When’s the last time you took the back road? The slow way from A to B, through villages where “nothing” is going on – just life as usual, but in a setting so charming that you park the car and have a coffee, end up chatting with the locals (no matter what your language skills), buying local wine and cheese, and leaving with notes for a detour to another lovely spot or restaurant two towns away…
Sure it takes longer, but if you can arrange the time, the journey between two points becomes part of your experience, instead of “starting your vacation” when you reach your destination. This is even more noticeable walking or cycle touring – no, slow-track travel is not for everyone, but the discoveries made stay with you forever.
Here are five villages discovered while cycling or walking around Spain. Some have been “discovered” in a larger sense and will sound familiar to intrepid travelers. Others are Huh? unknowns. It was hard to select five – there are lots more on my list of favorites – so these are all north and / or east of Madrid, leaving others for another time.
Distances shown are straight line, just an indication to help you find these places that may not be on less-detailed highway maps. All these villages have at least one place to eat and most more than one – Siurana and Calatañazor can get crowded, Majaelrayo is known for game (in season).
Siurana (Tarragona): About 18 kilometers northwest of Reus, on the edge of Priorat wine area. Tiny Siurana is on the way to nowhere – the paved highway ends there on a high bluff. As you drive up the steep (very steep!) highway, imagine pushing a loaded touring bike up and up and up (gasp. pant). Magnificent setting, quaint old stone houses.
Puentedey (Burgos): About 70 kilometers north of Burgos, just north of highway N232. Small village on a natural stone bridge. Be sure to take path under the “bridge” to see the back view, and for the best photo op, take road up to cemetery. Exploring back roads in northern Burgos will lead to other fun discoveries.
Calatañazor (Soria): About 30 kilometers southwest of Soria. This village was basically a pile of rocks on my first trip, but now many of the old houses have been rebuilt and there’s even an ethnographic museum – try to see a “pinariega” chimney: conical outside, free-standing inside the house. Ruins of a castle, anthropomorphic tombs carved into stone nearby. Ask a local to tell you the rhyme about the name of the village, a musical instrument and a certain Islamic ruler.
Chulilla (Valencia): About 50 kilometers west northwest of Valencia, in the Requena-Utiel wine area. A white village with twisty alleys, set against a reddish cliff with the ruins of a medieval castle. Small, recently renovated spa about 5 kms away (www.balneariodechulilla.com).
Majaelrayo (Guadalajara): about 55 kilometers north-northwest of Guadalajara, west of Ocejón peak. One of the “black villages”, made almost completely of slate with an odd construction technique. Some of the abandoned villages in this rather spooky region are now coming back to life thanks to rural tourism. Majaelrayo is the usual trailhead for the challenging hike up Ocejón; Valverde de los Arroyos (a more classic “pretty village”) on the east side of the peak is also worth a visit.