceilings were a bit low, of course, but it had many rooms and was quite comfortable and immaculate. The most interesting room was his office.

Here I am, in Belmonte, talking to one of the Bullfight Events company owners. He was the mayor of this town for 8 years. His office walls were plastered with poster boards of the important events, renovations and adquisitions during each year of his term. I spent more time studying the picutres and additonal older photos he had ( of the filming of El Cid and other festivals) than I expected. It was fascinating.

I am anxious to go back to Belmonte with my husband and hope this family happens to be home, as they now live in Toledo and come on the weekends only. It's not often you meet and can spend time with people who were born and have lived through so much in these small places.

I had to get back to the group and fill them in on all I had been told. We retraced the steps I took with this local guide, and made our way to La Muralla.

We had a delicious meal. Prices were a bit cheaper than Valencia. I just had a bowl of steamy "sopa castellana" (heavy broth, bits of ham, fried bread and poached egg you stir all together)which was quite filling. Others had Fish.. if you can believe it. Then we shared some desserts and walked out into the bar area to see how the Spain-Turkey soccer match was going. So far, so good 0-0.

A large group of BMW and Honda motorcyclists from a Madrid club were also in town and it was quite a spectacle when they would leave or come back en-masse to our Inn.

On the way back to our Inn we decided it was defintely snowing somwhere, as we clipped through the narrow streets up the hill to our warm rooms.

More later.
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Old Mar 30th, 2009, 03:18 PM
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After a simple breakfast we started our drive to our next destination: "Cuenca". Cuenca is quite spectacular with its hanging houses, the iron bridge across the deep gorge that separates the Parador from the main part of the city and its narrow stone pathways that border the supporting wall of the town.

We explored the Cuenca City Museum with its extensive archeological finds, then darted into the Dioceses Museum before it closed.

We had an unmemorable meal before heading back to Valencia but treated ourselves to a nice coffee back at the Parador where I had been allowed to park my car even though I didn't have my "Amigos" card on me, nor was I staying there! That was so kind, as on Sundays Cuenca is very crowded.

Luckily we had an uneventful drive back. This stretch is a bit long after so much walking and driving,( 2 hours) but we were fortunate again as the rain didn't begin until we pulled out of Cuenca. It hasn't stopped since we got back and the province of Valencia and many others are on alert, it has gotten so heavy.

I hope if you ever get to this part of Spain you will enjoy this unpretentious route as much as I always do.
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Old Mar 30th, 2009, 03:40 PM
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Delightful report, Lincasanova, from someone who obviously loves Spain. Thank you!

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Old Mar 30th, 2009, 04:13 PM
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Thank you! I really enjoy these country jaunts.
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Old Mar 30th, 2009, 10:01 PM
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What a wonderful weekend. We love to do similar getaways close to home, and it's a totally different experience than you ever get as a tourist, when you're trying to fit in as much as possible to a limited-time agenda. "Banff on Monday, Vancouver on Tuesday, Tofino on Wednesday ... "!

We'll be in Spain in May but will be doing exactly that - hitting the high points in an inevitable blur. We're looking forward to it, but I would love to really spend time sinking in to small towns and regions like this.

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Old Mar 30th, 2009, 11:53 PM
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Rural Spain is a joy, and it is quite rare to get to see the inside of a Spanish home, so I hope he's there when you go back.
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Old Mar 31st, 2009, 04:46 AM
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What a wonderful report, lincasanova! I've always dreamed of visiting the land of Don Quixote. And how exciting for you to spend time with the former Mayor of Belmonte, and learn so much of its history. Meeting and talking with local folks is one of the highlights of travelling for me. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

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Old Mar 31st, 2009, 12:38 PM
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Thanks. I am glad you liked the report.

I have been in several very old renovated "casas de pueblo" homes of friends.. etc. but the charm of going inside one of someone you do not know at all, and see the pride as they show you around, was unique. I do hope to meet up with this ex-mayor again as my husband would enjoy seeing all that was done during his term.

But I almost forgot about our cheese stop! As we were leaving Belmonte I suddenly hit the brakes and said "The CHEESE!".

My private tour guide the evening before had told me the best place in the area to buy cheese. Right here in Belmonte. It is the factory that provides the Ritz in Madrid with their Manchego cheeses.

So, stopped a passerby and got directions to the "Parque Municipal" and there was the little gourmet shop, open on Sunday as we were told it would be.

We all bought half and full reels of VERY tasty cured cheese after sampling them all.

So between the wine from Mont Reaga, and the cheese from Belmonte, I had plenty of gifts for those left behind at home.

I was so glad I remembered about the cheese, as one of the souvenirs we wanted to buy was a cheese from a small town.

Well, that's all til next time. Happy journeys!
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Old Mar 31st, 2009, 01:15 PM
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Thanks Lin for a fantastic report. One of these days I have to be brave and rent a car in Spain to visit these kind of places!
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Old Apr 2nd, 2009, 03:21 PM
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A piece of cake. Just cruise, cruiseluv.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2009, 05:56 PM
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Beautiful report, lincasanova! I feel like I was there with you.

cruiseluv, I find driving in Spain very easy, and there are rewards in being able to get to the smaller villages as you have seen.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2009, 07:55 AM
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lincasanova - I love the way you relate your travels. Just the right amount of detail and information to allow me to form my own image of what you see. I hope we can read more of your jaunts into the countryside.

How is your exchange student enjoying Valencia? What did he think of Fallas?

On a sad note, I read of your words in remembrance of jgarvey. She was truly a wonder and I know she will be missed by many. Best wishes to you.

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Old Apr 3rd, 2009, 09:50 AM
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Well I must thank you for the compliments on my report because my reports are never very "popular". Maybe I rushed the other ones too much or didn't describe things as well, so.. thank you very much. You have given me confidence!

Yes, I hope to have a few more jaunts in the near future.

Our student is liking Valencia, and of course had a blast during Fallas. Our weather has been exceptionally cold and rainy except when it cleared up for the Falleros. (over 500 Fallas clubs praying for sunny weather all week had its effect).

Hope we cross paths again.

Yes, jgarvey's passing certainly was a shock. I had just been thinking of asking online where she was.. then it came up.

I only met her once for breakfast, but we were looking forward to it being a yearly encounter as I usually go to Chicago at least once a year.

Keep in touch here. I am enjoying your odysseys with your lucky students.

I was waiting for it to get hot in there with those guys following the girls. I thought you were going to need some additional support for awhile. That a-way, teacher!
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Old Apr 4th, 2009, 09:51 AM
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Great report about a place I've never paid much attention. Sounds grand.
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Old Apr 17th, 2009, 05:02 PM
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Linca, Definitely delightful report. Thank you for great ideas.
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Old Apr 18th, 2009, 12:39 AM
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Thanks. Haven't "seen" you lately around...
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Old Apr 18th, 2009, 06:48 PM
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Linca, Just busy with/savoring life as one must. I was supposed to visit Spain again this year but I have already taken so much time off that I can't wing yet another three weeks off. Which is a pity because even summer airfares are about as low as I have ever seen'em ($630 or so from midwest to Madrid in June!). But there will be a next year.

Ever seen Equitrekking (http://www.equitrekking.com/)? Over here it is on PBS. This morning, I watched an episode on going from Alpujarras to historic haciendas in Seville’s countryside to Don~ana beaches. It was just unblievably pretty an episode with amazing views, orange/olive groves, dressage of an andalucian horse, etc etc although watching all the food prep/eating made me terribly hungry!

Hope you are finding time to enjoy all that is good about Spain.
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Old Apr 19th, 2009, 02:27 AM
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Thanks for the link. I LOVE horses. Lost mine last summer to colic.. and LIFE just hasn't been the same since.

I do ride when we go on vacation now while my husband golfs. So maybe I can do something like that someday!
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Old Apr 19th, 2009, 06:06 AM
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I don't know anything about horses (but I like'em) although there are three employees in my office who own horses and their weekends are spent on and around horses. I say go for it, Linca
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