After a couple of hours we reluctantly left the attractive little town of Chinchón with its beautiful square basking languidly in the afternoon sun and after threading our way through the narrow streets twice, by some miraculous stroke of good fortune, found ourselves on the right road and heading south to the town of Belmonte in the province of Cuenca where we were due to stay for the next three nights.
After just a short while the scenery began to change, flat now but still with black olive trees and gnarled vines twisting away like Chubby Checker and endless fields of pretty pastel colours and at some point we passed out of the region of Madrid and into Castilla-La Mancha and we were in the land of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza but the first windmills that we saw soon after arriving were not the charming corn grinding mills of Cervantes but modern wind turbines instead.
It was about sixty miles to Belmonte, the road passed through several dusty villages and it was busy and very slow. The navigator fell asleep and I became frustrated by the lack of progress and when an opportunity presented itself left the regional road and joined the motorway instead.
This was much easier because for many Spaniards driving on motorways is too expensive and the traffic density is therefore gloriously low. This is in contrast to the main trunk roads running parallel to the motorways which are jammed by drivers who are reluctant, or simply cannot afford, to pay the high motorway tolls. Two junctions of the motorway cost €5.20 but it was worth every cent and we left it at the small town of Mota del Cuerva ten miles west of Belmonte.
So far on the journey we had managed really well but with the navigator still drowsy and a little disorientated this was where we managed to get confused and lost for the first time and had to double back and make several detours before emerging on the right side of the town next to a hill with a row of whitewashed Castilian windmills.
We stopped to see and take photographs and visited the little museum and admired the views over the flat, seemingly endless plains on either side of the elevated ridge above the town. Leaving the windmills behind we drove to Belmonte and arrived at about six o’clock in a curiously quiet and deserted little town. After a little bit of uncertainty we found the hotel Palacio Buenavista Hospedestra and checked in
It was one of those ‘have I made the right choice’ moments that you can sometimes get on arrival but it turned out to be a delightful and ours was a big room with traditional wooden carved furniture, a polished red tiled floor and a good view over the hotel garden and the church next door. I have a preference for hotels in smaller towns rather than staying in the big cities because on the whole they are friendlier and almost always cheaper!
Very quickly the moment of doubt passed and I went out to find a shop for a bottle of screw top wine. On the way I spotted this wonderful door…
Later we walked out to find somewhere to eat but this was a sleepy little place and there wasn’t a great deal to do so we found a local bar and went inside for a drink. There were some local customers gathered around the bar watching the TV and a family at an adjacent table. There was a sign on the wall that said “No está permitido fumar” but it was next to a cigarette machine and the rule obviously didn’t apply here because the air was thick and grey with swirling acrid smoke. Anti-smoking legislation became law in Spain on 1st January 2006 but for small bars and restaurants the legislation offers the owner the choice of going smoke free or not but if it doesn’t it means that customers under eighteen years old are allowed in that bar. This regulation was being flagrantly ignored as well.
It was a very traditional sort of place where the customers had that curious Spanish habit of throwing their litter on the floor just underneath the bar where there was a collection of papers, cigarette ends, sunflower seed shells and other miscellaneous waste that made the place seem most untidy. They weren’t that used to foreign visitors either and the little girl with the family kept edging closer towards us driven on by curiosity but always keeping a safe distance just in case we were visitors from another planet, and I suppose, to her, we might just as well have been.
With eating options in the town seriously limited (i.e. non-existent) we returned to the hotel and enjoyed a simple but enjoyable meal in the restaurant together with a bottle of local wine and then after an early start and a long day went back to the room and a long night’s sleep.