Manzanares – exploring the ologies

This is one of the paradors I haven’t stayed at before and on arrival I know why. It’s address is Km 175 A4 and it really is right beside the very noisy motorway from Madrid to Cordoba and beyond. The double glazing’s good behind the typical galleried facade so in the rooms it’s fine but by the excellent pool there’s a hum of traffic all the time.

However this wasn’t going to be a stay in the hotel all day stay so no real problem. On arrival after my Don Quixote day I walked the twenty minutes into the centre. To be fair it’s a fairly dull town with a few good buildings – theatre very deco, church one very modern and some very ancient as well as a good plaza.

However this part of the trip was for swimming (tick), writing (tick) chilling (semi-tick) and exploring the local ecology, archeology and oenology (two and a half ticks).

Not far away are the Tablas de Daimiel a national park wetlands area on the Guadiana River. It had a good visitor centre with lots of dioramas of flora and fauna at different times of the year and some well maintained footpaths and being around lagoons and marshes not too much up except to an observatory from which I was able to spot very little. Coots and heron don’t really count but there were some small birds whizzing about that I could’n’t identify. A very pleasant circular walk of three kilometres in the morning before it got too hot.

My next stop was the provincial capital Ciudad Real again new to me. It had a couple of really nice squares, some deco buildings, or as they call it hereĀ modernisme, and felt quite buzzy. There were some great posting boxes too. It provided a good lunch stop in the shade as the temperature reached 41 Celsius.

Friday’s outing was to the Motilla del Azuer a Bronze Age settlement with the Iberian peninsula’s deepest well or so I’d read in Wikipedia or Tripadvisor. It seemed quite close by. Once again I decide to make my archaeology trip in the morning before it hots up. The SatNav directed me after 5 km onto a dirt road. Now I’m quite familiar with the fact that in large parts of the country roads don’t have tarmac but are perfectly serviceable. This was not really the best I’ve come across and when I found myself behind two ghost tractors it was second gear for ages and then a complete stop to snap a group of melon pickers. I couldn’t help thinking about our picking problems in agriculture back home as this gang of Moroccans – I did ask if they’d mind – made a pick, pass and stack line onto a trailer.

On then to the Motilla to find it closed and with a notice saying you could only visit by appointment in guided tours – if only I’d checked their website first. There are some good photos, one of which I’ve borrowed, but I had to make do with this one as the next available tour is on 15 September when I’ll be at Vicarage Road for Watford v Manchester United – full of confidence. So a half tick for that one but a fun, slightly scary journey into the vast interior. The Motilla is exactly in the middle of nowhere, an accord I’d erroneously bestowed on Tembleque which is much closer to somewhere.

I am familiar with the product of Valdepenas – most excellent wines and as luck would have it I chose to visit the city during the Fiesta del Vendemmia y Vino (harvest and wine). Oenology – tick. The main square was heaving with extra cafe counters, a band was doing its sound check and a red London bus was an attractive tapas outlet. The great thing was that the atmosphere was suffused with the aroma of grilled sardines and as I ordered a beer I was presented with a whole sardine and a piece of bread as my freebie. So lunch consisted of a stroll round the square: pork skewers at one, chicken wings, tortilla and that’s enough beer as I have to drive. But before all that I’d been to the Cultural Centre that had a fine art and sculpture exhibition. Another spectacle that caught my attention was the excellent stencilled iron street names and the umbrellas that hung over the main shopping streets. These are a unique feature of the city – 4000 of them are strung up in early summer to alleviate the heat, provide shade for shoppers and act as a tourist attraction. I loved them with their Spanish flag reds and yellows and colours of provincial and local emblems. My final visit had to be to the big statue of the Don at the end of the main street. It’s a large bronze and there was its maquette in the exhibition I went to earlier.

I came back to Manzanares via La Solana which is on the Ruta de Don Quijote and I wondered how he would have coped with these modern contraptions.

The town has a fine plaza and church, a ducal palace now the town hall, a cinema themed bar and is famous for growing saffron without which no paella would be complete.