Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Taking the Road Less Travelled to the Hanging Houses of Cuenca, Spain

When planning our three some week venture into Spain, I had pretty much decided that Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Granada, and Barcelona were the musts, but all the while, even though it was off path, a journey to Cuenca persistently pushed its way back into my travel plan.  I do not regret that this off-guidebook destination... dismissed by some of the major savants of travel as too far from the main sightseeing priorities.. clung steadfast to our itinerary.

I researched the journey to Cuenca ad nauseum.. concerned that it might take our auto-based trip off on desolate roads far from civilization -- yeah yeah, I know -- using google earth et al to explore the terrain long before our rental car began the five-hour trip through the rugged, rusty-colored land of central Spain from Granada to Cuenca. No matter,  I just had to see the houses that had clung desparately to the edge of a cliff for over 500 years.

Cuenca like much of Spain retains the mysterious blend of Moorish and Christian stemming from its history of conquests.   When the Moors conquered Spain they spotted a limestone ridge between the Jucar and Huecar rivers and built a fortress-town from which to control the vast area known as the Kura de Kunka ), in the center of the caliphate of Córdoba -- in Spanish, Cuenca was born.  In the era of the crusades (12th century), a Christian town was built over the Moorish one spreading  down from the crest of the hill.  As the population expanded, the fortified upper town became dominated by Cuenca's churches and convents. The famous World Heritage Casas Colgados (Hanging Houses) are but a few remaining of hundreds of cliff-hugging dwellings built in the 15th century. These were originally part of a palace that later served as the city's town hall. 

Our plan with respect to Cuenca, in addition to seeing the famous houses, was to tick off another goal of the trip - to stay at many of the paradores of Spain ( a topic for another post).  So our journey after rolling through the oddly manicured lands immediately outside of Cuenca's more modern section took up us the winding road to the Parador of Cuenca.  This Parador noted as one of the best in Spain is in the former convent of San Pablo overlooking the Hoz del Huecar gorge with its sheer walls and luxuriant vegetation. The open courtyard, cloistered hallway that surrounds it, former chapel (obviously identified because of the religious paintings) now the hotel bar all added to the historic charm of the hotel.  While accomodations were modest, they were pleasant and comfortable enough, and we loved lingering at the tiny bar sipping Spanish wine with tapas as we chatted with the bartender and gazing at the overwhelming views of the ancient casas clinging precipitously to the edge of a natural wonder. 

While seeing first hand this amazing World Heritage site is enough of a reason to visit Cuenca, you can also wander into the old town of Cuenca (if you stay at the Parador -- you can get there across the iron-fortified stone bridge that crosses the gorge or take the road and get there by car.)  Once across the gorge you can visit the Muiseo de Arte Abstracto housed in one of the casas.  For the non-vertically challenged there is also a restaurant, Meson Casas Colgadas, next to the museum with vistas of the gorge.

Getting there: A fairly new AVE high-speed rail train connetcs Madrid – Atocha station and Cuenca – Fernando Zobel station, providing travellers with frequent  everyday accessibilit, reducing the journey to only 50 minutes. RENFE also operates a non high-speed service that gets to Cuenca  in 3 hours from Madrid. Auto Res, a bus operator, links Madrid to Cuenca with a 2 hour or 2:30 hour trip duration. The A-40 motorway, connects the city with the A-3 at Tarancon, 82 km away from Madrid.

1 comment:

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