Travels in Spain – The Hanging Houses of Cuenca

Cuenca Hanging Houses

“It gave me vertigo to imagine what it must be like living up there , a permanent aviator above the trees”,  Ted Walker – ‘In Spain’

We drove directly to the very top of the old city and parked the car at a scenic point where there was the most stunningly magnificent vista stretching out below us.  The city was built here because the rocky outcrop of land lies between two deep river gorges, the Júcar and the Huécar and it made an excellent location for a defensive fortress.

Walking down from the car park towards the main Plaza where there were gaily coloured houses, shops and pavement cafés and bars and the city Cathedral that was completed in the thirteenth century but partly fell down in 1902 but over a hundred years later the rebuilding of the façade still remains to be fully completed and remains a curious juxtaposition of architectural styles, from Anglo-Norman to Iberian Gothic.  That is the way that they do things in Spain.  Mañana.  Tomorrow will do.  Kim always says that I should have been born Spanish!

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,  all cracked leather and faded denim.

Cuenca Motorbike Rally

The police weren’t very welcoming and more and more of them arrived to keep an eye on things.  They didn’t seem to doing any harm but eventually someone important told them to move on and they fired up their satanic black and gleaming chrome machines and clutching their cow horn handlebars left the Plaza with much revving of engines in an attempt to make as much noise as they possibly could.  The police kept straight faces but all of the people at the pavement tables thought it was very entertaining and clapped and cheered enthusiastically.

Cuenca Spain Coloured Houses

After this the Plaza settled back into a lazy Saturday afternoon 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 like Swallows’ nests 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 barnacles clinging to a rock the prospects didn’t look good for some time to come so we found a second choice with a table in the sun and on account of the high prices declined a full dining experience and settled for overpriced toasted bread with tiny toppings instead.  To be fair it was in an excellent location and something like 75% of the menu price was just for the magnificent view.

Cuenca is famous for birds of prey and overhead there were large raptors that were riding the thermals and just like us were 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.

Eventually we arrived at the industrial town of Tarancón, which was not a place to hang around so we drove swiftly through and then followed a more direct route than we had taken this morning directly back to Chinchón where preparations for tomorrow’s bullfight were stepping up and there were a number of road closures that made it somewhat difficult to get back to the hotel and then some parking restrictions that meant having to pay to use the underground car park.

We purchased some beer and wine from the little shop that was open again this evening and then those of us that had a balcony enjoyed an hour in the sun with a glass of wine and those of us that didn’t stayed in their rooms.  Later we returned to the same restaurant/bar as the previous evening and, because Sue and Christine had declared the menu acceptable, we had mostly the same food again as well.

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11 responses to “Travels in Spain – The Hanging Houses of Cuenca

  1. Have you ever published a map to show us where all you have explored?

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  2. What a pity you couldn’t include any pictures of the local Hell’s Angels. They always seem here in Europe to be a lot more bark than bite (fingers crossed).

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    • I added one in response to your valuable feedback.
      Now and again I meet with ex work pals at a hotel restaurant in Boston Lincolnshire for lunch (Supreme Hotel on the A52/A16 – highly recommended btw). One day last year our sedate lunch was interrupted by (and I am guessing here of course) about 200 roaring motorbikes and leather clad Hell’s Angels on their way to a rally in Lincoln.
      Minutes later the police arrived and a couple of ambulances. I think they were expecting a mass brawl and demolition of the hotel.
      It was quite funny. Most of the bikers were older than me (61) and all they did was park their bikes, come inside and order mineral water and sandwiches. What a waste of public money. These guys were pussy cats!

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  3. Wow! Those hanging houses look just amazing – I shall have to plan to see them!

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