Cuenca, an unexpected highlight

The next stop of my short Spanish trip was Cuenca, a small town located halfway between Valencia and Madrid.  I went by train, which covered the 200km distance in an hour, reaching speeds of nearly 300km/h in places.

Why fly when a train can go this fast?

I arrived at a very smart, new train station which bore a strong resemblance to an airline terminal – except that there were almost no people. Cuenca did not seem to be a very popular destination.

My space-age train arrives in Cuenca

The station was a long way out of town, so I took a taxi which first went through an unremarkable modern part of the city, before climbing a steep hill to the old town, where my flat was. I settled in and then set off to explore. At first site, the old town was small, with the typical winding streets and old buildings you can find in many places in Spain.

Cuenca’s old city

I soon found the main square, where the cathedral was located. This huge building was originally constructed in the 12th century but underwent many modifications and additions since that time. It was a big surprise, rivalling many of the more famous churches I have seen around Europe. The interior was pleasant and light, with many small chapels leading away from the central aisle.

Inside the cathedral
The ceiling of one of the many chapels
A view from the triforium

After the cathedral I headed down a steep slope for a view of Cuenca’s best-known attraction – its “hanging houses”, perched precariously on the edge of a sheer cliff.  One of these houses is home to a museum of abstract art.

Cuenca’s hanging houses
The Museum of Abstract Art lives up to its name

Further down the slope, a long wooden bridge ran across the deep ravine at the city’s edge, connecting it to another hill and the city’s “parador” hotel. The bridge and the hotel offered spectacular views back to Cuenca.

The amazing view from the bridge over the ravine

I returned to the old town, and this time headed up a steep hill, past a convent to the ruins of a castle. This was first built by the moors, who recognised Cuenca’s strategic location and founded the city in the 8th century. The town changed hands regularly between moors and Christians in the centuries that followed. The area gave yet more amazing views back to the city.

Another great view…
….and yet another

I walked back down the hill, intending to go sit at a café for the rest of the afternoon, but instead I met a group of Spanish walkers who recommended a walking route that led away from the city through some interesting rock formations. I took their advice and was rewarded with more beautiful views. The path ran below a mountain ridge for a few kilometres, before descending to a river, which I followed to get back to Cuenca.

Starting off on the walking trail
Looking back towards Cuenca
An unusual place for a small cemetery
The way back – Cuenca comes into view

On arriving, I made the steep climb back to the main square and finally sat down for a well-earned and much needed drink, enjoying the views of the main square and cathedral – this time, empty of people. Cuenca seems to be visited mostly by day-trippers from Madrid (and not many of them), and is very quiet at night when they have gone.

The cathedral in the evening sun, and an empty Plaza Mayor

I enjoyed a dinner of yet more ham and cheese in my flat, sitting on a sofa with a great view of Cuenca’s steep valley.  The little-known city had greatly exceeded my expectations – with its beautiful views, magnificent cathedral and many walking routes.

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