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