As experienced in Toledo – Mondays things are closed – so I decided to travel out into the mountains of Cuenca (La Serrania de Cuenca National Park) and visit a place mentioned in the tourist footage but which we couldn’t use – the enchanted city – much too metaphorical for beginners in English. Fortunately it isn’t closed on Mondays. It’s a bit twee as a name but they also apply this epithet to the old town in Cuenca – La Ciudad Encantada. I suppose this one could have dumbed down and become Rock City because it is an area of the national park in which there are amazing rock formations in the limestone and sandstone topology that have evolved through water and wind erosion. There’s a three kilometre trail, very clearly marked, that takes you past these weird forms which have been categorised on a series of informative plaques in Spanish and English as The Dog, The Bears, the Face, The Roman Bridge, The Lovers of Teruel etc. My favourite was the Elephant and the Crocodile who really do seem to be having a fight.
As I entered a large guided tour was setting off so despite the marked route heading right, I decided to do it in reverse – feasible as it was circular. This proved a much more peaceful alternative as I discovered when I met the group half way. As I exited several more groups were starting out so I think I chose my moment well. The plaques apart from conveying the popular names for the rocks also provided useful notes on the flora and fauna including the fact that holly is an endangered species in Spain – I’ll bring some cuttings next time. After a while I crested a small ridge to confront The Sea of Stone – a limestone pavement that would have had my erstwhile head of geography and geology expert (Dee for those unfamiliar with her past) jumping with joy. I’ve seldom known anyone so excited by memories of a school field trip to the pavement above Malham Cove in Yorkshire! It is quite a sight and this one was impressive too. My visit included my first exposure to a little light rain on this trip – there were plenty of overhangs in the rocks when it got heavier for a minute or two but it didn’t really come to anything until a bit later on in the day.
After a pleasant stroll through an interesting area I decide to explore the mountains a little more and make a semi-circular return to Cuenca. This is real mountain scenery with hairpin bends, low gear sections and spectacular views. It’s the kind of terrain where you often see this sign and think – Oh yeah.
Well on this stretch there had been a rock fall within the last couple of days given the freshness of the markings on the road. There were still yellow road works signs for the guys clearing the rocks off the road.
I drove through the gorge of the river Jucar passing literally gorgeous scenery (sorry) and an extensive reservoir.
Finally after a section marked as ‘Mountain road – no markings’ – great fun and only one vehicle to negotiate in 20 km – the road emerged in the village of Cañete which had some staggering Moorish walls, a market and a bar/restaurant that looked good for lunch. I sat with a beer and some local very strong manchego cheese and homemade chorizo when the heavens opened and the town came rushing in.
It was clear that I was occupying a difficult spot for la padrona to accommodate everyone so I moved to great thanks from the incoming group. As you do, I became involved in conversation thereafter and enquired as to what their tee shirts signified. The women were wearing tops with the slogan ‘La peña de pantocha’. I knew that peña meant an association, society or interest group but I had to enquire what the word pantocha meant – should have learnt more slang in my youth. The ladies burst into laughter and indicated that it was a part of the feminine anatomy where as they put it ‘Entran las pollas, salen los niños’. My conclusion that in English they’d be called the C*** Club had them in complete hysterics with gleeful delight in the matched alliteration. The menfolk were all bearing tee shirts with the legend WILLYS with which I was familiar from a souvenir/craft shop in Palamos a while ago where as a winter gift they had a series of beautifully knitted ‘willy warmers’ ranging from thimble size to truncheon – you decide which to take home. I tried to explain that grammatically their slogans were wrong in that they should either be WILLY’S if they were celebrating one particular member or WILLIES if they were all involved. I spared them the Wilis in Giselle. We were deep into dangerous territory here as I couldn’t accept the free-flowing booze with my car parked opposite under the walls. It transpired that while the fiesta always had a religious element, a few years ago some of them had decided to sex it up a bit with some gender related fun and games so they had a number of contests between the sexes. I hate to think how the evening would have finished – it was quite rowdy when I left at 4.30. But my new friends did pose for a photo as I left. Spike in June babies in Cañete?
The drive back to Cuenca was less spectacular and after frequent checks on progress at the Oval – most satisfactory – I stayed at the parador for dinner and was introduced to a speciality of the area morteruelo which is a paté served warm made from hare, rabbit, partridge and a variety of spices which had a rillette-type texture and was very tasty. I followed it with another local speciality oxtail in red wine sauce and tried a wine denomination I’d never encountered before Uclès. A most acceptable tempranillo.