Tag Archives: Tembleque

Northern Spain – The Plaza Mayor and an Updated Top Ten

Cities of Castilla y Leon

Tomorrow we would be returning to the coast in Cantabria and so now we had come to end of our drive through Castilla y León and our visit to the main cities although, and I apologise for this, we had missed out Soria.

It would have been just too much of a detour as we came to the end of our travels but I have promised to go back one day and apologise for this rudeness because Soria has one of the most bizarre festivals in Spain where once a year local men demonstrate their faith and fearlessness (stupidity) by walking over red hot coals!

We had visited a lot of new cities and it was time now to reassess our top ten list of favourite Plaza Mayors.  The more places we visit the more difficult this becomes so I have now extended this list from five to ten and introduced two categories – cities and towns.

Salamanca Plaza Mayor

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 – all day drinking, littering and anti-social behaviour.

In Spain the Plaza Mayor 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 complimentary tapas it is the best place to be to get a feeling for the town and its people.

Plaza Mayor Siguenza Castilla-La Mancha

In the search for real Spain (not the coasts and the Costas), in the past five 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 favourites.

We considered Ávila,  Mérida and ValladolidCáceres and Santiago de CompostellaOviedo and León  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 in each category but could not reach consensus on the actual order.

Valladolid Spain

First the cities:  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 in Extremadura, because of its unspoilt medieval charm, its grand palaces and dusty, sunburnt aura and then Salamanca with its grand baroque architecture and after that Alcala de Henara and the Plaza de Cervantes with its statues and gardens and grandly colonnaded perimeter.  These were all from previous visits to Spain but we both agreed that after this journey then we would simply have to add Palencia  because of its unspoilt charm and the timeless quality of the buildings and architecture – a real gem!

And so to the towns: the unpretentious and functional Ciudad Rodrigo and reeking of the Spanish Peninsula War in every crack and crevice, Chinchón with its open balconies and bullfights and Siguenza with its stone simplicity, cobbled alleys, sharp stairways, deep arches, shady courtyards and stone buttresses leaning across the street and leaving barely a single shaft of sunlight and which was the probably the closest yet that I have been looking for in Spain.  Almagro with its stone colonnaded arches and Tuscan columns supporting overhead galleries all painted a uniform shade of green and fully glazed in a central European style which makes this place unique in all of Spain.  Finally Tembleque which we visited on a dreary overcast day but despite that there was no ignoring the quality of its fine Plaza.

That was a difficult debate and lasted as long as a couple of San Miguels and two dishes of olives but once we had finished we drained our glasses and returned to the Meson del Cid to prepare for a second night in the town.

Chinchon Madrid Spain

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Spain, 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.

After a second equally good three course breakfast we reluctantly packed our bags and checked out of the hotel.  It was still hammering down outside and when we emerged from the underground car park we were trying to find our way in driving rain and in some places through flooded streets.  For some reason we found it more difficult than it really should have been to find our way out of the labyrinth of one-way streets and with wind screen wipers on double speed I am certain that we did two or three circuits of the town before we found the main road and a filling station and then plotted a course north towards Madrid with a couple of stops planned along the way.

To begin with our route took us along some nerve jangling minor roads but eventually we found some proper highways and the pace picked up as we continued to travel north.  The rain was easing and with better weather to the west I was becoming increasingly confident of my eleven o’clock prediction.

After an hour or so we started to get close to Consuegra, famous for its castle and windmills and after getting confused at a motorway junction we eventually began to approach the outskirts of what can only really be described as a town of extreme contrasts.  From what we saw of Consuegra it is scruffy and uncared for, the streets are grimy and the roads full of precarious potholes but rising high above all of the disappointment is a line of whitewashed, blue domed windmills standing sentinel over the town and the adjacent plain.

Don Quixote’s windmills sit in a line along the top of a steep hill and they look down on the flat red dirt plains of La Mancha, their once free flowing sails now arthritically stiff, tied down and no longer spun by the wind. They are almost smug in what is now their supremely safe tourist protected environment.

The weather was wild and showing no signs of improvement as the wind moaned through the sail wires and as we walked between the black sails and admired the bulk of the castle nearby we drew strange glances from bus tourists who were wrapped up in coats and scarves and gloves that were much more appropriate than our linens and short sleeves.

Tembleque Plaza Mayor Spain

It was cold so we didn’t stay long and drove back through the untidy town and rejoined the Autovia heading north.  Our next stop was the town of Tembleque but when we pulled in and parked, although it had finally stopped raining, we were not terribly hopeful. It was dreary and overcast and the Plaza Mayor that we had stopped to see with its balconies, painted colonnades and stone pillars (not unlike Almagro but without the sunshine) looked disappointing and dreary and sadly won’t be going into our top five so after a quick visit to the tourist information museum we were soon back on the road.

We were on our way now to Aranjuez and the site of a Royal Palace of King Juan Carlos but the road passed by the town of Ocaña which is famous for two things, a Peninsular War battle that was the biggest defeat of the war for the defending Spanish army and for having the third largest Plaza Mayor in Spain after Madrid and Salamanca.  I am not sure about that because we never actually got there but it might well have the biggest prison in Spain right next door and on account of the dodgy looking men hanging around the gate and the dreary weather we gave it a miss and drove straight by.

And so in mid afternoon we arrived in Aranjuez, parked the car, stopped at a café where we sat near the window and lamented the woeful weather and then walked the short distance to the Royal Palace.  King Juan Carlos has eight Royal Palaces to choose from but I suspect he doesn’t stay at this one very often because it didn’t look very ‘lived in’, if you know what I mean; most are close to Madrid and one is on the island of Mallorca.  We walked through the gardens and then paid the entrance fee to go inside and take the tour through a succession or rooms (all the same, by the way) and then some exhibits about life at the Royal Spanish court through the ages.

To be honest the day was in danger of becoming a bit of a let-down compared with those that had gone before and I think we were both a bit disappointed when we returned to the car and set off for our final destination, Chinchon, which we knew well on account of visiting there a couple of times previously.  However, by some minor miracle as we drove the short distance the grey cloud began to shatter and disperse and by the time we approached one of our favourite places in Spain there was at last some welcome blue sky and although my eleven o’clock prediction was at least four hours overdue we were glad of that!

Royal Palace of Aranjuez Spain