Spain is currently the World’s second most popular tourist destination after France, with the population of forty-five million being increased every year by as many as sixty million foreign visitors, 80% of whom make straight to the excellent beaches along the coasts.
But we are keeping away from the tourist hot spots and in the continuing search for real Spain have now visited Galicia and Cantabria in the north, old Moorish Andalusia in the south and the central regions of Castile-La Mancha, Extremadurs and Castilla y Leon. This time, still staying well away from the crowds and the busy Costas we had plans to visit the modern capital of Madrid and the old capital city of Toledo.
Geographically Spain is quite magnificent with green forests in the rainy north, mountains and vast plains in the central regions and deserts in the extreme south east. With an area of just over five hundred thousand square kilometers it is the second largest country in Western Europe after France and with an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres it is the second highest country in Europe after Switzerland.
It was an early morning Ryanair flight and in razor sharp clear skies the plane crossed the Atlantic Spanish coast somewhere close to the city of Santander and then we crossed the massive northern mountainous regions of northern Spain. It was barren and rocky with huge pine forests and blue shimmering lakes, long straight roads snaking between towns and villages and from above it was possible to begin to appreciate the immense size of the country.
Closer to Madrid the predominant browns gave way to vibrant greens and finally into a splintered mosaic of colours and contrasts as the aircraft made its final descent and landed at the airport. Then, apart from having to wait for an hour because the flight was early, collecting the car was gloriously simple as well and soon we were heading out of the city on the A3 motorway and on our way towards our destination, the town of Chinchón, about fifty kilometres south of Madrid.
This wasn’t quite so straightforward and soon we had gone astray in a labyrinth of new motorways and unfamiliar road signs and driving rules and as junctions flashed by before we could interpret the directions fairly soon we were lost and trusting to luck.
We knew that we were going in roughly the right direction because the sun in the south was in front of us and we recognised the city of Cordoba, also in the south, from the road signs. Lady luck was with us and we eventually reconciled the road that we were on with the road map that we had with us and we were relieved to discover that we were on roughly the right road and we hadn’t taken too much of a detour. Within a few kilometres we left the motorway and settled down to the second half of the journey on quieter rural roads that were much less demanding.
Not far out of the city the scenery became very attractive with acres of olive trees laden with fruit and fields of withering vines, dying back now, their work completed for another year. In the trees and on top of pylons there were stork nests and in the sky buzzards hung above us on the thermals looking for lunch in the fields below.
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.
It was an excellent hotel, modern but traditional with a pleasant garden and excellent facilities and we had a good deal on the rooms. We were mostly delighted with our accommodation and I say mostly because Micky, who considers himself an unlucky traveller when it comes to hotel room allocation, was the only one without a balcony. And it was a shame about that because the balcony was a really special feature, facing west and with a splendid view over the pretty garden.
We hadn’t been sure what sort of weather to prepare for, last year at this time in Andalusia it had been cold so we had travelled in warmer clothes just in case. We didn’t need them today however because the temperature was in the high twenties centigrade so we after we had settled in we changed into more appropriate summer clothing and left the hotel to make our way to the Plaza Mayor and some lunch.