Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Castile - Day 1, La Mancha

After a couple of hours we reluctantly left the attractive little town of Chinchón with its beautiful square basking in the afternoon sun and after threading our way through the narrow streets twice by some miraculous stroke of good fortune found ourselves on the right road and heading south to the town of Belmonte in the province of Cuenca where we were due to stay for three nights. After a short while the scenery began to change and it became much flatter but still with olive trees and vines and fields of pretty pastel colours and at some point we passed out of the region of Madrid and into Castilla-La Mancha and we were in the land of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza but the first windmills that we saw soon after arriving were not the charming corn grinding mills of Cervantes but modern wind turbines instead.

It was about a hundred kilometres to Belmonte and the road passed through several villages and it was busy, full of lorries and very slow. The navigator fell asleep and I became frustrated by the lack of progress and when an opportunity presented itself left the regional road and joined the motorway instead. This was much easier because for many Spaniards, driving on motorways is too expensive and the traffic density is gloriously low. This is in contrast to the main trunk roads running parallel to the motorways, which are jammed by drivers who are reluctant, or simply cannot afford, to pay the high motorway tolls. Toll motorways in Spain are a luxury for the wealthy and the high charges discourage most Spaniards, particularly truckers, from using them and add to the irritating congestion on other roads.

Two junctions of the motorway cost €5.20 but it was worth it and we left it at Mota del Cuerva fifteen kilometres from Belmonte. So far we had done ever so well but with the navigator still drowsy and disorientated this was where we managed to get confused and lost for the first time and had to double back and make several detours before emerging on the right side of the town next to a hill with a row of whitewashed Castilian windmills. We stopped to see and take photographs and visited the little museum and admired the views over the flat plains on either side of the elevated ridge above the town.

Leaving the windmills we drove to Belmonte and arrived at about six o’clock in a curiously quiet and deserted little town. After a little bit of uncertainty we found the hotel Palacio Buenavista Hospedestra and checked in. It was one of those ‘have I made the right choice’ moments that you can sometimes get on arrival but it turned out to be a delightful and ours was a big room with traditional furniture, a red tiled floor and a good view over the hotel garden and the church next door. Very quickly the moment of doubt passed and I went out to find a shop for a bottle of screw top wine and some beer. This took some finding but eventually I came across a mini-market tucked down a side street and the purchases were made. It was a nice town and I have to say that I have a preference for hotels in smaller towns rather than staying in the big cities because on the whole they are friendlier and almost always cheaper!

Later we walked out to find somewhere to eat but this was a sleepy little place and there wasn’t a great deal to do so we found a local bar and went inside for a drink. There were some local customers gathered around the bar and a family at an adjacent table. There was a sign on the wall that said "No está permitido fumar" but it was next to a cigarette machine and the rule obviously didn’t apply here because the air was thick with acrid smoke. Anti-smoking legislation became law in Spain on 1st January 2006 but for small bars and restaurants the legislation offers the owner the choice of going smoke free or not but if it doesn’t it means that customers under eighteen years old are allowed in that bar. This regulation was being flagrantly ignored as well. Compared to other European countries, where smoking in the workplace is banned altogether, the Spanish legislation is weak and confusing and it is estimated that smoking continues in 90% of all small Spanish bars.

It was a very traditional sort of place where the customers had that curious Spanish habit of throwing their litter on the floor just underneath the bar where there was a collection of papers, cigarette ends and other waste that made the place seem most untidy. Imagine doing that in the village pub and you’d be asked to leave I’m sure! They weren’t that used to foreign tourists either and the little girl with the family kept edging closer towards us driven on by curiosity but she kept a safe distance just in case we were visitors from another planet, and I suppose, to her, we might just as well have been.

With eating options in the town seriously limited (i.e. non-existent) we returned to the hotel and enjoyed a simple but enjoyable meal in the restaurant together with a bottle of local wine and then after an early start and a long day went back to the room and a good night’s sleep.


Jane said...

I love Spain - I love the people, the weather and the food. Its such a big country there is always somewhere new to see.

Andrew Petcher said...

Greece is still my favourite but Spain is catching up quickly