Category Archives: Travel

Spain, Castles and Travels of El Cid

castle of Jadraques

This is the castle of Jadraques near Guadalajara in Castilla-La Mancha.

There isn’t a castle in this part of Spain that doesn’t make a claim that El Cid made a visit.

There is no absolute way of knowing if El Cid or his contemporary Alvar Fáñez de Minaya ever really did pass this way but there is a quotation from ‘El Cantar de Mio Cid‘ to provide the evidence that he did.

One thing is for sure – if El Cid did turn up at all the locations that claim that he did then he certainly covered an impressive amount of miles and spent an awful  lot of time in the saddle.

El Cid


Spain, Belmonte Castle and El Cid

Belmonte Castle

When it was night the Cid lay down. In a deep sleep he fell,
And to him in a vision came the angel Gabriel:
“Ride, Cid, most noble Campeador, for never yet did knight
Ride forth upon an hour whose aspect was so bright.
While thou shalt live good fortune shall be with thee and shine.”    

It was another excellent morning and behind the dark shutters the early morning sun was waiting to strike lack a dagger as soon as they were opened.  The sky was clear and it was  serene and tranquil with absolute silence but for the merry chirruping of the house martins nesting in the garden and already well into their days work.

The breakfast room was busier this morning as a few families had checked in the previous afternoon so while we waited to use the toasting machine I had a look around the room and the pictures on the wall.  At the far end there were photographs of the actor Charlton Heston in the film El Cid and the man on duty behind the bar tried to explain to me in a combination of Spanish and English (mostly Spanish) that some of the movie was filmed right here in Belmonte at the fifteenth century castle that overlooks the town.

El Cid Belmonte Castle

Although the sun was shining it was quite cool in the shade so we kept to the sunny side of the street and after breakfast made for the castle.  On the way we stopped to ask directions and a lady showed us the route but explained in sign language that it wasn’t open at the moment (several times).  This didn’t come as a complete surprise I have to say because there was an enormous crane sticking out of the top of it and even from a distance it was obvious that the builders were in.

Despite this it looked well worth an external visit anyway so we left by a town gate and began to walk up an unmade path towards the castle.  The walk involved quite an arduous climb, especially as I insisted on trying to reach the highest point for the best view and this meant negotiating an almost vertical ascent up a loose shale path that crumbled away under our feet at every step.  I was puffing by the top but tried to pretend that I wasn’t!

But it was worth it and we were rewarded with great views over the town and from here we could clearly see its military footprint because Belmonte is a fortified town at the foot of the magnificently sturdy castle which was part of the ring of fortifications that marked the front line in the medieval power struggle between the Spanish Christians and the African Moors.

On the way back down to the castle we crossed the exact spot where Charlton Heston led an assault against the Moors on his white stead Babieca and his mighty sword La Tizona flashing menacingly in the Christian charge.

Belmonte Spain

El Cid is the national hero of Spain, a bit like our Queen Elizabeth I or Winston Churchill.  He was a warrior, a nobleman, a knight, and a champion.  He became a legend within only a few years of his death and most Spaniards know about him because at school they read an epic poem called El Cantar de Mío Cid.  It is the first great poem in the Spanish language and was written about 1140, only fifty years or so after he died.

Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar known as El Cid Campeador, was a Castilian nobleman, a gifted military leader and a diplomat who fought for and then fell out with Alfonso VI, was exiled but later returned, and in the fight against the Moors conquered and governed the city of Valencia. It’s a good story but the film takes a lot of historical liberties so it’s best not to rely upon it as a source document for serious study.

The castle is a declared national monument and it was closed for some serious renovation and no one seemed to know with any degree of certainty when it would open again.  It was a shame not to be able to visit but we walked around the outside underneath its imposing towers and told ourselves it was a good excuse to come back sometime.   From here there were uninterrupted views over the Meseta, the massive central plateau of Spain laid out like a patchwork quilt in front of us.  It was obvious why they built the castle here because no one was going to sneak up on them, that’s for sure!

Mont St Michel Door

From the castle we took the road back into town which took us through lazy whitewashed streets where elderly ladies in shabby black dresses and faded floral pinafores sat gossiping in the doorways and men folk sat on benches discussing the weekend football results and important matters of state.  In the centre of town 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 years, a florist and a photographer.

What we really wanted was a bar with outside tables but there were none and I formed the impression that the town was really only just waking up to spring, like a snowdrop under a fall of snow and after a longer than normal winter wasn’t yet quite certain enough that it was really here and to have the confidence to put the tables and chairs outside without having to hastily bring them back inside again.

Instead we walked to the other side of the town to some more windmills, made a visit to the collegiate church which was absurdly overpriced at €2 each and took about ten minutes to look around (and that was dawdling) and that was it and after only three hours that was Belmonte visited, seen and finished.

Charlton Heston El Cid

Some more posts about El Cid…

El Cid and the Spanish Reconquista

El Cid, the Film, Fact and Fiction

Northern Spain – The City of Burgos

El Cid Charging

Spain, Window Gardens

Window Garden Cuenca Spain

Living towers high in the sky

No land or garden below to grow

So pots in a place near by to fly

And in the blow the flowers grow

The Spanish are good are filling the most unlikely places with pots of blooms.  I spotted this window of colourful pots  in the city of Cuenca.


Spain, The Hanging Houses of Cuenca

Cuenca Blue Sky

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

From Belmonte to Cuenca was a distance of about sixty miles and leaving Belmonte the drive took us first of all through gently undulating fields with the most attractive colours that rolled rhythmically but desolately away in all directions. A stunning vista of subtle hues and variations of tone; champagne and parchment, butter-milk cream, dusty olive, lavender grey, pheasant copper and russet gold that were almost autumnal all lying lifeless and crushed under the burden of a vivid blue spring sky.

Now we were on the ‘Ruta de Don Quixote’ which is the golden thread that binds the Castilian tourist industry together in a ribbon of castles and windmills stretching all the way in a circuitous route from Madrid to Toledo.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

We were using a relatively minor road and after half way the landscape began to change and we left behind the patchwork of fields and farmland and as we started to climb through hills there was more drama with steep sided hills and pine forests and the busy water of the Júcar River dashing madly through narrow gorges.  We were approaching the city of Cuenca.

Cuenca is a big city and capital of the fifth largest province in Spain but we found a parking spot next to the river with surprising ease.  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 defendable fortress.

At three hundred miles long the Júcar is a big river but it was not especially lively today in the City and we followed a man in a battered sombrero along the path next to the lethargic oozy green water that slipped lazily by until we came to steep steps that took us away from the water and up towards the old city, through a crumbling arch and into the main street to the top.  On the way we passed some brightly coloured tall buildings just before a narrow archway in the road underneath the town hall that led into the Plaza Mayor.

In the Plaza there were more 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 and remains a curious mix of architectural styles from Anglo-Norman to Iberian Gothic.

Cuenca Spain Coloured Houses

We continued to the top stopping on the way to climb the castle walls and to admire the scenery of the gorges stretching out seemingly endlessly on either side of the city.  Climbing even further we reached the very top and here there were various vantage points of the city from elevated craggy rocks where people, without the precaution of a parachute were walking out and taking as much risk as they might dare just to get the perfect selfie  photograph.

Standing above the vast ravine that winds its way around Cuenca I could suddenly see why this was once regarded as the unconquerable city.  This ancient citadel is perched on a steep rocky peak, high above the surrounding plain, and the treacherous gorge below encircles the city like a moat and this is the deepest moat you’ve ever seen, a giddy drop of several hundred feet, with nothing beneath to break a fall.

From this position it was clear 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 Swallow’s nests with rooms and balconies partly and 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.

Cuenca Lamp

It was time for lunch but at half past three the bars and restaurants were all overcrowded and doing brisk business and with no prospect of a seat there we had to walk back towards the town and discovered a place in full sun overlooking a rather splendid convent.  I was surprised that the town was so full but we learned later that today was Father’s day in Spain and all of the children were off school and out with their parents for the day.

We decided to have some tapas but the menu was giving nothing away in assisting with a selection of dishes we didn’t recognise and the waitress could give no helpful 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.

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 each other’s language.

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 Belmonte by the same route, first through the rugged hills, the raging water and the winding road and then to the gentle rolling plains, the languid fields and the long straight road.

Later we walked out again and even though this was Father’s day Belmonte was just as quiet as the night before but we found a nice bar in a hotel in the centre of town where we had drinks and olives before returning to the Palacio Buenavista Hospedestra for evening meal, a last drink in the bar and a second early night.

It had been a very good day indeed!

Cuenca x 3


Spain, Tilting at Windmills

Windmill Lo Pagan Spain

I stand here in my place,
With my foot on the rock below,
And whichever way it may blow,
I meet it face to face,
As a brave man meets his foe. 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I came across this windmill in the coastal town of Lo Pagan in the region of Murcia on the east coast of Spain.


Spain, To Belmonte via Mota del Cuervo

Castile La Mancha

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.

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza

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.

Belmonte Castila-La Mancha Spain

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…

Belmonte 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.

Belmonte x 4


Spain, Terracotta and Geraniums


“And thank God for home-sweet things, a green and friendly hill,
And red geraniums aflame upon my window sill.” – Martha Haskell Clark

Two pictures taken in the village of Bárcena Mayor in Cantabria in the far north of Spain.  In Green Spain in the rain and the mist the geraniums are not quite so extravagant as in sun-burnt south, they do not bloom so freely but they have a rustic elegance nevertheless!