Tag Archives: Casa Rural Posada los Cuatro Canos

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza to Atienza on the Ruta de Don Quixote

Atienza Spain

The drive to Atienza followed the western section of a circular tour which is part of the Ruta de Don Quixote, in fact stage ten of the route which sprawls across all of Castilla-La Mancha and is the golden thread that binds the Castilian tourist industry together in a ribbon of castles and windmills.

After climbing a section of road of hairpin bends with dramatic rear view mirror views of the terracotta roofs of Sigüenza the road reached a scenic plateau with a long straight road, a long endless stretch of charcoal tarmac cutting without tiniest deviation through the fields, separating east from west and riding the contours of the land like a gently undulating roller-coaster.

Either side of the long straight road there were vast open fields with attractive colours that rolled rhythmically and desolately away in all directions with an artist’s palette vista of subtle hues and variations of tone; champagne and parchment, butter-milk cream, dusty olive, lavender grey, gleaming gold and russet red all lying crushed under the burden of what was now a vivid blue spring sky.

Eventually we arrived in tiny Atienza and drove through the stone town with its crumbling colonnades, weathered heraldry and rusting iron balconies and eased the car to the very top of the town where a castle in a commanding position overlooked the plateau in all directions.

The castle had played an important role in the Reconquista but had been destroyed by French troops during the War of Independence and now two hundred years later it is waiting its turn in the programme of castle restorations and while it remains vulnerable to the steady reclaiming creep of nature I got a sense that it might have to be patient.

It was a steep climb from the stony car park to the top of the castle but we were prepared to tackle it and set straight off.  We had hoped to take a break half way to the top where there was a museum inside an old church but just as we arrived the attendant was locking the door and she pointed out the visiting times on a notice which indicated that it would not reopen now until late afternoon.

She was very apologetic and I felt sorry for her, I got the impression that she had been waiting there all morning for visitors and then we arrived slap bang on afternoon closing time.  She wasn’t prepared to be flexible on the matter however.

Atienza Castle Spain

And so we continued to the top along a looping shale track that collapsed under our feet with every step and which provided ever more dramatic views the higher that we climbed until we eventually arrived at the main gate and made our way inside the ruins of the castle.  At the very top was a partially restored tower built on a slab of granite rock and we negotiated the stairs and made our way to what seemed at this point to be the very top of the World.

Atienza Castle Spain

The views were stunning and it was easy to see how important this castle was, first for the Muslims and then for the Christians once it had been captured.  We could see for miles and one thing for sure was that no one was going to sneak up on a defending army here!  There is a story that even the great Rodrigo Díaz de Bivar (El Cid) didn’t feel up to tackling it, declared it impregnable and marching his army around it under cover of darkness to avoid a pointless and lengthy siege.

Actually, I have always wondered about that – why did medieval armies go to the trouble of besieging a castle when they could just go straight round it without a fight, blockade it and wait for the occupants to simply run out of food?

After climbing to the very top we made our way back town to the small town which was collectively snoozing in the afternoon sunshine and after we had walked the handful of streets Christine (who had declined most of the breakfast) declared herself so hungry she could eat her own arm so we found a tapas bar that was still open and I made my usual mistake of ordering way too much food and so we sat for an hour and enjoyed the food, the sun and a San Miguel and then left and made our ponderous way back to Sigüenza.

On the journey we made a couple of stops; first at some abandoned industrial buildings and man-made lagoons at the village of Imon which seemed curiously out of place.  We challenged each other to guess what they were, Kim said a sewage works which was an absurd suggestion, Christine thought a salmon farm which was just as unlikely and Sue, grasping at straws suggested a lido.

They turned out to be old salt mines which had once been the most important in all of Spain.

They had been closed in 1996 and although an information board outside the locked gates declared them to be a ‘place of cultural interest’ it seemed as though someone had neglected to inform anyone of this decision and it looked very much to me as thought they were in need of some urgent attention to prevent them falling down altogether.

Next we left the main road and visited the village of Palazuelos where a stout castle stood large and overshadowed the main square.  The whole place was closed for this afternoon and so was the castle surrounded by fences and warnings that it was dangerous to go inside.  So we contented ourselves with a brief circuit of the main square and then returned directly to Sigüenza where we made directly for the Plaza Mayor and the pavement bar with tables in the sunshine.

As it approached evening meal time we left the Cuatro Canos and as we judged it too early to eat in a town where the restaurants didn’t appear to open until way past nine o’clock (being English we like to eat at about seven) we decided to walk the long way round to the town centre and we talk a third stroll to the castle under the waxy glow of the ornamental street lights and through the labyrinth of narrow streets, curious corners, dead-ends and intriguing alleyways and through the Plaza Mayor and eventually made our way to a restaurant that we had earlier selected for this evening.

This declared itself to be a two star Michelin restaurant and therefore not the sort of place that I would normally select because it seems to me that the first star means drastically reduce the  portions to a size suitable for someone suffering from anorexia and the second means double (or triple) the prices but everyone else liked the look of it and I was outvoted.

It was nice enough but to be honest I would have preferred the earthy honesty of  the wooden tables of Le Meson to the starched white tablecloths of the fancy restaurant and secretly I think the others probably agreed with me.

Siguenza Spain plaza Mayor

Travels in Spain – Alcalá de Henares and Torija Castle

Alcala de Henares Central Spain

The pavement bar with the seriously restricted menu options was close to the centre of Alcalá de Henares so after our short stop we walked through the red brick city to the expansive tree lined Plaza Mayor, here called the Plaza de Cervantes, so named because the Spanish novelist and author of Don Quixote who was born here in this city in 1547.

Cervantes wrote a dozen or so major works and his most famous is Don Quixote, a sprawling epic novel regarded as the most influential work of literature to emerge from the Spanish Golden Age.  It is the story of a man who believes that he is a knight, and recounts his adventures as he rights wrongs, mistakes peasants for princesses, and  “tilts at windmills,” mistakenly believing them to be evil giants.  

As one of the earliest works of modern western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published.

In 2002 a panel of one hundred leading world authors declared Don Quixote to be the best work of fiction ever written, ahead even of works by Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Hemingway.  Cervantes has also been credited with shaping modern literary style, and Don Quixote has been acclaimed as “the first great novel of world literature”. 

Since publication in 1605 it is reputed to be the most widely read and translated book on the planet after the Bible. I tried to read it once but found it rather heavy going so gave up quite quickly but as we walked around I resolved to have another attempt upon returning home.  So that is the two most translated books in the history of the World that I haven’t read!  The third is ‘Listen to God and Live Forever’ by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and not surprisingly I haven’t read that either.

The Plaza is a supremely handsome square surrounded by tall University buildings decorated with untidy Stork nests. There was a lot of activity in the nests today because the population of these birds in Spain is rising, from six thousand seven hundred pairs thirty years ago to an estimated thirty-five thousand pairs today.  In fact there are so many White Storks in Spain that it is now second only to Poland who with fifty thousand birds has always traditionally been the country with the most pairs of the birds in Europe.

On three sides there are medieval colonnaded arcades and in the centre on a tall column stands a statue of Cervantes with quill held delicately in his right hand as though poised to begin writing a masterpiece.  We walked through and around it and then explored the University district before returning to the main shopping street the Calle Mayor.

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza Alcala de Henares Spain

All along the Calle Mayor there were shopping distractions for my travelling companions so while they looked at shoes and cakes and sparkly things I made my way to the end of the street to the birthplace museum of Cervantes and waited in the company of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza for them to catch me up.

I had a mind to visit the museum especially as the web site said that admission was free but at the entrance I was greeted by an attendant who explained that there was a charge of €10 which I judged to be rather expensive for just a handful of rooms so I purchased a couple of postcards and left.  Maybe I made the right decision because I read subsequently that there is some suggestion that this is not his birthplace at all and the house was built some time after Cervantes birth, an accusation that is strenuously denied by the museum of course.

And so we left Alcalá de Henares and resumed our journey along the Autovia towards Sigüenza.  We drove for several kilometres as far as Guadalajara along a perfect motorway surface through a ribbon of industrial units, shopping outlets and roadside diners to the left hand side and to the right nothing but the breath-taking vastness of La Mancha. We were driving through La Alcarria, a natural region in central Spain extending from Guadalajara to the south of Madrid and east to Cuenca.

La Alcarria is a desolate, barren landscape noted for its honey, allegedly the finest in Spain, due to the  abundance of aromatic plants such as rosemary, thyme and lavender.  Once past the high-rise domestic suburbs of the Provincial capital we left the urban landscape behind and drove into open countryside with high hills, jagged rocky outcrops, holm oak forests and green meadows all liberally decorated with dainty Spring flowers until we reached the small town of Torija, basking in the sun and spread out under the protective walls of a splendid medieval castle.

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in Spain because (according to the Spanish Tourist Board)  there are over two thousand five hundred of them (for comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom)* and in the Province of Guadalajara alone there are one hundred and twenty in a region fiercely contested during the period of the Reconquista.

Sadly, Torija castle was closed this afternoon so we had to be content with a walk around its towering walls topped with towers and turrets and in my opinion looking exactly like a castle should look.  It turned out that most of Torija was also closed this afternoon so having established that there was nothing here worth stopping longer for we left and completed the final few kilometres to our destination.

Eventually we left the A2 Autovia and took a minor road for the final twenty-five kilometres to Sigüenza and as we did we began to climb because we were entering the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, part of the Sistema Central which is one of those east-west mountain ranges that extend through Spain that before high-speed rail and modern motorways kept the Spanish people historically separated.

We climbed gently to over one thousand metres to an elevation that even in mid-April had suppressed the first signs of Spring and then without warning we turned a corner and there sitting handsomely in the natural folds of the landscape was a towering castle (a Parador hotel of course), medieval walls and a honey coloured cathedral surrounded by a mantle of terracotta roofs and ribbons of tiny streets.

Having been here before navigation proved no difficulty through the maze of tiny streets and shortly after arrival we were booking in to the Casa Rural Posada los Cuatro Canos and making ourselves at home.

Torija castle Central Spain

* France however claims over four thousand seven hundred.