Aranjuez is just south of Madrid and home to the summer palace. It was built in the second half of the 16th century under Phillip II. The town was originally inhabited only by the court but now is a small but vibrant town dominated by the tourists who visit the palace.
The main entrance is through a gate that leads onto a large courtyard.
Visitors would have entered through the doors to be confronted with a magnificent marble staircase and a ceiling high above. Nowadays visitors enter through a much smaller entrance in the Renaissance style wing. This style features a rather flat presentation, with pediments of various sorts adoring the windows. Here you can also see the Romanesque arches, rounded versus the sharper edges of the Gothic style.
The interior visitors access is limited to two floors. Once you climb the main staircase there perhaps a dozen rooms. Some are more what you might expect in terms of high and painted ceilings, luxurious furnishings, and rich colors. Others are intensely decorated with ceramics:
The palace sits on the conjunction of two rivers, the Tagus and Jarama. The rivers feed numerous fountains and maintain the extensive gardens.
Nearby is the Palcio de Sivela, built in 1860 and completely restored in 1988. Here is my impression of it
We set off on our journey from Valencia to Aranjuez at 7am on Sunday. The train route takes you west through massive fields of grapes dotted by the occasional and equally massive wine storage units jutting some 25 meters toward the clouds, stopping in a seemingly endless number of small towns along the way. Progress is slow and the it gets much slower as then we enter the National Park known as Torcas de Palancares, leaving the farms behind.
The ravines (barrancos) along the train route from Valencia to Aranjuez dig deeply into the rocky orange soil. Because it has been raining, itself a bit of a refreshing oddity, rivulets flow beneath the train as it slows to 20 kph as we inched across trestles, looking straight over the side at the rocky bottom far below. You don’t feel confident out there in the middle. They are going that slowly for good reason.
There are more people on the train – so vacant we practically got on a first name basis with the conductor- than live in the protected zone portion of the journey, judging by the total lack of dwellings and just the occasional dirt road. A large bird, a hawk or perhaps even an owl, swoops across the tracks, looking for an unwary rabbit. The boars are too big to lift so they are safe from his talons.
Cáceres has an old walled town in its center. Walk around and you are in the middle ages, given the buildings, the stone streets and total absence of cars. There is a blend of Roman, Moorish, Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture, not to mention the stork nests. There are thirty towers from the Islamic period still standing.
Humans have inhabited the area since prehistoric times. Evidence of this can be found in the caves of Maltravieso, with cave paintings dating to 25,000 BCE. The city was founded by the Romans in 25 BC and is a Unesco World Heritage Site, quite justifiably so.
Cáceres is in the part of Spain called Extremadura. I always thought that the name Extremadura referred to the extremely hard (dura) quality of the soil and life there but more accurately extremadura is from Latin words meaning literally “outermost hard”, the outermost secure border of an occupied territory. During La Reconquista it was the westernmost holding of the Christians.
Cuenca is situated northwest of Valencia and southeast of Madrid, just an hour from either on the AVE, the fast train. It is known for the houses perched on the cliffs and for the Júcar and the Huécar, two rivers (well, streams is a better word) which encase it. The town was first settled by the Moors, who sought to take advantage of its natural fortress qualities. Nonetheless they lost it in 1177 to the Christians.
The area offers an interesting cuisine, which I will comment upon below the photos.
There are a number of interesting dishes, mostly tapas.
Ajo arriero, cod, potato and garlic, can be spread on bread
Morteruelo, pâté made from hare, partridge, hen and pork or some combination
Pisto manchego, tomato, pepper, courgette/zucchini fried in olive oil. Very thick.
Mushrooms, harvested in the forests near Cuenca. Níscalo is common, but other species, such as boletus (long and large with a cap).
Mojete: traditional salad made of tomato.
Alajú an Arab cake made of honey, almonds, nuts and grated orange rind.
Resoli is an after dinner alcoholic beverage made from grape must, cinnamon, anise.
We had lunch at Restaurante el Secreto. The Guide Routarde sign for multiple years including 2016 attracted our attention. The Guide has served us well through the years and it did not disappoint us. This restaurant has many game offerings. Peg had the venison, which was superb- even I thought so. The wine was very good, local and reasonably priced, as was the entire meal including my ceviche trout.
The decor is worth a look! Ceramics floor to ceiling.