Our base for the past few weeks has been Caudete, a tiny town situated in central Spain. Desperately craving some time to simply stop and write, this sleepy place bares little distraction and has been a perfect hideaway. With a couple of weeks behind us now, our brains muddled from writing and a slight feeling of cabin fever creeping in, our eyes are opened to the opportunities that the Castilla-la Mancha province offers. With a car, a map and a guide book for the region we list day trips that intrigue us and get on our way.
La Hoz Del Jucar Gorge is a 40km scenic drive to the east of Castilla-la Mancha. Famed for it’s white gorge, castles and idyllic Spanish towns, it was an obvious priority on the list of places to see in the region. Cameras charged, 10 euro in the back pocket and a quick pat on the bonnet of the Renault Laguna, we are off.
Entering Alcala De Jucar, the first town on route, from the south, captured my own image of Spain entirely.
Beneath, etched into the chalk cliffs is a jumble of white villas seemingly stacked upon one another like lego blocks. Eager to probe and wander the rabbet warren, we park up and walk towards the town. Tight alleyways continually hairpin upwards, bringing you closer towards the sandy castle. With each turn emerges another white walled street with a glimpse of something new whether that be a hidden town square, a clock tower, a quaint door that will make your heart melt (yes I have a fetish for Spanish doors) or an old man sitting smoking a pipe looking ever so dapper. Yes I am describing Alcala De Jucar, yet I am describing many Spanish towns. Most in fact are like this, each with a similar charm that keeps you wanting more.
Split in two by the Jucar river, the other side of town is simply one road abutting a row of simple houses which have been carved into the side of the canyon wall. The similarity with Dege in North Sichuan province, China is astounding had it not been for the alfresco areas draped in vines and the whiteness.
Again, like most little Spanish towns we have visited, Alcala De Jucar is sleepy with barely a soul to be seen. It’s not that no one lives here, you see that’s my Aussie error, or as Becks says ….“mad dogs and englishman”. It’s 40 degrees and the Spanish are intelligently taking a siesta. If we came here at 9 in the evening, the town would be bustling and lively, yet now it’s simply a shell of its nighttime self. But shell or no shell, Alcala speaks for itself and captivated us from the moment we set our eyes upon it.
Back in the car we head west, following the winding white cliffs of La Hoz Del Jucar. Cruising slowly, we meander alongside the teal stream stopping at the endless viewing opportunities. At one point we watch deer bound effortlessly up and down the gorge face only stopping momentarily to check us out as we them. Between Alcala De Jucar and Jorquera, the next town, the exquisite scenery continues. Beside the river, pine forests flourish amidst the olive groves and orchards and as you begin to gain height the vastness of the gorge reveals itself ensuring stunning panoramic views. Keep an eye out for random doors in cliff faces. We found many and they couldn’t help make us smile. Apparently these houses behind the quaint doors have become hot property since the Spanish economy has crashed, as the cost for house expansion is simply a jackhammer.
Nearing the end of the scenic route, the gorge road takes a sudden turn exposing a deep basin in which the small town of Jorquera is balanced atop. The basin far below is filled with agricultural vineyards and as we make our way across the stone arched bridge to town it obvious that these crops provide the towns only income. Tractors full to the brim of purple grapes lay stagnant in the warm midday sun as their owners take siesta. The warm heat allow the grapes to sweat filling the streets with the unmistakable aroma of red wine. Taking the same road out as we came in on we eventually connected back up to the N322 and slowly make our way back home to Caudete.
I am going to be honest, when we planned to spend a month in this region of Spain, I never expected such prominent, fascinating landscapes right on our door step. What a month in Spain… How lucky can this Aussie get! Even as I write and relax, I am already peering into the next adventure and wondering what other surprises Spain has in store for me.