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The Enchanted City, a Petrified Beauty in the Vicinity of Cuenca, Spain

The Enchanted City, a Petrified Beauty in the Vicinity of Cuenca, Spain

In between Madrid in the center of Spain and Valencia at the East coast lies Cuenca, an eagle’s nest between 2 rivers.

There are just a few touristic highlights in Cuenca to be seen, for instance the Cathedral and the so called Hanging Houses, but the old city as a whole is fantastic. It is stuck on a mountain top, sandwiched between 2 gorges carved out by the rivers Huécar and Júcar.

That and our favorite Spanish museum, Museo de Arte Abstracto Español, make a visit more than valuable for us. All the more now we have heard of yet another touristic highlight: The Enchanted City.

The Enchanted City

We had already visited Cuenca in the province of Castilla-La Mancha a few times before we heard about the existence of the Enchanted City, La Ciudad Encantada, from a friend. A special nature reserve at 28km from the town and well worth a visit.

Tom looking around in The Enchanted City

Rivers often carve out the most beautiful paths in the rock bottom, creating gorges and special stone formations. The Júcar River is no exception. At an altitude of almost 1,500m, a large concentration of the most beautiful forms can be seen in the Enchanted City, rightly declared a nature reserve of national importance.

These sculpted rocks are geological phenomena, created by the combined action of water, wind and ice. Centuries of erosion have modeled human figures, objects and animals.

The cause of the formation of the sculptures is the different hardness and composition of the layers. The top layer with a grayish color is the hard Dolomite, a carbonate mineral (calcium magnesium carbonate), and the bottom layer is reddish Marl Limestone (lime and clay) with less magnesium and less resistance to erosion.

Use your fantasy

We thought the names of the rock formations are a bit far-fetched at times, but it added an extra dimension to the walk through the area, as we tried to discover the reason for the name. Sometimes that was immediately clear, sometimes we couldn’t find out even after walking around it.

The route is signposted and the formations have titles such as: the boats, the dog, the mushroom, the sea of stone, the elephant. Especially nice if you are with children, who will enjoy discovering the shapes and will therefore not object to the 3 km route.

The area is gated and has both limited access times and an entrance fee. I don’t mind the entrance fee, but I do think it’s a pity that times are limited. They change with the seasons, so check them on the website in advance if you plan to visit.

The Mushroom
The Mushroom
Helter Skelter
Helter Skelter
The Bears
The Bears

A totally different landscape than Las Tablas de Daimiel, although both formed by water.

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

The walls of the old city of Cuenca were built by the Moors. A Moorish castle was called Kunka and is the only remainder from those days. Although there is also an explanation for the name coming from the Latin word Conca meaning watershed or catchment area.

The city was captured from the Moors by the Castilian King Alfonso 8th during the Reconquista. This conquest is still celebrated annually from September 18 to 21 with San Mateo.

I don’t like the bullying of the bull, mind you, but this video also gives a good overview of the city

The cathedral is Spanish Gothic, started in the late 12th century, but the façade is 19th century.

The old town

Hard to walk on these cobble stones
It can be hard to walk on these cobble stones

The old town – casco antiguo in Spanish – is picturesque and is rightly listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. Tom and I regretted that in part of the old town there is still car traffic and even buses squeezing between the terraces and crowds.

Understandably, that part of the city is otherwise difficult to reach for people with reduced mobility, but that makes it harder and at times dangerous to look around and let the city affect you. Apart from the traffic, the height of the city is also a disadvantage.

I remember the first time we visited Cuenca years ago. It was very hot. Walking was something I only did during the holidays, so any condition was absent. And I was overweight. I have to admit that I was scolding at the height at times. 🙂

It was all the more surprising to discover that nowadays I get up that mountain much easier. Last time we went up on foot from our hotel in the new city and back without a problem.

Facade of the Cathedral
Colored houses
You can bump into lovely unexpected details
Growing out of the rocks
Parts of the city buildings seem to be growing out of the rocks

Hanging Houses

Most famous in Cuenca are the Hanging Houses – casas colgadas – which are built on a rocky outcrop above the gorge of the Huécar River, a tributary of the Río Júcar. The buildings in that part of the old town seem to grow out of the rocks.

Not the houses but their bay windows hang above the ravine, but it is without a doubt an impressive sight. Although I must say that it is better not to dwell on the idea that you are above the ravine, with only a wooden floor in between, when you stand in such a bay window.

Museo de Arte Abstracto Español

As far as we are concerned, Cuenca’s best attraction is the museum of abstract art, Museo de Arte Abstracto Español. This museum is located in an aggregation of the Hanging Houses. Nicely restored and special to walk into the exhibition rooms. Because several houses have been merged, there are differences in level between the various areas. It’s like a maze.

Here you can see various works by my favorite painter Antoni Tàpies. Magnificent! The museum was founded by the artists Fernando Zóbel and Gustavo Torner, who are of course also represented with work, but I have a crush on Tàpies.

Even if you don’t like abstract art, I would still advise you to enter to see the inside of the hanging houses. You do not have to let the entrance fee hold you back, because entrance is free.

Detail of a work by Antoni Tàpies
Detail of a work by Antoni Tàpies
Exterior of the Hanging Houses
Exterior of the Hanging Houses
Interior of the museum
Interior of the museum

High-speed railway line

Just outside the city is the AVE station, the Spanish high-speed railway line. This means that both Madrid to the West and Valencia to the East can be reached within an hour. They run about 8 times a day and tickets can be booked and paid for online.

Final words

The Enchanted City is located in between Madrid and Valencia

We have a running gag with a friend who hates rocks and excavations. He always says he has enough rocks in his yard and doesn’t feel to pay money to see more.

Every time we are visiting excavations – which we do a lot – we send him a picture on WhatsApp with the caption “More stones”. Can you imagine the fun we had when we were in The Enchanted City? We drove him mad with all the pictures we sent. 🙂

There are numerous famous and big attractions like the Eiffel Tower or the Prado Museum in Madrid. Yet for us it is also very satisfying to visit smaller, more intimate places like Cuenca and The Enchanted City.

What is your favorite place to visit? Tell us in the comment box below.

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10 thoughts on “The Enchanted City, a Petrified Beauty in the Vicinity of Cuenca, Spain”

  1. Haha, I can just imagine your friend’s reaction when you sent him all those pictures with the stones. They are beautiful, though. Like you, I also love to look at those rocks and rock formations. I especially love the mushroom, what an interesting rock. I think I would be like a child walking through there and finding the animals and people and whatever else those rocks are shaped like. That is totally for me 😉

    Cuenca looks like a lovely city and I would love to visit the hanging houses. It must be quite scary to be on a wooden balcony over a ravine. It reminds me of a long time ago when I went on a mountain tour. We climbed a high mountain in Austria and on our way we also crossed a swinging wooden bridge that hung over a ravine. That was quite an experience.

    Reply
    • Oh, I would never have crossed that bridge, Christine! 🙂 I would have let the rest of my company cheerfully follow their way and wait for their return.

      There is an interesting and famous path near Málaga, El Caminito del Rey, which has been the most dangerous path of the country for several years, because the path wasn’t maintained for a long time. Not for a million do they get me on that path, not even now it is totally restored and seems to be ‘safe’.

      So I did stand in the bay window to make a picture, until I realised what it meant. LOL. I stepped back real quickly! I realize it is mainly mindset, but this is a kind of thing I can hardly get myself over with.

      Reply
  2. I, too, love to explore nooks and crannies that are not as world-famous as the biggest sights, and I’m sure I would enjoy exploring the Enchanted City, La Ciudad Encantada. As long as we have a travel ban, it’s a pleasure to read an article like yours, with all the fun annotations like this one about a friend you’re sending photos of rocks to.

    I really like the formations that are the work of nature as well as the look of the old town. I would also love to see hanging houses built on rocks. According to the description, they remind me of the monasteries in Meteora in Greece, which are also built on rocks.

    Thanks for this great insight into this Enchanted City and all the attached photos.
    Friendly greeting,
    Nina

    Reply
    • Such a great expression, Nina, nooks and crannies! I had never heard of it, so I had to look it up in GTranslate, LOL, but you are right, those less famous places are so much easier to get immersed into.

      And thanks for the tip about Meteora! That looks absolutely stunning, and I guess it is way higher even than Cuenca. Or at least more steep to climb up to. I have put it on my bucket list. To my deep regret, I still haven’t visited Greece.

      Reply
  3. Hi Hannie and thanks for sharing these impressions from your trip to Spain. That’s the second time you’ve surprised me 🙂 I’ve been to Madrid on several business trips but I’ve never heard of these beautiful places. The picture of that mushroom looks impressive! Wow! Glad you had such a wonderful time on your trips.

    I also read your take on bullfighting on a sidenote above. Do you know if they still do that in Spain? Even in 2020 and beyond? It’s their cultural heritage, no doubt, and who am I to judge… But it’s so cruel… All the best to you and your family, Chris

    Reply
    • There is a political party on the rise, Chris (I won’t tell the name, because they shouldn’t have any platform, certainly not on my website), which says that it is indeed their cultural heritage and that people should respect that. I think that is BS. We also had slaves in ancient times, that doesn’t mean we still have them.

      So yes, there are a few places that still have bull fights, but I am glad to say that it’s becoming less and less. A lot of Spanish people oppose to it as well. Spain in general is more cruel towards animals than the Northern countries, but I have hopes that will evolve into a better attitude as well.

      BTW, that party that favors bull fights? They also think the man is the boss in the house and women shouldn’t work. Not sure if there is a relationship in all that, but it gives us food for thought, doesn’t it.

      Thanks and the best for your family as well!

      Reply
  4. Hi Hannie!
    Spain is definitely on my bucket list as soon as Covid is over!
    I knew that Spain and Italy have these wonderful towns built on a rocks, and I love it! This Cathedral looks gorgeous and those colorful houses..!! Have they built these hanging houses because of the shortage of space or they just wanted to live in such extreme way? It seems like the time has stopped in such towns!
    I like these rock formations, it is always marvelous that nature does create! I would love to walk there.
    I wish you more wonderful travels in the New Year!
    Alex

    Reply
    • Thanks Alex. And I wish you lots of wonderful travels in the New Year as well. 🙂
      I think the term ‘hanging house’ is a bit exagerating. It’s not the house that is hanging, but only the bay windows. For me scary enough, having severe vertigo, but if the whole house had been hanging over the ravine, I would never have entered it!

      As to the reason, I couldn’t find any. Maybe it was shortage of space. To me the ability to look further around could be a good reason as well. After all, throughout history there have been a lot of invasions with groups of people trying to conquer each other. Being able to look where the danger might come from has influenced the style of buildings immensely.

      Reply
  5. Hi Hannie,

    I actually remember watching a documentary on the Travel Channel a few years ago, and the entire program was based around Cuenca.

    I must admit I was totally taken with the place then, but I am yet to visit, although this beautiful city is definitely somewhere in my future.

    I’ll add a few things, if you don’t mind, that I learned from the documentary.

    And you can probably tell it left a wonderful impression on me, as I can still recall most of the details.

    You’ve mentioned the Old Town, but I discovered that there is a whole world of underground tunnels here.

    Apparently, they’ve been used for various reasons over the years, most famously as a bomb shelter during the Spanish Civil War.

    However, they remain open to this day, and you can actually enjoy a guided tour in the underground tunnels (helmets are provided of course).

    In the documentary I watched the narrator and her friends spend a few hours down in the tunnels and it simply amazed me to see that there was almost an enitre “city” just below the main streets.

    The Hanging House also got a mention, although I’m not sure what I’d like in a area literally hanging off a cliff, heights really aren’t my thing.

    That being said, I was taken with the beautiful scenery of the entire area.

    Plus, I’m sure something that will also appeal to you and Tom that I absolutely love is the numerous hiking trails – a fantastic way to see the city and enjoy some exercise out in Mother Nature.

    Admittedly, a lot of these trails do take you fairly high into the surrounding cliffs and mountains, but as I long as I don’t look down I’m sure I’ll be fine, LOL.

    I will say that I’m ever so slightly jealous that you aren’t too far away, and even just watching on a TV screen, I can tell that “The Enchanted City” is a place I’ll love.

    Partha

    Reply
    • Of course I don’t mind if you add things, Partha, on the contrary! I want to return to Cuenca immediately to have a look 🙂

      Teruel is not so far from Cuenca and was an important battle ground during the Spanish Civil War. We had expected a museum about it there, but there wasn’t. We can only find bits and pieces in other places. And now you tell us that we can probably find something about that dreadful period in the tunnels of Cuenca!

      It’s funny – we hear about those tunnels from you (English). We heard about the Ciudad Encantada from an Irish friend. Where are the Spanish to give us tips?! 🙂

      Yes, I am sure you would love the area. Not just the fenced part of the Enchanted City, but what’s surrounding as well. It’s a beautiful and quiet (best part of it) piece of nature.

      Reply

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