Cuenca, Guadalajara & Soria

We’d had a few days set aside to go somewhere for a while, mid-week, mid-June, when it should be hotter and kids are still at school.  Potes was our plan…until 9am on the morning we were due to leave, when the weather forecast was still so iffy for Potes we couldn’t bear it, so we changed our plans and headed instead for Cuenca – where the sun was out!

Leaving mid-afternoon, Cuenca is a good 5 hours drive from us, via Madrid.  It never seems that long when you’re on your way on holiday though!  And we were lucky, no rain all the way, in fact mainly blue skies with some interesting cloud fronts going on around Somosierra.

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First Night

We were heading first to the southern half of Cuenca province, with the idea of working our way back up towards home from there.  Our first night stop was the town of Uclés, not far off the A3 motorway from Madrid.  This town is famous for its huge monastery and the view on the approach is really quite something, with the monastery at one end of the hill, the town walls running along the top and the castle ruins at the other end.

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We’d seen that there was an AC area here, but also that it was quite isolated.  Well, we needed to change our waters anyway, so we went out to it, and yes, it was a little isolated with no one else there on a Tuesday night, unsurprisingly.

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We decided to do as someone else on Park4Night had evidently done, and drive up to the monastery and sleep there instead.  There’s a large esplanade between the monastery and the tower, and although we were also alone here, it felt pretty safe and comfortable – and completely flat too.  We had a little wander around the huge building, and got a bit of sunset, before settling down for a very quiet night.

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Day 1

Waking up in front of the monastery, it would have been rude not to visit, so we waited until 10am for it to open, and then enjoyed an hour of audio-guided visit around the building and cloister.

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Very enjoyable too, with its pièce de résistance being the beautiful wooden ceiling of the refectory.  An interesting history too, it had been used as a monastery, barracks, hospital and school amongst other things.

After that we thought it would be rude not to have a walk through the town to the castle ruins, which was very pleasant, and we discovered Uclés had also been the scene of an important battle during the Wars of Independence in 1809 – you can see why they’d be fighting over such a place!

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Our next stop of the day was just a little further south along the A3, the Roman site of Segóbriga.  This relatively large Roman settlement was formed as a result of the lapis specularis mines in the area – a form of gypsum which forms clear crystal sheets, used by the Romans for windows and the like.  With easy van parking, and a nice bilingual visitor’s centre, its highlights are its Roman theatre and amphitheatre, as well as the rest of the remains, including the location of a Roman circus.  Added to the mix were the lovely poppies all over the site (and all over Cuenca it turned out) – all in all a great place to visit.

We were getting hungry after our walk around Segóbriga, and headed off to our lunch spot – the very lovely town of Alarcón, even further south into Cuenca province.  Again, thanks to Park4Night for the tip off on a great viewpoint area next to a tower before entering the village – wow, what a view and what a great lunch spot!  It’s billed as a place for larger motorhomes to park up too, as the town is entered through three successive rather tight old gates in the walls, so this would definitely be the better option – although it was a little windy it has to be said.  The view from the spot really shows Alarcón in all its glory, its three towers, extensive walls and gates, old bridge, castle and churches, all set on the meanders of the green Júcar river.

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After lunch we dared to tackle the three gates, no problem for our size it turned out, and parked up in a lovely flat parking area inside the walls – with a clear sign saying parking allowed, but no camping.

In the brief few hours I’d had to research Cuenca before leaving on our trip, I had found an excellent website to help out with hikes in the area – Senderos de Cuenca.  From that site, I had found the PR CU-71 Hoz de Alarcón, which helpfully started right next to the car park.  First taking us through a gate in the wall and down to the river, we circled the meander alongside the river on a very pleasant track, before coming to the Puente de Tébar.  Here there was a lovely gentle climb up past the Torre de los Alarconcillos to the Torre de Cañavate, with great views back over the town and a few welcome benches.  Then we headed off into the undergrowth above the river, before heading back through the wheat fields and down again to the Puente del Picazo and back to our start.  It was a highly recommendable walk, with great views throughout.

Back at Berta we were pretty hot and sweaty and were smugly contemplating our ability to have a lovely warm shower – which we did…until the water stopped flowing half way through!  Hmm.  We resorted to boiling some water and showering from a saucepan and a cup, and then Gonzalo spent a good while changing fuses and trying to work out what was wrong with (presumably) the pump.  To no avail, and after much faffing, we decided instead of going on to Cuenca to overnight as planned, we would stay put as it was by now quite late.  We went off for a walk around town, and ended up at the castle, now a lovely Parador.  We’d learnt from previous experience that Parador food, if you get some raciones rather than the à la carte menu, is actually not that expensive, and always very good…so…to compensate for the water issues and a rather frustrated Gonzalo, we treated ourselves to some raciones on the patio terrace with a few glasses of wine thrown in.  It certainly melted our worries away and was a very pleasant evening – so lovely to be able to sit and eat dinner outside!

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Day 2

We had a very good night’s sleep in the car park, with one other van conversion next to ours.  We filled up every water container we had from the water fountain in the morning, before turning on the tap, and water appeared!  A mystery.  After breakfast, we headed off out of Alarcón, with one last glimpse from the viewpoint, and on towards Cuenca, our target for the day.

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On the way to Cuenca we got a little side tracked however!  As we drove through the village of Valeria, we discovered there was another Roman settlement to be visited there, so we parked up in the main square, with a lovely old town hall and easy flat parking.

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We walked up to the Roman area, and the visitors centre was shut, but the gate was open…so in we went!  The site itself is huge, and sprawled over a hill, with beautiful gorges beneath – here were the original hanging houses of Cuenca it appears!  (NB there’s also a Park4Night spot in the gorge below, where we could see people climbing, and it would have been a superb place to overnight no doubt)  It’s well looked after, and interesting information panels (all in Spanish) around the site, which has a fairly obvious circuit to visit.  Poppies everywhere again, the gorges below, and it’s an active site with archaeologists, volunteers and other workers on site continuing the excavations and restoring areas of the site.  There are also a couple of welcome structures to provide a bit of shade on the circuit, which takes in the hanging houses, a Romanesque church ruin, medieval walls, the Roman basilica, forum and surrounding buildings, and the huge and well conserved cisterns under the forum…and it’s clear from just looking around the surrounding land that there is waaaay more to be unearthed here.  It’s quite an exciting site to visit as a result, and would be worth visiting again in the future to see how they’re getting on with it.

We then headed on to Cuenca, with the aim of parking at the top of the old town in a large car park (on Park4Night of course) up past the castle.  Now, this sounds simple.  But we had to navegate new Cuenca before we could get to old Cuenca…and there are a lot of one way streets, one wrong turn and you’re done for!  Eventually we made it – again through a couple of tight-ish arches in the old town so maybe not the best approach for larger motorhomes.  The car park, however, was huge and had plenty of space to park up (and buses up there too).

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We were on a mission to find lunch, and trying – and failing – not to be distracted by the stunning views as we walked down through the old town to the cathedral.  Old Cuenca is perched on an outcrop between the Júcar and Huecar rivers, with cliffs on two sides, and its famous casas colgantes (hanging houses) on either side.  The Huecar side also has a former monastery, now Parador, on an outcrop on the other side of the river, with an impressive wrought iron bridge connecting the two sides of the gorge.  So yes, the views are pretty awesome!

Finding a restaurant in the old town of a touristy city like Cuenca with no prior knowledge or research has to be one of our least favourite things when travelling I think!  You never know whether you’re in a tourist trap place or not.  The place we eventually chose was most likely just that, but had a nice location, on the site of a former gothic church, now courtyard, and the food was half decent.

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After lunch we went to explore the main square and the cathedral, which I read in my dated Lonely Planet Spain was rather uninteresting.  Well we hazard to disagree!  A beautiful facade, and inside some very modern and colourful stainted glass, and a series of interesting ceilings, the painted domed ceiling of one of the chapels, the painted carved wooden ceiling of the chapter house (surely the same craftsman as Uclés), and the very worn sculptured stone ceiling in another of the chapels.  The cloister was rather something and nothing, that’s true, but overall a worthwhile visit.

We then wandered down to get a better view of some of the taller hanging houses – quite a sight.

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As we wandered back up through the old town back towards the castle ruins and the van, we popped our heads into the Iglesia San Pedro – only 1€ and aside from an interesting shape and a nice chapter house, the bonus of climbing the tower for even more views over the old city.

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After walking back up through the castle walls to the van, we headed off towards our next stop, along the Júcar river gorges, with great views back towards Cuenca on the way.

We were headed for our last stop of the day, the famous Cuidad Encantada – and weren’t quite sure what to expect, just that it was famous and we must visit!  And it was open til 8pm, so easily doable later in the day.  Being a week day, there was no one else there, plenty of flat parking and several bars and restaurants, and we were JUST there early enough to still enter – 1.5 hours before they close is the limit!  So what is it?!  Well, this area of Cuenca province is predominantly limestone, and through years of erosion there are areas, like this one, where it has been eroded into curious shapes, limestone pavements, gullies, and the like.  It’s really quite spectacular, set amongst the pine trees, with lots of lovely wild flowers and a clear trail throughout with various limestone “figures” to spot for kids and adults alike.  It’s about an hour’s easy stroll to get around the route, but takes longer as there are so many photo opportunities!

After this we continued on to our overnight stop – our first campsite ever!  There are not that many around to choose from in the area to be honest, and as we were now entering the Parque Natural Serranía de Cuenca, where, being a national park, technically free camping is not allowed.  We stopped on the way at a pretty viewpoint over the gorges of the park, the Ventanilla del Diablo.

We were heading for Camping Las Majadas, in the middle of the park, and 3km on from the village of the same name.  14€ without EHU, which we didn’t need, seemed pretty ok.  It’s a pretty basic site, choosing the right shower which had flow and the door locked was fun!  But all clean and essentially in working order.  It was pretty empty, with the exception of about 20 permanent looking caravans – and a small collection of Land Rovers!  We already knew the pool (which looked very inviting) was not open until July, so that was out, but the bar and central toilet block were all open.  Easy water changing facilities for Berta, and we chose our pitch – all ever so slightly sloping, so chocks in order.  A bit of a cool wind stopped us from enjoying dinner outside, but we had a very good and quiet night’s sleep.

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Day 3

We woke up, had breakfast, had a shower and put on our walking gear – we were off to the most well trodden walk in the area, just southeast of Las Majadas village – PNSC 02 Los Callejones.  It’s the same deal as the Ciudad Encantada – eroded limestone rocks.  But a different vibe here, as you’re wild!  The road to the parking area and picnic area is tarmacked, so easy drive there, and there’s lots of parking and lovely shaded picnic benches.  The walk itself starts right there, and is very well signposted throughout – although a few fallen trees mean you have to keep your wits about you in a few places.  You don’t want to be getting lost here – it’s a complete maze of rocks and trees!  We were the only ones there on a weekday morning – and were a little nervous leaving Berta, but she was fine.  The walk takes about an hour and a half, and there are lots of lovely set benches throughout for a rest under a shady rock!  The formations are once again impressive, and the route is carefully laid out to see everything (careful you keep to your signs, as it doubles back on itself at the end – keep going forward and don’t get confused with the signs going back the other way!).

Back at Berta – and no water in the taps again!  So no post walk showers for us – luckily the walk had been a pretty shady one.  On the advice of the guy at the campsite, we then headed off back past the campsite on a tarmacked track through the park towards a picnic spot for lunch.  There were various choices, all well marked on the map he had given us that morning of the park, and we decided to head to a riverside spot at Las Lagunillas.  The drive takes longer than it looks, as the road is indeed tarmacked, but is very slow and windy.  The cut off to Las Lagunillas was also tarmacked of sorts, but was VERY potholed – I wouldn’t be wanting to do this in a motorhome!  It took us up to a large two-part picnic area, with benches, covered eating areas and a short signposted walk through the trees, and the curious lagoon of El Lagunilla – a perfectly clear turquoise watered doline in amongst the undergrowth (just over the wooden footbridge).  We chose our shady spot next to the river by a nice stone picnic table, and had a very pleasant lunch and siesta.

Post-siesta, we got ourselves together and continued on to Cuenca’s other famous natural attraction, the Nacimiento del Rio Cuervo.  Again, we weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we knew it was another “must”.  It evidently gets very crowded, as like the Ciudad Encantada had a huge car park with hotel, restaurants, bars etc.  A few people around as this was now Friday afternoon, but very quiet in general.  We parked up in the car park, felt safe leaving Berta as there were people picnicking there on the benches, and people coming and going slowly.  The inital walk to the waterfalls is boardwalked and suitable for wheelchairs/prams etc.  The falls are lovely, super clear water again, and falling into lovely pools.  We continued walking along the river towards the nacimiento (source), where the water comes gushing out of a small cave mouth in a very picturesque scene.

We then decided that as it was a lovely walking temperature to continue through the pine forests on the marked extension walk, the Sendera La Turbera.  This was very pleasant and easy – we did it in flip flops (I think I would maybe recommend something slightly more sturdy though to be fair), and the bonus of finding some lovely orchids along the way.

Back at Berta, we were then going direction campsite again – this time to a site we’d seen on Park4Night with great reviews, just over the border into Guadalajara province (to our surprise!).  A lovely lovely drive there through the high plains of Cuenca and down into the gorges of the Parque Natural del Alto Tajo.

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The Camping de La Serradora is located next to the Tajo river, at the entrance to the gorges, and is a lovely rural campsite.  20€ the night without EHU, it’s basic, with just one (clean) toilet block in the middle, and again, slightly sloping pitches needing chocks, but plenty of shade, stunning views around, river access – and the massive bonus of really lovely owners!  They live onsite, so it’s open all year except Christmas, and so is the bar/restaurant.  We had a few beers sat outside Berta with the gorge walls towering above us, before heading to the terrace of the bar for dinner.  We were too tempted by the offer of locally picked wild mushrooms – in fact everything on the menu looked delicious and good home cooked food.  We had two wild mushroom dishes and they were finger lickin’ good – we were impressed!  Lots of wild mushroom conversation with the owners too!

Day 4

After another very quiet night’s sleep we woke up to the sun rising on the cliffs of the gorge.

We decided to try walking a bit of the gorge we’d seen the day before.  We parked by the bridge on the border of Cuenca and Guadalajara, but as this was all a bit unplanned, it was basically just walking up a track.  The scenery was spectacular, however, with the gushing Tajo river on one side, and tall gorge cliffs on the other.  It was a pleasant stroll, easy walking, just up as far as we had time for and back again.

We did manage to top it off a bit more satisfactorily though!  We were pretty hot and sweaty by the time we got back to the van.  The water was not working yet again (it had worked in between times – very random), so we didn’t have the option of showering in the van as we’d have liked…but the river itself looked very tempting…so we walked on past the van along a vague path, marked as a GR route, through orchid filled meadows alongside the river and road (it was very picturesque), and after about 10 minutes came upon the most fabulous waterhole in the river, so clear and perfect…too tempting…so we treated ourselves to a little river swim (and clean off!) – although it was absolutely freezing!  Good job there was no one around to see us or hear us squealing like little piggies!

Now nice and clean and fit to return to the populated world, we went back up the road into Cuenca, heading for the last tour of the morning at the Mina Romana at the village of Cueva del Hierro.  The village name (Iron Cave) says it all – these are Roman iron ore mines – in use to various extents until 1963.  There’s a big flat car park with a great playground and picnic benches, which is also a Park4Night spot (and a good one by the looks of it), and the tour of the mine – complete with helmets, takes around an hour.  It’s in Spanish of course, and very interesting – different to any other cave or mine tour we’ve been on.

We then headed off back into Guadalajara to find a lunch spot.  There were a few Park4Night options off the road towards Molina de Aragón, but they were down tracks, and we felt poor Berta had had enough track driving for one trip.  So we continued on up the road until we found a surprise viewpoint – not marked from the road – overlooking the gorges and river Tagus below.  A nice shady tree to park under, and we snuck out our table and chairs to enjoy a lovely lunch with a view.

The we continued, up and down the roads and bends, before dropping down to a spectacular view of our next stop – Molina de Aragón.  Wow, the approach from the CM 210 road is really quite a good one!  The town has a huge castle complex sprawling over a hill above the town – quite a view.

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We parked just on the approach into town, before the Museo de Molina, and decided to see if we could find ourselves an ice cream.  It was a pleasant walk around the old town, some impressive buildings and a series of nice squares – with views of the castle to be glimpsed along the narrow streets.  We didn’t actually walk up to the castle itself as it was pretty hot by this point, but after our lollies (we failed to find actual ice cream) we took the N 211 westward, which borders the castle walls, so we sort of got a bit of a closer look.

Then we were in for about an hour’s drive to our overnight.  We were heading roughly homeward now, and had spotted a Park4Night which had really really good reviews at Medinaceli – on the junction of the A2 and A15 motorways and just in Soria province.  We’d read the town was pretty, but didn’t really know what to expect as such.  And wow.  It’s beautiful!  We approached via Salinas de Medinaceli (salinas being salt pans), which did indeed have salt pans, and also a fabulous view up to Medinaceli itself.  And up is the word, as the old town is perched on top of a plateau (you’re completely unaware of the motorways), and the view from this angle took in its highlights – the castle, the town walls, the 1st century Roman arch, and the Collegiate church.  It’s another of the Pueblos Más Bonitos de España and very rightly so.  And it has the most excellent AC area!  It’s actually an extensive flat grassy/hard surface car park, for buses, cars and motorhomes – no spaces marked, and full and well working AC services in the corner.  It’s made very clear this is not a camping spot – but you can overnight no problem.  And you’re right by the old town, with views overlooking the aforementioned salinas and to the mountains on the horizon.  It couldn’t really be better.  It’s evidently a popular spot, there were about 10 vans by the end of the night, and rightly so – lets hope people look after it and respect the rules there.

We had arrived in good time, so made the most of the beautiful warm, clear evening to have a stroll around town and take in the main sights.  Lots of little side streets, and a lovely main plaza too, it’s fun to explore.

Day 5

Another very quiet night – although the church bells ring at 7am!  And quite a serenade on a  Sunday morning at least.  We decided to have another walk around town that morning to see if we might find the church open, but not before making some friends in another Ducato after inquiring about their full door mosquito net, who amongst other things told us there was also a Roman mosaic floor to be found in the street – thanks Salvador and Lola!  We popped into the tourist office to get a map (just next to the car park), and there was indeed such a mosaic, which added to remind you of the Roman roots – along with its arch of course.  We walked from there out to the castle, which to be fair wasn’t anything special, but had a view down to a lovely chapel on the main road.  We did indeed find the church open, and got to see the famous Cristo de Medinaceli – although the church otherwise was fairly unsurprising.  A nice drink on a terrace, and then back to Berta.

Then it was home time…but of course we couldn’t resist a nice lunch stop on the way!  We decided to try a Park4Night I’d read about on another blog recently, in an area we know well in Soria – the area southeast of Burgos around the very lovely town of Covarrubias.  Now, as we’ve visited here before several times, we didn’t make any detours to for example Covarrubias, Santo Domingo de Silos, the Yecla gorge, or the ruins of San Pedro de Arlanza monastery.  We did head just past the latter though, to a spot on the Arlanza river, where once again we felt comfortable getting out our table and chairs, and enjoyed a lovely riverside lunch in the shade – a great spot.

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And then it really was hometime!  We’d certainly had a great trip, one to remember, fabulous weather throughout, warm to hot during the day, and cool nights.  Great walking weather in the morning and later afternoon, and some great walks and visits.  A bit of everything really!  We’d highly recommend Cuenca!

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