SPOTLIGHT ON CASTILLA-LA MANCHA
Following an event held in London by the Castilla-La Mancha Tourism Board, the Spanish Tourist Office highlights some of the region's most undiscovered treasures in each of its five main provinces.
Castilla-La Mancha is Spain’s third largest autonomous region by area and is home to around just 2,000,000 manchegos making it one of Spain’s most sparsely populated regions. Although the region is most famous for the influential Spanish literature of Miguel Cervantes; Don Quixote, Castilla-La Mancha has a plethora of interesting sites that still remain widely unknown to many outside of the region. Here the Spanish Tourist Office outlines some of the most exciting parts of Castilla-La Mancha by its five provinces.
Toledo is the capital of Castilla-La Mancha and its capital is renowned for being one of the oldest cities in Europe. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 and once exemplified a city in which Christians, Jews, and Muslims all lived together in harmony. The city itself sits upon a hill alongside the Tagus River and is home to more than 100 hundred monuments such as the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, the Synagogues of Santa María La Blanca and El Tránsito, the Mosque of El Cristo de la Luz, the Alcázar, and much more. In June, the city of Toledo holds one of the world’s most famous processions, Corpus Christi, a sacred celebration that dates back to the 14th century in which more than 200kg of silver and gold are paraded through the streets in the form of a series of ornaments decorated in tapestries and scented flower garlands. The province has also been recognised for its world-class gastronomy having been named the Spanish capital of gastronomy in 2016. Michelin starred restaurants reside in the province such as Tierra in Torrico, El Carmen de Montesión in Toledo, and El Bohio in Illescas.
Cuenca is a remarkable city characterised by its ‘Hanging Houses’; amazing constructions built on the cliff edge that overlook neighbouring Huecar’s Gorge. One of these houses is home to the Abstract Art Museum where work of internationally renowned Spanish artists is displayed in a building as fascinating as the exhibits inside. Another of the city’s many stand-out museums is the Palaeontology Museum home to over 200 fossils taken from a range of sites including Pepito, the fossil of a hunchback dinosaur found in Las Hoyas, Cuenca. Visitors can enjoy life size models of the inhabitants that once roamed Cuenca millions of years ago. The region is also famous for its medieval festivals such as the Medieval Combat Festival in Belmonte and the festival of Alvarada Medieval of Cañete, where vibrant historical re-enactments bring the ancient sites to life and give visitors a taste of what life was once like in these parts. For those looking to enjoy the best of Spanish cuisine, Cuenca is also home to Michelin star restaurant Trivio, spearheaded by the ultra-talented Jesús Segura.
The region of Ciudad Real is full of expansive landscapes and rich heritage, from the plains of La Mancha to the almost unspoilt Mediterranean forests, its villages and towns that possess a certain artistic wealth. Some of Don Quixote’s most famous adventure episodes take place in this region. The capital of Ciudad Real is home to a number of attractions such as the three ancient gothic churches one dedicated to Santiago with a depiction of an apocalyptic seven-headed dragon, the church of San Pedro where the tomb of Don Fernando de Coca lies, and finally the Santa María del Prado Cathedral whose single nave dominates a magnificent baroque altarpiece. Perhaps the most stunning parts of the region of Ciudad Real are its national parks, Cabañeros National Park and Tablas de Daimiel, where a rich number of migratory birds visit while fauna species such as the Spanish imperial eagle, Eurasian black vulture, and a variety of deer reside. Events such as the Festival of Crosses, Festival of Moors and Christians, and La Pandorga take place in the region. However the most famous of them all is the International Festival of Classical Theatre held in Almagro, where the drama and literature of the Spanish golden age can be enjoyed centuries later. The region is also home to the Almadén Mining Park that has produced a third of the mercury ever consumed. The park is now a visitor attraction and allows visitors to travel down its ancient galleries and discover the life of a mercury miner.
Once known as Wad-al-Hayara by the Muslim community, Guadalajara is moulded into the geography of Castilla-La Mancha, specifically the tablelands of La Alcarria and the Alto Tajo Nature Reserve. The province is famous for its many castles such as Castle of Jadraque, the Castle of Molina de Aragón, or Castillo de Zafra which was featured in Game of Thrones. The Infantado Palace is the headliner of the many historical buildings being one of the most beautiful in Spain. It was originally commissioned in the 15th century by Don Íñigo López de Mendoza and now acts as the seat of the Guadalajara Museum. The province is also home to some of Spain’s more unique festivals such as the Fiesta de los Gancheros in August which celebrates the now forgotten tradition of Gancheros who would transport tree trunks from the mountains by rowing them downstream. Another of the more unique festivals in Guadalajara is the Medieval Train of Sigüenza that takes passengers from Madrid through Guadalajara accompanied by minstrels, stilt walkers, jugglers, and a host of other medieval characters.
Albacete has a reputation for being a happy, bustling, and vibrant city that acts as one of Spain’s most important hubs considering it is easily reached by train, road, or even by plane. The city is at a cultural cross roads and so possesses some of the most interesting cultural heritage and delicious cuisine. Albacete, the capital, has always been an energetic city with fairs and festivals dating as far back as 1200. Concessions made by Philip IV in 1710 gave the city the privilege to hold its annual fair which has now been declared a festivity of international interest and attracts more than 2 million people a year. Albacete is also renowned across Spain for its international music festivals such as ViñaRock held in May which welcomes 100 live artists to its stages and consists of 60 hours of live music of five different genres. The festival is one of Spain’s most legendary contemporary music festivals and attracts visitors from all over the world. The Festival de los Sentidos de La Roda is another alternative option for summer festivals that combines the best contemporary and up-and-coming artists with the eloquent gastronomy of Albacete.