By Peter and Jean Richards
Our recent trip through Castile and Aragon in Spain left us with particularly vivid memories of three wonderfully preserved medieval towns. In retrospect, they merged in our minds as the visual trinity of the trip.
• Covarrubias is on the Arlanza River, just a bit more than 23 kilometers (14½ miles) on a fairly straight road from Lerma, where we had just spent the night in ducal splendor at the extraordinary Parador there. The desk clerk asked if we had planned a side trip to Covarrubias. Truth to tell, we had never heard of it. He suggested it was well worth the time. We are grateful to him for that.
The town, a designated conservation area since 1985, was one of the first to be reconquered from the Moors in the late 9th century. It has 640 residents, but obviously there are many houses that are second homes. We saw here what we observed in a few other locations in high elevations: make-shift boards or fitted metal inserts on the front door, about two-feet high, to keep the heavy winter snow at bay.
The town is extraordinarily well kept, neat and orderly. There are a large numbers of early timbered buildings. Overall, it has a pleasing visual continuity and reflects the pride of its residents and property owners.
We spent a pleasant two hours wandering around, seeing most of the sights suggested to us by a very helpful young woman at the tourist office located right inside the main gate next to which there is a small parking area.
• Alarçon, even more diminutive, has only 182 permanent residents (less, according to some sources). Set on a little promontory above the Júcar River, it is one of the most tranquil sites we have visited in our travels. It was captured by Christian forces in 1177 from the Almohads.
Our route here was advised by Penelope Casas, whose excellent book Discovering Spain is almost flawlessly reliable despite being two decades old. She said, “You are not likely to find a more sensational setting, nor a place that reflects a greater peace.” We were leaving Cuenca on the way to Teruel, and Alarçon was an easy diversion from that route (about 83 kilometers or 52 miles from Cuenca)
At the top of the town is the castle, dating from the 8th century, transformed with transcendent taste into one of the smallest Paradors in the national chain. It has just 14 rooms and very good kitchen. We had a finely prepared luncheon of local specialties including morteruelo and marinated partridge.
• Albarracin, in Aragon, was, if possible, even more alluring. With easy access from Teruel, we headed there one our way to Soria. The town is 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the Teruel parador, mostly along a somewhat quirky tertiary road, the A-1512.
Declared a Monumento Nacional in 1961, the town of 1075 surrounded by stony hills, sits in a natural amphitheater in the Sierra de Albarracin. It is perched on a steep outcropping above the Guadalaviar River, and, like many small historic places now, automobile access is restricted to residents. We went past the town, under an overpass, and turned sharply right and upwards into a parking area that gave us easy access to the town.
This was another gift from Casas, who in a lyrical description to the town, describes its “enchantment.”
“Albarracin has a Moorish flavor that casts a spell. Crudely cobbled streets are dim and winding, and there is a hush broken only by the sound of rushing water. High walls and tightly grouped houses envelope you in the medieval atmosphere of a fortified town.’ she writes.
Besides soaking up the rugged beauty and authentic atmosphere, we also found a nice shop with locally made sausage at fair prices (El Andador, calle La Catedral, 4) and a welcoming place for lunch (La Taberna at Plaza Mayor, 6.) where we enjoyed the best sopa ajo I have ever had, superior tapas (tortilla, setas, crispy pork rinds) and a really good chocolate cake.
© Copyright 2013 by Peter and Jean Richards