The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited and having completed that I thought I might come up with a personal alternative twelve.
My number nine is the Hanging Houses of Cuenca.
Driving directly to the very top of the old city we parked the car at a scenic point where there was a stunning vista stretching out all the way below us. The city of Cuenca was built here because the rocky outcrop of land lies between two convenient deep river gorges, the Júcar and the Huécar and it made an excellent location for a defendable fortress. We walked down from the car park towards the main Plaza where there were gaily coloured houses, shops and pavement cafés and bars and the city’s Cathedral that was completed in the thirteenth century but partly fell down in 1902 and over a hundred years later the rebuilding of the façade still remains to be fully completed.
It was time for refreshment so we stopped at a café with tables in the sun and watched a bizarre gathering of what must have been nearly a hundred bike enthusiasts all of whom looked as though they had stepped off of the set of Easy Rider. The police weren’t very welcoming and more and more of them arrived to keep an eye on things. The bikers didn’t seem to doing any harm but eventually someone important told them to move on and they fired up their noisy black and chrome machines and left the Plaza with much revving of engines in an attempt to make as much inconvenience as they possibly could. The police kept straight faces but all of the people at the pavement tables thought it was very entertaining.
After this the Plaza settled back into a lazy Saturday afternoon routine and we moved on to see the rest of the city. Following the route towards the edge of the gorge it was plain to see how the city had developed. There was only limited space at the top of the rock so as it grew and it was unable to expand outwards the city went up instead and that explained the tall houses. Even more dramatically it also went as far as it possibly could in making use of all available space and in the fifteenth century houses were built with rooms and balconies precariously overhanging the gorge above the Huécar River. These are called the Las Casas Colgadas, the hanging houses, and are the most famous attraction in the city.
It was time for lunch so we returned to the top of the city stopping on the way to climb the castle walls and to admire the scenery of the gorges stretching out on either side of the city. Climbing even further we reached the top and there were vantage points of the city from elevated craggy rocks where people were walking out and taking as much risk as they dare just to get the perfect photograph.
Our first choice of restaurant had no available tables and as people seemed as settled in as permanently as barnacles the prospects didn’t look good for some time to come so we found a second choice with a table in the sun and decided to have some tapas. The menu was giving nothing away in assisting with a selection of dishes we didn’t recognise and the waitress could give no explanation except in Spanish so we went for the ‘surprise me option’ and stabbed a nervous finger towards a couple of items on the menu and sat back in anticipation.
Although I dislike them intensely this was one of those occasions when it would have been useful to have one of those picture menu boards that give an indication to the sort of food that you think you are ordering. When it arrived we had a chicken dish and a sort of mutton stew, which we probably wouldn’t have knowingly selected but it was tasty and filling and we ate it all and when we had finished we communicated to the waitress the best that we could that we had thoroughly enjoyed it in that polite sort of way that we do when we cannot speak the language. To be fair it was in an excellent location and something like 75% of the inflated menu price was just for the magnificent view.
Cuenca is famous for birds of prey and overhead there were large birds that were riding the thermals and looking for lunch. Some of them were buzzards, which are quite common in Northern Spain but later we saw something different that we later identified as the magnificent Spanish Imperial Eagle and we considered it a privilege to have seen them.
It was late afternoon so we left Cuenca getting slightly lost in the tangle of streets on the way out and with no real alternative returned to Chinchón by the same route, first through the rugged hills and the winding road and then to the gentle rolling plains and the long straight road. We drove on wide empty roads, so empty in places that we wondered from time to time if we had missed a road closed sign.