Road Trip Day 5 : Alarcón and Belmonte (Camino de la Santa Cruz)
Today was our last day with the castles and endless landscapes of Castilla-La Mancha and we were travelling through the lands of Don Quixote and El Cid. These vast plains are dotted with vineyards, almond and olive orchards, castles and windmills.
First stop was to one of the oldest castles in the region, again settled in a gorge on the Júcar River, Alarcón castillo rises above the flatlands and has its own natural moat. The area has been settled since prehistoric times and the first defences were built in the 8th century. Today the castle is home to a Parador but we’re not staying the night here. However we did make a quick stop in the village bar to warm up; we still have blue skies but gosh it really was cold today!
Next stop was our home for the night but also home to perhaps one of the most well known castles in the region, made famous by Charlton Heston in the film El Cid. This enormous building dominates the landscape and thankfully for us it was open for a visit. It has been renovated and extended over its lifetime and was really worth our detour.
Belmonte Castle was the incomparable setting for El Cid, film 1961 but El Cid was actually never here. The medieval castle, built on the hill of San Cristobal above the village of Belmonte, was built for the Marquis of Villena, Don Juan Pacheco in 1456 and was declared a historic monument in 1931. We toured the many rooms and exhibitions, at times the interior felt more like a grand home than a castle but outside, well… it was fabulous! We explored until the sun was setting. Another wonderful day!
Road Trip Day 6 : Banos de la Encina and Jaen (Camino Mozarabe)
Today we had a longer drive moving onwards down through Spain to one of the regions I adore the most; fabulous Andalucia. Although we had a long drive, nonetheless we planned to stop at another little Bonita Pueblo for lunch. Banos de la Encina boasts one of the oldest castles we’ve visited, completed in 980 and a very different in style from the others we’ve seen.
We explored the village and circled the castle (sadly we weren’t able to go inside) before stopping for a few tapas and cold drinks at a bar at the top of town, with a terrace overlooking the millions of olive trees that stretch as far as you can see. Gone was the cold wind from yesterday and today we had to eat in the shade; 17c isn’t at all shabby for mid December!
After lunch we headed off towards our home for the next few days, we rented a little house in the shadow of the enormous cathedral in Jaen. Tonight we planned a simple supper at home and we saved the exploring for tomorrow.
Road Trip Day 7 : Jaen (Camino Mozarabe)
It was nice to have a lazy morning in our little house before setting off to explore. After a late breakfast we set off to wander the old town, walking through a maze of narrow streets until we reached the Arab baths. Built in the 11th century and still well preserved, they were found under the the 16th century palace of Fernando de Torres y Portugal and were declared a National Monument in 1917. They are known as the Baños de Alí (Ali’s baths), and they were an important place for personal hygiene and also for social life in the city. Whilst they are no longer used it was a really interesting visit and they are remarkably well preserved.
After our visit we continued to stroll until we found a little table for two under the shade of palms and orange trees, and just around the corner form the mighty cathedral that dominates the centre of town. After lunch we explored the building and like so many of these incredible churches we left in awe of the majesty and craftsmanship but also sad for the horrors depicted within the artwork and artifacts.
We returned home for hot tea with a plan to return to see the Christmas lights and what a great plan that was! It felt like all of Jaen had come out to joined us. The Christmas lights were glorious, children laughed, almonds roasted, carols were sung and music played on street corners… and of course there was wine and tapas! We had a wonderful day in Jaen, it’s a small city without the grandeur of some Andalusian cities but nonetheless so full of character, it’s well worth a visit!
Road Trip Day 8 : Cordoba (Camino Mozarabe)
We last visited Cordoba over 20 years ago so it seemed like it was time to come back. We took the slow road through the olive groves of Jaen today, looking out at millions of olive trees as far as we could see for kilometres and kilometres. I wondered if it gets a little monotonous when walking the Mozarabe camino and also I wondered what the environmental impact is of such a monocrop?
We had lunch on the terrace of the Cordoba parador, unlike others we’ve stayed in this is a modern building with views over the old town and surrounding countryside and we now get free wine and 20% off in the restaurants! But tonight we decided to catch the bus into town and meandered the streets of the old town, sampling a little of the local gin en route.
Road Trip Day 9 : Cordoba (Camino Mozarabe)
We were totally gutted to learn that the Alcazar is closed on a Monday, a very timely reminder that I should check opening times before planning road trips! But that aside we had another glorious day re-discovering Cordoba. We learned that the Cathdral that had once been a great Mosque had also previously been a cathedral before that in 589! We explored, shopped, read history, ate and drank and people watched… it was another good day. This is definitely a place I’d like to revisit, we enjoyed the new part of town just as much as the old town and perhaps we won’t wait 20 years before the next visit, and certainly not on a Monday either!
We had dinner in the Parador this evening and celebrated the end of our road trip. Tomorrow we head down to the coast and Christmas with our family. The road trip far far exceeded our expectations, Spain continues to surprise me and I know there is still so much to discover!
Seasons Greetings everyone… wishing you a happy and healthy 2022!