Today we departed Granada and started a very long drive that included some more tunnels and cool cliffs to a small town called Cuenca not too far from Madrid in the middle of Spain.
Cuenca isn't a huge tourist destination point, but we came across it in our trip planning as a place in Spain with a Parador. Paradores are state-run luxury hotels located in converted historic buildings. They are a way for Spain to promote tourism and keep old buildings really nice.
One of Dylan's colleagues had told him about them, and we decided that we should spend at least one night in a Parador during our time in Spain. We considered a couple that were way out of our price range in more popular destinations like Granada and one housed in a castle in the middle of nowhere, before landing on the Cuenca Parador, which was affordable but still located in a city with cool things to see.
Once we got to Cuenca (and survived a decently miserable parking experience after doing a 20 point turn on a narrow street at the top of a really steep hill), we decided we were quite happy with our choice! Here are some pics of our hotel and room. (This Parador is a converted 16th century monastery!)
From our room, we got an amazing view across the gorge that Cuenca is built on, as well as the "casas colgadas" or hanging houses that the town is known for.
After checking into our super cool room, we decided to venture across the pretty sketchy, bridge that was built in the early 1900s to see the main part of the town. Even though I wasn't keen on spending too much time on the bridge, I did pause to take a few photos and appreciate the view!
One of the casas colgadas has been converted into a free modern art museum. We weren't too interested in the art here, but we took the chance to see the views from the casa of the gorge.
Next, we braved some scorching sun to wander through the streets of Cuenca and see some statues and the town's cathedral before heading up to a viewpoint near some very ruin-y castle ruins.
We discovered that there are all kinds of hiking trails through and around the gorge, which is beautiful. We wished that we had a little more time in Cuenca to actually explore some of the trails, but we were happy that we at least got to see them from a distance!
After enjoying the view point, we did a little more exploring through Cuenca's cute streets and plazas.
Having seen all of the main sites of Cuenca, Dylan and I decided it was time to give in to our very hungry tummies. It was around 5 o'clock, and we hadn't eaten much all day. We stopped at a gas station on our way up from Granada, and I bought a boxed sandwich that was not anywhere near as good as the ones in London. Dylan didn't even want to attempt to eat a gas station sandwich so he just got some chips and jam cookies (that ended up not being very good.)
We had a great plan to buy some local cheeses and meats with bread or crackers to have a picnic dinner of sorts in our super nice hotel room overlooking the gorge. Unfortunately, our plan did not jive with the way things are done in the super tiny Spanish town of Cuenca. There was not a single grocery store within walking distance of where we were. We found a couple mini-mart-ish places on the map, but they turned out to be tchotchke shops with some food items packaged as souvenirs or tiny shops with mostly just packaged junk food.
At this point, we were disappointed that our intended dinner plans weren't panning out. And we ended up being more bummed as we realized that none of the restaurants in Cuenca opened and started serving food until 8pm.
Feeling much ire toward the Spanish food timetable, we ventured back to our Parador which had a bar that served food all day.
Although we spent way more money than we usual do on a meal, we ended up having quite a fun eating experience at the Parador bar. We got to sit at tables in the center of the converted monastery (across from where they do dinner service at 8pm). After looking at the bar menu, we picked some drinks and appetizers to share.
Dylan got a local craft beer that was apparently voted the best beer in the world not that long ago. And I got a white wine that is produced only in this part of Spain.
An important side note: Cuenca is located in La Mancha, which is both the home of the character Don Quixote and the home of Manchego cheese. Along with our drinks, we decided to order the cheese board along with a tomato salad (Dylan is really nice to me) and a potted hare dish, which sounded weird but is a specialty of the area.
The food was incredibly tasty, but waaaaayyy too much food for two people. To our credit, we tried to order the half portions of the tomatoes and potted hare, but the half got lost in translation. Ultimately, though, it was the size of the cheese board that was truly comical. It was clearly meant to be shared by at least four but probably more like six people.
We refused to let the cheese board win...although maybe we should have. (Neither of us feels like we need to eat any more manchego for quite some time).
With our bellies extremely full of cheese, we headed up to our hotel room to enjoy the sunset from our window.
Also, before going to bed, I decided to document this ridiculous feature of our bathroom. I'm all for a window in the bathroom but not for a floor to ceiling window only one floor up from the ground level where tourists are taking pictures - of the hotel!