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 seven is the Castilian town of Chinchón.
We arrived in Chinchón at about half past one and ignoring the edge of town tourist car parks steered the car towards the Plaza Mayor at the very centre of the town. Parking has rarely been easier and there was a perfect spot right in the Plaza and I was sure there must surely be a catch. Although the weather had been changeable by now there was a glorious blue sky and big sun and it was hot enough to change into summer holiday linens although this did take some of the locals by surprise as they were wrapped up in woollies and coats and still obviously uncertain about and distrustful of the early Spring weather.
The Plaza is in a marvellous location with a big irregular shaped square that is used for town festivals and the occasional bullfight; it is surrounded by a hierarchical arrangement of buildings of two and three storeys with two hundred and thirty-four wooden running balconies all painted a uniform shade of green called ‘claros’ and below theses shops, bars and restaurants on the ground floor all spilling out onto the pavement. It was the location for one of the opening scenes, a bullfight as it happens, in the 1966 film, ‘Return of the Magnificent Seven’ and was also used as a location for the film ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’.
Today it was a convenient car park and we spent a few minutes soaking up the atmosphere and then we compared menu prices in the bars and selected the cheapest tables on the sunny side of the square and settled down for lunch where we enjoyed salad, calamari and tortilla and after a couple of glasses of Spanish beer set off to explore some of the tiny streets leaking away into the shadows of narrow streets off of the square.
We walked first through twisting alleys of immaculate whitewashed houses to the top of the town and to a castle with excellent views over the houses and the surrounding villages and countryside but the castle was in a state of serious disrepair and closed to the public so we had to make do with a wander around the exterior and a peek through the keyhole of the main gate which confirmed that it was probably too dangerous to allow visitors to wander about by themselves so we left and after calling in at the Parador hotel to see how wealthy people spend their holidays we walked to the other side of town and climbed again, this time to the church which had equally good views over the tiled roofs of the houses which in some way reminded me, in an ochre sort of way, of Tuscany.
Beyond the houses there were the surrounding villages and the predominantly buff and grey coloured countryside stretching as far as the horizon. From this elevated position it was possible to appreciate that despite its close proximity to Madrid that Chinchón is essentially a small Spanish village and despite the Plaza, which grabs all the attention this is a living and working community.
From the castle we took the road back into town which took us through lazy whitewashed streets where old ladies in black dresses sat gossiping in the doorways and men folk sat on benches discussing important matters of the day. In the centre of town along streets leading off the Plaza there were a few shops, a mini market, butcher, grocer and a fishmonger, an electrical shop that didn’t look as if it had sold anything for a very long time, a florist and a photographer.
It was warm when the sun shone through the clouds but the sky was full of dramatic movement and rapidly shifting cloud formations as it changed constantly from sunshine to billowing white clouds to ashen grey smears of rain cloud and then back again. We sat at a café outside and toughed it out but when the sun went away I had to agree with Kim that it was really a bit cooler than we really like it so we drank up quickly and performed a circuit of the plaza to choose a restaurant for later on.
We would have liked one with a balcony overlooking the square but that was going to be optimistic because unless there was going to be a dramatic late improvement the weather was clearly not going to be suitable for al fresco dining this evening. We found one we liked, approved the menu and the prices and agreed that we return there later.
Leaving the square we walked back to the church stopping on the way to look back and admire the views over the countryside as it stretched away south all the way back to where we had started out this morning and then we threaded our way through the narrow streets and back to the hotel. It was such a nice hotel that we wanted to enjoy the sunny courtyard and the excellent room for an hour or so before going out for dinner.