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H E A R T O F S PA I N

Ascend
dreaming
spires

G R E AT E S C A P E
A view over Salamanca
towards the Old Cathedral
from one of the twin towers
of the Clerecía Church

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H E A R T O F S PA I N

1. Madrid
Get to grips with the diverse Spanish palate on a tapas tour of the capital –
or simply lose yourself in the city’s streets to happen upon your perfect bar

L
IKE RONALDO VERSUS says José Angel Mozos García, welcoming Other restaurants invite you to linger
Messi, Catalan independence customers into his seafood restaurant La longer; one such is La Bola, home of Traditional jugs of
and the specifics of King Juan Mar beside the city’s Opera House. ‘And it Cocido Madrileño – a ‘Madrid stew’ of Asturian stew in La
Carlos’ love life, the question is the same with tapas in Madrid – people sausage, ham hock, beef, chicken and Bola. Far left A tapas
of where in Spain you’ll find don’t eat because they are hungry, they eat potatoes, cooked in ceramic pots following stand at the Mercado
the best food is a discussion that should be just because it is fun. You start at your local an Asturian recipe unchanged since the de San Miguel. Left
Portraits of Spanish
initiated with caution (possibly ending in and you keep going through the night.’ 1870s (and served in interiors that have
monarchs in La Mar
waving fists and looking up rude words in Outside José’s restaurant, the evening likewise barely altered since).
your Spanish dictionary). The logical answer tapas crawl is slowly gathering momentum, And then there’s the joy of making your The Telefónica
is Madrid, for it is here that you can taste the while inside, the kitchen shuttles off own miraculous Madrid tapas discovery Building towers
A–Z of all Spanish cuisine, from Andalucían steaming plates of things that only this – finding a bar squirrelled away on a above Calle Gran
gazpacho to lamb cooked in a Zaragoza morning were swimming off Spain’s backstreet off a backstreet, a place which Vía. Left Scallops
style. And, thanks to the tapas philosophy, Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts: rich serves the greatest tortilla española tasted at El Cucurucho
del Mar. Right
it is quite feasible to eat your way across and creamy Valencian seafood paella, and by mortals and which, no matter how
Cocktails being
the entire country in one evening. prawns from Cadiz now drowned in garlic much Google Map detective work is done, created at the
‘When you go for a night out, you don’t to make the classic dish gambas al ajillo, cannot be found the following evening. bar in La Bola

G R E AT E S C A P E
drink beer and wine because you’re thirsty,’ beloved of Madrileños. Or indeed ever again.
‘Food in Spain isn’t about formal
dining, white linen and good manners,’ Drive one hour south from Madrid along
continues José, scooping up prawns the A42 to the ancient city of Toledo.
with a chunk of bread in his handsome,
Moorish-tiled dining room. ‘It is food
you eat with your hands; food designed Essentials
for socialising.’
Madrid is a capital that is decidedly
short on formalities. Unlike London,
Paris, Berlin and Rome, it has few iconic
landmarks – no famous triumphal arch, no
truly colossal cathedral. It is a city whose
spirit comes more from its atmosphere than
its bricks. And at no time is Madrid more
spirited than the depths of night, when
tapas expeditions are full swing – at an
hour when London and Paris are tucked
up in bed, when even Rome has paid its An individually tiled street sign in the
bill and is ready to go home. city centre. Right A seafood platter at
Navigating between eateries, you El Cucurucho del Mar. Far right Strollers
outside the Royal Palace of Madrid.
might cross lamp-lit squares where Opposite Paella in La Mar restaurant
crowds spill out from the tabernas and Catalonia Gran Vía has rooms with
lean on the pedestals of statues; or stroll bare wood floors, vast beds and tall windows
beside the locked gates of parks like Buen looking out over the busy street of the same
Retiro, the scent of pine wafting over the name. Be sure to admire the views from the
railings through the air; or potter beside rooftop swimming pool (from £100; hoteles-
the façades of vast galleries where, inside, catalonia.com).
the gaunt faces of El Greco portraits watch Adventurous Appetites offers an excellent
over empty rooms that hours ago were introduction to tapas gastronomy in Madrid
busy with crowds. with an added dose of local history. Nightly
Some tapas places are pit stops, like Casa English-language tours take roughly four
Labra – the founding spot of the Partido hours, with groups departing from Sol square
Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish (£35pp; adventurousappetites.com). Serving
Socialist Workers’ Party), in whose excellent paellas and gambas al ajillo, La Mar
boisterous wood-panelled interiors cod can feature as part of the tour (tapa from £4;
croquetas sell for the democratic price of lalonjadelmar.com).
1 euro 25 cents to standing customers.

50 Lonely Planet Traveller June 2016
Swordsmith Mariano
H E A R T O F S PA I N
Zamorano in his workshop.
Left Sinagoga del Transito, Mariano’s workshop has been
founded in 1536, is known for declared of ‘Special Artisan
its rich stucco decoration Interest’ by the Castilla-La
Mancha regional government.
Left Calle Taller del Moro, with
views towards the cathedral

2. Toledo
Discover mosques, churches and synagogues amongst the ramparts
as you retrace the steps of sword-wielding medieval knights

A

G R E AT E S C A P E
PPROACHING TOLEDO BY ‘Toledo swords are the best in the world,’ a whitewashed synagogue with swooping
road, the city reveals itself enthuses Mariano Zamorano, in his horseshoe arches beyond a leafy courtyard.
bit by bit out of the heat workshop. ‘Customers might have chosen The city’s time as a bastion of tolerance ended
haze, in the manner of some one particular sword for stabbing people, in the centuries following the Reconquista,
grand civic procession. First and another sword for breaking bones.’ when anyone who wasn’t Catholic was
and foremost comes the spire of the town’s Throughout the Middle Ages, knights forced to convert or ushered out of Spain –
13th-century cathedral, soaring triumphant cantered across Europe to shop for Toledo probably at the sharp end of a Toledo sword.
and unchallenged in a cloudless sky. Then swords – famed for the strength of their
follow the turrets of the fortresses and the steel. For 150 years, the Zamorano family From Toledo, take a 40 minute-drive south on the
towers of lesser churches, jostling for have kept this tradition alive as the last local CM42 to reach the little town of Consuegra.
prominence down below. Finally, as you dynasty of swordsmiths, and Mariano still
draw closer, the rest of the city barges into makes swords for every occasion. Shuffling
view: an exquisite muddle of pastel-coloured around his sooty workshop, amongst anvils Essentials
villas, colourful flower boxes and higgledy- and biscuit tins full of bolts, he points out
piggledy rooftops, cascading down a hillside blades used in theatrical productions,
by a long, languorous bend in the Río Tajo. ceremonial swords and replica swords of
Madrid is the Spanish capital, but Toledo the kind the Conquistadors used to threaten
– its far older little neighbour to the south – Incas and take the Americas. They are still
better embodies the history of the nation in manufactured following the medieval
miniature. A 6th-century Visigothic capital, Toledo process – fired in a forge and bashed
it was the first major city to be reclaimed into shape manually, work which Mariano
under the Reconquista and has ever since insists isn’t dangerous, despite missing a
been a powerful seat of the Catholic Church. few fingers on one hand as a result of one
Toledo’s golden age, however, came in the unfortunate episode in his workshop.
Middle Ages when it was known as the ‘city ‘All children like to play at being knights,’ Perched on a hillside southeast of the city,
of three cultures’: a time when Christians, he says picking up a Moorish blade and the Parador de Toledo has spacious rooms
Jews and Muslims lived together in peace waving it about. ‘However, my father never let with timber surfaces and small balconies. There
and harmony, making their hometown me play with real swords when I was little.’ is a grand swimming pool and the restaurant
renowned for academia and philosophy. If ever there was a city in which to play at terrace has quite possibly the single finest view
Wandering around Toledo today, it’s curious being knights, it’s Toledo. Outside Mariano’s in all Toledo (from £120; parador.es).
to think that a citizen might in one morning workshop, cobbled alleyways ramble beneath If he’s not too busy, Mariano Zamorano
have heard the clanging of church bells, the mighty ramparts and fortified gates. Charging welcomes visitors to his workshop (medieval-
muttered prayers of a rabbi and a muezzin’s past, you might miss the humble Mezquita style swords from £200; marianozamorano.
call echoing down from the minarets. And, del Cristo de la Luz with its silent, shadowy com). The Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz
in amongst the cacophony, they would have prayer hall – the last surviving Moorish (admission £2) and the Sinagoga del Transito
surely heard the clanking of blacksmiths mosque of 10 once dotted across the city. (admission £3) are both open to the public.
making Toledo’s most famous export. Not so far away is the Sinagoga del Transito,

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H E A R T O F S PA I N

3. Consuegra and Castile-La Mancha Fighting a windmill, and losing, is a
defining moment in European literature and
encapsulates the story of Don Quixote: a
Essentials Bird-watching guide
Santiago Moraleda with
Head into big-sky country to follow the tracks of the original Spanish adventurer daydreamer who chose to live in a make-
his peregrine falcon

O
believe world of heroic adventures rather
F ALL THE HEROES OF ‘La Mancha has a long history of locals processions of monks walk solemnly than humdrum real life. To some readers
the Spanish-speaking world who are considered a little bit crazy,’ says beneath the tourist information office. of Don Quixote, the hero is a blundering
– from footballers to Santiago Moraleda – a man who, dressed in Though his day job is as a guide for birding lunatic – but to others it is he who is sane,
bullfighters, painters to a long black cloak in the midday heat and trips, Santi has dressed up as a knight for the and the rest of the world that is crazy.
kings – one man in with a large tawny owl pecking at his ear, occasion and has brought his own collection Santi has decided to name his various
particular stands out. His face grins at you would seem to affirm his own theory. of birds of prey to the party. eagles, owls and kestrels after characters in
on bank notes; his silhouette appears on ‘But we are also people who are known Consuegra’s most famous chivalric hero the novel. And, just like the Don, he and
postcards; his story has been told in ballet, for being very courageous, too.’ was, of course, Don Quixote – for it was here, other the inhabitants of Consuegra have
opera, film, a Broadway musical, a Picasso Santi isn’t as peculiar as he might first some say, that he charged on horseback, lance decided for one weekend only to play at
painting and even a Coldplay song. And appear, for he is taking part in the annual in hand, at his most fearsome enemy. Santi being lords, ladies, archers and knights Hotel Viñasoro has rooms overlooking
rather uniquely among national heroes, he medieval festival in the market town of happens to be standing in the shade beneath – to briefly inhabit their own world of vineyards near the town of Alcázar de San Juan,
is revered for being useless. This man is the Consuegra. For much of the year it is a this particular foe, which was in fact not a make-believe. The festival draws to an end; 30 minutes’ drive from Consuegra. There’s also
great writer Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th- sleepy place, where old couples perch on many-armed monster at all, but a windmill. siege ramps are packed away, arrows pulled an on-site winery and a vast cellar stocking local
century comic creation Don Quixote, and windowsills watching farmyard traffic It is one of a great many whitewashed towers out of targets and Santi gathers together his vintages (from £60; bodegasvinasoro.com).
his homeland is Castile-La Mancha. rumble past. Every August, however, its that still stand sentinel on rocky bluffs feathered friends to head home. Consuegra’s Medieval Festival takes place
It is a landscape in widescreen mode – big citizens engage in weekend-long binge of overlooking the plains of La Mancha – some ‘The most important ingredient in the story annually in August (consuegramedieval.com).
skies and arrow-straight roads, a patchwork mead glugging and pork roasting in the main preserved as museums, but most abandoned, is craziness’ he says. ‘For only with a little Anyone can visit Bolero windmill – the first you
of scrubby fields extending to the horizon. square, plus some energetic battle re-enacting their sails and cogs jammed solid and their craziness can you truly live a life of dreams.’ come to on the road from Consuegra town
Every so often crumbling castles appear, in a medieval castle, which rises regally over roof spaces home only to nesting birds. centre to the castle. For more, see the tourist
indistinct on hazy hilltops. It is a place the town. Minibuses full of archers shuttle They were spinning long before Cervantes It’s a four-hour drive from Consuegra to Mérida. board website (free; consuegra.es). For details on
where temperatures are high, mirages are about the streets, Moorish encampments published his novel in the early 1600s, and The scenic route takes you across remote, Santi’s birding trips, visit birdinglamancha.com.

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many, and inhabitants are few. are pegged beside the football pitch and have forever been an icon of the region. scrubby hills on the E903 via Ciudad Real.

Until the 1980s, Consuegra’s
windmills were used to grind
locally harvested grains –
for centuries La Mancha
was renowned for its wheat

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H E A R T O F S PA I N
Alvaro Gonzalez slices a leg of
Ibérico de Bellota with precision
at jamón specialists Nico Jiménez.
Opposite, from far left Mérida’s

4. Mérida
main square Plaza de España; the
temple of Diana, built during the
reign of Augustus

Wander among Roman ruins and pig out in the spiritual home of Spanish jamón

A
LVARO GONZALEZ PICKS the Rolls-Royce of Spanish swine, and a Extremadura is said to derive from the Latin
up a knife and begins breed fatally fond of wandering around for ‘extremely difficult’, on account of the
scrutinising his subject oak forests and scoffing acorns from among long, exhausting march from Rome out to
with the intensity of an the leaf litter every autumn. Its diet gives the western frontier of the Empire.
artist about to touch a its flesh an earthy taste, and its regular Taking an afternoon stroll around Mérida,
canvas with a first blot of paint. Shoppers exercise and intramuscular fat produces it’s clear the Romans nonetheless found the
passing on their weekend rounds in Mérida a flavourful, juicy, magnificently marbled energy to build monumental structures once
peer at him through the shop window, but meat. A leg of the best jamón Ibérico de they’d arrived here. Ancient buildings pop
Alvaro’s concentration never wavers. Bellota can fetch as much as £700, meaning up unexpectedly beside their modern
‘Sometimes I think about the pig, and the a single pig might be trotting about on counterparts: a street away from Alvaro’s
life it has led,’ he says, poised over a leg of almost £3,000 worth of limbs. store, a temple of Diana sits matter of factly
Ibérico de Bellota in the jamón store where Rearing and curing is only part of the between a pharmacy and a bank, and not
he works. ‘My work is about respect for the story: just as important is the craft of the so far away, a railway line rattles beneath
animal and respect for the skill of cutting. cortador, tasked with cutting slithers of a Roman aqueduct.
I know it has been a happy pig.’ jamón as thin as possible so the meat can Summer nights see 21st-century audiences
With surgical precision, Alvaro cuts a breathe. It is a skill that takes time to master filling the town’s greatest architectural treasure
slice so thin it is almost transparent. The – expert cortadores are highly sought after – an exquisitely preserved 1st-century BC
happiness of the pig isn’t clear, although for weddings and not a few amateur cutters theatre, dug up only in 1910 after being used
the happiness of anyone eating it is beyond end up in A&E with bloody hands. for nearly two millennia as a rubbish dump,
doubt: it is jamón that almost dissolves on ‘The very first time I tried to cut jamón, I now restored to its original use. And then
the tongue – first with a nutty tang, then made a mess of the leg,’ says Alvaro, having there’s Mérida’s vast collection of mosaics,
a meaty punch and a subtle aftertaste produced a platter of neat symmetrical cuts. recovered from the foundations of villas,

G R E AT E S C A P E
like fine olive oil. ‘But you learn something new every time reassembled in the town’s museum and
Nowhere in Spain is the business of you cut a leg. Cutting is part of our identity variously depicting favoured Roman
jamón taken more seriously than in in this part of Spain.’ pastimes: glugging wine, charging about
Extremadura – the province of breezy Love of jamón is nothing new to the oak forests of Extremadura and, of
sierras, rolling hills and lonely farmhouses Extremadura: many credit the Roman course, hunting wild pigs.
backing onto the Portuguese border, of senator Cato the Elder as the father of the
which Mérida is the capital. It is the original recipe. It is not the only legacy It’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive north from
stomping ground of the black Iberian pig, of Roman rule here – the very name Mérida to Salamanca along the E803.

Essentials

Set on the site of a Roman temple, the
magnificent Parador Vía de la Plata occupies a
former convent close to Mérida’s central square.
Whitewashed rooms look out over leafy gardens
and rambling corridors are dotted with Roman
and Visigothic artefacts (from £70; parador.es).
Alvaro works at distinguished jamón vendor
Nico Jiménez. His boss holds the Guinness
World Record for the longest single slice of jamón
ever cut – over 13 metres (ham palleta from £115;
nicojimenez.com).One ticket covers admission to
the town’s Roman theatre and amphitheatre
(£10) while the aqueduct and the temple of
Diana can be seen for free (turismomerida.org).

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H E A R T O F S PA I N

5. Salamanca
Study sublime architecture and listen to roving troubadours
in this academic city, known as the ‘Oxford of Spain’

O
NLY WHEN THE LAST Some of them are about the university.
rays of afternoon sunshine We play for the music, for the fun. And also
clear the sandstone façade because it is a good way of getting girls.’
of Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor Salamanca’s traditions have endured
does the most magnificent through the many turbulent chapters of
town square in Spain begin to come to life. Spanish history. The university’s most
Old couples shuffle along colonnaded famous story concerns the poet Luis de
walkways; children play tag and dribble León, snatched from a lecture for heresy
melting ice cream over the paving slabs; during the 16th-century Spanish Inquisition,
students clatter away on their laptops in the locked away in solitary confinement for
cafés. Gazing sternly over the whole scene four years before returning to the same
are the greatest minds and bravest souls in lecture theatre on his release with the words
all of Spanish history: explorer Columbus, ‘...as I was saying yesterday’. Another
conquistador Cortés, writer Cervantes – professor exiled from Spain for six years
their profiles etched into the stone arches. during the political unrest of the 1930s
Inches above their heads, local residents returned to the lecture theatre and made
lean on cast-iron balconies and study the exactly the same joke.
square in expectation. ‘You feel history in the atmosphere
Home to Spain’s oldest and most when you study in Salamanca,’ says
prestigious university, Salamanca has María José Gonzáles, a student currently
the double fortune of being quite possibly taking a master’s degree in psychology,
the nation’s brainiest and most beautiful swinging on a café chair as the tuna

G R E AT E S C A P E
city. Biscuity-ochre towers rise over the bands retune their instruments. ‘You
city, sending long shadows creeping feel you’re studying where generations
down alleyways along which students studied before you. And, of course, it
pedal to their lectures. Ancient faculties helps that the whole town looks a bit
line cypress-shaded squares – their stones like something from Harry Potter.’
bearing Latin inscriptions from alumni
who graduated centuries ago, some
painted in bull’s blood. Essentials
Hogging the skyline are twin cathedrals
that survived the 1755 earthquake which
destroyed Lisbon, and still sport broken
windows and cracked walls from the
tremors, while south of the city is the
wide, sluggish expanse of the Río Tormes
slipping beneath a Roman bridge on its
way to the Portuguese Atlantic.
Gaining admission to Salamanca has
never been easy, nor has paying the tuition
fees. Fortunately some especially bright
students hit on a novel solution to this
latter problem. Hidden behind its own grandiose
On the stroke of nine, two groups wearing sandstone façade, Hotel Rector has rooms
shiny shoes, tight trousers and colourful decked out in muted colour schemes just
sashes shuffle into the square, armed with south of the twin cathedrals in Salamanca.
an assortment of accordions, double basses, The excellent breakfast goes big on delicious
mandolins, guitars and tankards of beer. jamón (from £115; hotelrector.com).
Soon the far corners of Plaza Mayor are Tuna bands perform nightly in the Plaza
noisy with the twangs, claps, shouts and Mayor from around 8pm onwards. The local
whoops of the ‘tunas’, groups of troubadours tourist board offers guided city tours, taking
who have busked to pay their study fees two hours (from £16; salamanca.es).
since the 13th century, with each band
linked to a particular university faculty.
‘Doctors have always made the best NEXT MONTH
tuna bands’ says Fernando Yunta, an Great Escape: NICARAGUA
architectural student who nonetheless A cobbled approach to the
17th-century Baroque
plays guitar in the company of surgeons Oliver Smith is senior features writer at Clerecía Church. Opposite,
and psychologists. ‘Some of the songs Lonely Planet Traveller. He ate around 1,000 from top The New
we sing are about love or bullfighting. slices of jamón while researching this feature. Cathedral; a side door of
the Old Cathedral of
Salamanca; a tuna band
58 Lonely Planet Traveller June 2016 performs in Plaza Mayor June 2016 Lonely Planet Traveller 59