Looking at Cuenca

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When choosing somewhere to go for a
weekend there are three things I look for: great food, lovely
countryside and a slice of the unexpected because, after all, I’ve
got the first two at home. I found the perfect combination of these
ingredients in Cuenca, whose cuisine’s hearty and warming as gin, with mountains pure and refreshing as tonic and a twist of weirdness that’s zesty as lime.

Roughly halfway between Madrid and
Valencia, Cuenca lies deep in the interior of Spain. Far from the
orchards and delicate plates of the coast, here meat is king and
potato his prince. After a long journey we were starving, I’d made a
reservation at El Asador de Antonio based on trip advisor and gut feeling but it turned out to be a great choice – you know you’ve found a
local treasure when everybody stops eating and stares at you when you
walk in. We started with morteruelo a game stew of such slow
cooked deliciousness it was on the verge of transing to hot pate,
combined with ajoarriero a tangy, garlic mash to take the edge
off. Next up, chops for Azahara, sizzled to perfection, and for me
lechal – the veal of lamb. There’s an argument that says it’s cruel
to slaughter unweaned, baby animals but luckily I chew so loudly I
don’t hear it.

Cuenca’s surroundings are stunning, our first day there dawned cold and bright and we couldn’t wait to head into the mountains. After checking out the view from the devil’s window we went to Uña, a town that nestles among reed beds in a ring of hills. Of course the best views are those from the mountaintop where you can see for miles, but there’s something to be said for being in a valley, cuddled by hills, especially when you have a lake and birdsong to share the peace with. From there we followed signs to the nacimiento del rio Cuervo, not really knowing what to expect, and found a series of springs and waterfalls, moss covered grottos that’re really pretty, although later on in the winter when it freezes it’s even more impressive, check out the photos from En Brillo en la Mirada

Looking out of the Devil’s Window
El Nacimiento del Rio Cuervo

On the way home we went to the Cuidad
which translates literally as the ‘Enchanted City’
although might more accurately be described as countryside with big
rocks that sorta look like stuff. If you feel cynicism rising push it down! At places like this is vital to connect with your inner
child so that these really are lovers about to kiss
and this is a crocodile fighting an elephant.
The city of Cuenca has just as much
delight and oddness as its countryside. The Cathedral is a mishmash
of styles and, for me, well worth the 3.50euro entry fee. Azahara
objected because she thinks God’s rich enough, but I love to visit
Holy Places because I get swept up in their majesty and wonder and
yet always find a comforting vindication of my decision not to go the
whole religious hog. It’s usually a painting and sure enough
Baby Jesus Owning the Skull of an Enemy
Perched atop a tiny mountain itself,
Cuenca’s always been a bit short on space and this led to some
impressive medieval architectural feats like las casas colgantes (the
hanging houses). Impressive for the time obviously, cobbled onto to
the side of other houses with wattle and daub and looking like they
might join their erstwhile neighbours by plunging hundreds of feet
below any day, you can go inside one of the few remaining houses, but
most prefer to take photos from a safe distance. In the same vein are
the twelfth century skyscrapers, timber houses, twelve stories high.
Like the hanging houses the impressive thing about them begins and
ends with the fact that they haven’t fallen down, but it adds to a
uniqueness, that combined with twisty streets, huge ravines, hidden
tunnels and a staring cliff, that make Cuenca a delightful city to
Casas Colgantes
Safe as houses
With a hearty, meaty cuisine that
matches its rugged mountain setting and a city visibly shaped by its
unique positioning Cuenca has a lot to offer the weekend visitor. We
went to celebrate our second anniversary and just like our
relationship a lot of it was uphill, but the pay offs were

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