Tag Archives: Chinchon

Weekly Photo Challenge: Shadowed

Shuttered Door Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

Ostuni Puglia Italy White City

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge – A Royal Palace in Spain

The Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Spain

On our way to Toledo a couple of days before the town of Aranjuez looked as though it might be worth a visit and as it was more or less on the way back to Madrid we decided to go there and see the Royal Palace.  We returned to the hotel and picked up the car and our bags and after negotiating our way out of the town made the thirty-minute drive to the World Heritage Site town.

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Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Chinchón

Chinchon Plaza Mayor

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.

Chinchon Madrid Spain

My Personal A to Z of Spain, P is for Plaza Mayor

Almagro Plaza Mayor Spain

The Plaza Mayor is arguably the most important part of a Spanish town or city and I really cannot think of an equivalent in the United Kingdom where we have public squares but use them in an entirely different way.

This is the place where people meet, relax and enjoy themselves; it is generally flanked with shops and restaurants and usually has the town hall and the main church somewhere close by.  This is the beating heart of a Spanish community and when we arrive somewhere new it is usually the first place we make for because sitting with a glass of wine and a complimentary tapas it is the best place to be to get a feeling for the town and its people.

On this occasion we were in the provincial town of Almagro and staying at the Hotel Retiro del Maestre, a renovated old Spanish nobleman’s house on a street leading to the main square.  It was a friendly family run hotel with spacious and comfortable public rooms, a large outside terrace basking in the sun and was a nice room for us with a view over the garden.

It was late afternoon by this time and with the sun beginning to dip we didn’t linger long but made our way quickly to the Plaza Mayor to find a bar.  On the way we passed by the equestrian statue of the Conquistador Diego de Almagro and then entered the rectangular Plaza.  At a hundred metres long and forty metres wide and flanked on both sides by arcades of Tuscan columns supporting overhead galleries all painted a uniform shade of bottle green and fully glazed in a central European style this place is truly unique in Spain.  These galleries were originally open and used as grandstands for public events, religious festivals and even bullfights that were held here until 1785, when they were finally banned by King Carlos III.

Almagro Spain Plaza Mayor

We choose a table on the sunny side of the Plaza, ordered beer and wine and just sat and watched the activity while we nibbled the inevitable olives.  The bar owner shooed away some small boys playing football, telling them to play elsewhere and families began to arrive and the bar quickly filled up with chattering customers.  Walking around the square was a proud grandmother pushing a young baby in an immaculate pram which matched her pristine outfit and she completed at least a dozen circuits, stopping frequently to chat and to show off the small child to anyone who showed the slightest interest.

In the search for real Spain (not the coasts and the Costas), in the past three years we have visited and enjoyed dozens of Plaza Mayors; Madrid, the largest, Salamanca, the second largest, Toledo, next to its towering cathedral and the tiled Plaza de España in Seville.  We liked them all and we began now to compile a list with a view to choosing our top five favourites.

We considered ÁvilaMérida and Valladolid, Cáceres and Santiago de Compostella in Galicia but after a lively debate weighing up the pros and cons and putting forward the case for each one in turn we finally agreed on the top five but could not reach consensus on the actual order.

So this is our list: Segovia in Castilla y Leon because of the Cathedral and the architecture and the little streets running away from it like spokes from a wheel, Trujillo, where we had been only today, because of its unspoilt medieval charm, the unpretentious and functional Ciudad Rodrigo, Chinchón with its open balconies and bullfights and although we had only just arrived we liked this place so much that we both agreed to include Almagro in the list.

Chinchon Spain Plaza Mayor  

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P is for Plaza Major but it could well have been:

Pedro Bernardo

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My Personal A to Z of Spain, M is for Matadors

Chinchon bullring

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. The streets were narrow but not nearly as challenging as those that we had negotiated last year in Carmona and it only took a couple of circuits of the back lanes, including driving up a one-way street the wrong way before we located our hotel La Condesa de Chinchón (named after a painting by Goya), parked the car with some difficulty, because I cannot get the hang of reverse parking in a left hand drive car, and then presented ourselves at reception and checked in.

The Plaza was only a hundred metres or so from the hotel and when we arrived there we were surprised to find it being prepared for a bullfight. Now, I would like to see a bullfight but this trip wouldn’t have been the best time because Christine is an animal lover and almost certainly wouldn’t have approved. From the signs in the shop windows we established that the event would be on Sunday afternoon and we would be gone by then so we were relieved that Christine wouldn’t be here to get distressed about it.

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, called ‘claros’ and 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, 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’.

Sunday was the day of the bullfight and when we went for breakfast the final hectic preparations were in full swing. Mickey saw the bulls arriving early in the morning and in the Plaza red and gold bunting, the colour of the Spanish flag, was being hung from the balconies surrounding the arena. There was a real buzz of expectancy about the place now and it was a real shame that we wouldn’t be there to experience it.

Bull Ring at Ronda

There were to be seven events and the fights involved three matadors with their band of attendants, the picador horsemen who lance the bulls and the banderillos who stab them with barbed spikes. All bullfights follow the same pattern and these are the first two acts of a bullfight that are designed to weaken the bull before the final act of the show which always involves a series of intricate moves and daredevil passes by the matador before he makes his final lethal thrust between the bull’s shoulder blades. If the spectators approve of the matador’s performance they wave white handkerchiefs to signal to the President of the fight that he should reward him with a trophy, one or both of the bull’s ears and/or its tail. It is not a very fair fight it has to be said and each one comes to its inevitable conclusion with the death of the bull.

On the first day we had visited the castle on the south side of the Plaza so this morning we visited that part of the town we had left for another day and we walked in a northerly direction towards the elevated position of the cathedral. From here there were good views of the Plaza and the bullring and this is where those without tickets would be jostling for position later in the day. From here also 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 town and its castle here because no one was going to sneak up on them, that’s for sure!

We walked back through the Plaza and now the horses had arrived and were being immaculately groomed just outside the entrance to the square. I was surprised at just how small they were but they looked strong and agile and by the time the attendants had plaited their manes and tidied their tales they were beginning to look immaculate. The horse is the mount of the picador and is a specialised breed that is bred to work with livestock. It is forbidden by the National Bullfighting Rules to use the indigenous Spanish breed of horse the Pura Raza Española, the favoured mount of medieval knights and later cavalry regiments, for use in bullfights. This is because they are too valuable because, although these days’ horses rarely get badly hurt, the role of the horse is a dangerous one because it has to take the full impact of a five hundred kilo charging bull.

We returned to the hotel to pack and outside there were two white mini-buses full of men checking in at reception. These it turned out were the stars of the show, the matadors and picadors and all of their support entourage. In Spain these men are like Premiership football stars and they are so popular and famous that they even have their own web sites. Fighting today were two dashing young matadors called Alejandro Talavante and Jose María Manzanares and the reception was beginning to fill up with expensive leather travelling cases, sheathed swords and yellow, magenta and crimson capes. One of these men would be staying in our room tonight and I guessed it might be either Alejandro or Jose María because I bet they get allocated a balcony room wherever they go. With a last look into the garden from the balcony before Alejandro moved in we could see a man working hard to clean the blood and guts off of the capes that were left there from the previous fight no doubt.

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http://www.alejandrotalavante.com/inicio.html

http://www.josemariamanzanares.com/

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M is for Matadors but it could well have been:

Madrid

Manzanares

Minorca

Merida

Moors

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In Search Of Real Spain Volume 4

Click to preview book

With an objective to visit all of the regions of Spain and having already travelled to the more obvious places such as Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y Leon it was time this visit to be more adventurous.  I have excluded from that short list places such as Galicia, Cantabria, The Basque Country and Catalonia because although we have been there I have become aware that these, although part of the State of Spain, are not really Spain at all and something quite separate and different.  On this occasion we choose Extremadura to the south west of Madrid, which the guide books claimed to be the least visited part of the country.

Spain 2011, Chinchón

Chinchon Madrid Spain

Although we had stayed in Chinchón before  this didn’t help us pinpoint the location of the hotel which was hidden away in the warren of tiny back streets at the back of the town.

It took some finding and when we did, the door was locked, there was no sign of life and a line of people waiting to book in.  Eventually someone arrived and it was just coincidence that all of tonight’s guests had arrived at exactly the same time.  It had been difficult finding accommodation in Chinchón so I was rather nervous about the Casa Rural La Graja but it turned out that that had been unnecessary because we were shown to an excellent room with a balcony that looked out over the street and for the first time there was blue sky.

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Spain 2011, Consuegra, Tembleque and Aranjuez

Consuegra Windmills Spain

I realise that this isn’t the correct technical meteorological term but when we woke up the next morning, it was as though the sluice gates had been opened and it was absolutely chucking it down!

From outside there was the sound of (very) heavy rain and when the shutters were opened we were confronted with a blanket of thick grey cloud and horizontal precipitation thrashing against the window – it was all a bit dull and dismal and did not look at all promising.  But, I have great faith in the expression ‘rain before seven, clear by eleven’ that I was reasonably confident of improvement as we mopped up the wet tiles under the balcony door, dressed and went for breakfast.

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Spain 2011, The Plaza Mayor

Almagro Spain Plaza Mayor

We were staying at the Hotel Retiro del Maestre, a renovated old Spanish nobleman’s house on a street leading to the main square and we found it easily and left the car in the underground car park.  It was a friendly family run hotel with spacious and comfortable public rooms, a large outside terrace basking in the pleasant sun and was a nice room for us with a view over the garden.

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Travels in Spain – The Royal Palace of Aranjuez

Arunjuez

It is hardly surprising that with forty-three listed sites Italy has the most World Heritage Sites but for those who think of Spain as nothing more than a country of over developed costas with concrete condominiums, marinas and golf courses it might be a shock to learn that Spain has forty sites and is second highest in the exclusive list.

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