Experience Alarcon Among Spain’s Top Authentic Medieval Villages and Castles
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We had been driving through the heartland of Spain, Castilla-La Mancha, heading for our first time to a village named Alarcon. We had left the larger highway a while back and, with our good friend Abel at the wheel, now cruised down a simple, two-lane road. Are you sure we are not lost?, asked our other traveling companion Ana. There was nothing around.
We made a turn off the main road. According to the gps, we were to be arriving at our destination soon, yet it was nowhere in sight. On either side of us, the land spread out empty and flat, covered in golden grasses and scrub pines. It was a parched, arid terrain, and brought to mind the legendary story of Don Quijote. The only things missing were windmills.
No Two Castles in Spain Make the Same Impression
Then (cue dramatic Spanish guitars), the iconic battlements of a stone tower peeked over the horizon. Taller and taller it rose, as we crammed our faces against the car window, oohing and ahhing.
Very soon, the entire castle came fully into view. Perched on the top edge of a sprawling hill, the Castle of Alarcon seemed to sprout up from the rocky ground itself. Simpler and smaller than perhaps many castles in Spain, its formidable location still evoked intimidation, even from a distance.
Between us and our destination, a deep gorge curved below. It all seemed to appear out of nowhere, creating a natural protection around this turtle-shaped hill on which stood the castle and its village.
Where did this come from?, is what we each found ourselves thinking. We could say it felt magical, but it was more than that. Was it like going back in time? Besides being in a car, heck ya!
The Epic Viewpoint of Alarcon
It was time to really take in the view. We stopped in a well-worn pullover area and got out. Directly next to us, standing solid and silent, was a single stone watchtower. But we weren’t at the castle yet. Still in between us and this historic site, was the gorge, and this particular watchtower was guarding the only practical way in. In front us, the land dropped away into the river and small dam below.
We felt like a scouting party as we searched the scene before us for more details. Below the castle, and to either side, were remnants of a stone wall dispersed with smaller watchtowers. The watchtower next to us was not alone, and across the river, on the top of the nearest neighboring hill, were two more watchtowers. Extending out from the castle was a single-lane narrow road that scales the only strip of land which interrupts the gorge. We would soon learn that this was our way in.
Marveling at the epic view, we began to spot signs of the village itself. Tucked away behind the castle were two chapel bell towers and to the other side a glimpse of row-houses sloping down in a terraced fashion. Various trees dotted the ground and filled in the plateaus above the gorge, adding vibrant hues of bright and dark green.
It was captivating, like seeing a large portrait and then being drawn to admire its small details that contribute to the whole scene. Nothing stood out as modern. From this vantage point, it easily felt like we were transported back in time.
One would have thought that such a viewpoint would be decorated with plaques and neatly paved into a parking lot. But no, not here in Spain. It was dust and dirt, lined with random patches of grass that had survived who knows how many visiting vehicles. And then again, maybe not as many as one would think.
Right in Between Madrid and Valencia
We had not heard of Alarcon before. It didn’t seem to pop-up on top destinations in Spain, which was fine with us. This was definitely ‘off-the-beaten-path’, and we love discovering places that are less-frequented.
Yet on a return visit in early October, we would learn that this incredibly small, medieval village, is quite the popular spot for the local Spaniards of Madrid, Madrileños. This could not be missed because when going to lunch, they appeared in mass, packing out an entire restaurant. Turns out that on the weekends or holidays, they will drive the two hours from Madrid, just to have lunch in Alarcon.
Ah, but it goes both ways, and the Valencians are not ones to miss out on great food. Being only 2 hours away as well, going to Alarcon from Valencia for lunch is well worth the drive.
The location of Alarcon could not be more perfectly in the middle of these two beloved cities of Spain, Madrid and Valencia (two of our favorites, if you can’t tell). And of course, coming from either direction, it makes for a fantastic nature-getaway to take a break from city-life.
When we had lunch there, we came to see (and taste) why! But we digress (distracted by food of course). We have yet to make our way into the village of Alarcon.
Wait Your Turn to Enter Alarcon
Above Image – A view of the road that enters Alarcon, seen from the hiking trail.
Getting back in the car, we left the viewpoint, eager to get closer to the castle of Alarcon and discover what historical charm the village held. Just around the bend we turned onto a small road that took us through… wait for it… a splendid medieval arch in a stone wall. The land dropped away to either side of the road, revealing wide open vistas, and up above us loomed the castle.
Right where this bridge of land connected us to the hill, there was another archway for us to drive through, with a small bit of shoulder along the road where we could pull over and let oncoming traffic pass by. Talk about an entrance.
Onward we continued, following the road as it steadily climbed up, hugging the hill side. Rows of houses appeared in the charming old-world style of stone, white-washed walls and Spanish-tiled roofs. Winding our way down the small, cobblestoned streets, we easily found the spacious, stone parking lot in front of the castle. We had arrived.
The Castle of Alarcon
Standing before the castle entrance, we craned our necks back to look up and admire the details at the top of the main tower. Everything was made of stone, from the walkway and rounded borders to every inch and cranny of the castle walls rising up before us. We were a bit surprised that a huge gate did not exist as the entrance. Instead, a small, pointed archway just to the right of the tower, appeared to be the only way in.
Upon entering the Castle of Alarcon, we came directly into a small open-air courtyard, complete with an old, stone well. Several cafe tables and chairs were set out among several flowering bushes and tall, slender fir trees. Then leading up into the main tower, was a short set of stairs that went through an arched doorway. Today, this leads to the reception area of the Parador Hotel that Alarcon is today.
On the other side of the courtyard is a modern-day doorway of sliding glass. We step inside to admire the movie-set-like hall. Adorned with dark red tapestries, the long stone-walled room is furnished with a small bar in the corner, bistro tables and chairs and some cushioned chairs and loveseats. It’s lounge-area meets medieval architecture.
The bright sunlight from outside floods the room beautifully from large windows set in stone arches. Stone remains the constant theme here and turning our gaze upwards, we take in the true gem of this room – the ceiling. It’s held up by stone apexed arches, and lined vertically with dark wood beams. This was our favorite interior feature of the castle’s architecture.
This castle doesn’t just have the look. There’s plenty of great history and interesting facts to learn about as well. Here’s a start, but we also recommend reading up on Wikipedia for more information:
- Originally of Arab origin.
- Taken in 1184 by a captain serving King Alfonso VIII of Castile.
- There is a legend of Alarcon Castle about some of the stones in a portion of the wall being stained with blood, which today can still be seen as black and reddish spots. Sounds creepy, but it’s a good story.
- To tour the castle, you have to pay for a guided tour which is arranged through the Parador Hotel.
What to See and Do in Alarcon
Strolling the calles of Alarcon has got to be the best thing to do here, besides seeing the castle of course. And we do mean stroll. You will not want to rush your time. The intricate stone work of the streets, lined with charming row homes, will lure you into a slow, relaxed pace.
We were mesmerized by the details that come together to make up this enchanting environment. The stones which were used for the majority of the homes, were all of the same color and type, so that the village radiates a quality, yet artisan feel.
Looking all around, the rows of buildings were like a patchwork of stones, wrought-iron clad windows, potted plants and brightly colored flowers, wood-framed windows with the random cat taking a siesta in the sun, and gorgeously carved sturdy doors of dark wood and shiny brass knockers. The village is so charming.
Thanks to its small size, there are not that many streets to explore. So we’ve made sure to go up and down all of them, each of the two times that we’ve visited. From certain points, we would look over and catch a view of the neighboring plateaus beyond the gorge, a picturesque scene from the edges of the village.
For such a small village, there are a good amount of historical sites and architecture to see. Aside from the obviously main one, the castle, there are also quite a few churches (Spanish villages have either a lot of churches, bread shops, or both).
- Get a map of the town and sites from the Alarcon Tourist Office.
- The church of Santa Maria and its amazingly preserved altarpiece from the Renaissance.
- The church of San Juan Bautista, home to the Modern Art Museum of Mural Painting and UNESCO recognized mural paintings by Jesus Mateo.
- The church of Santo Domingo de Silos.
- The church of the Stma. Trinidad (Blessed Trinity).
- The Palace of Castañeda.
- The Plaza Ayuntamiento and its town hall building.
Hiking in Alarcon
On our second visit to Alarcon, we stayed one night and had time the next morning to hike the gorge. We highly recommend hiking in this area to anyone who has the time, and it only takes 1 – 2 hours, depending on how far you want to go.
There are two places where you can start, but we suggest starting from the public parking lot which is at the back of the village (opposite end of the castle). This starting point is called “Sendero Hoz de Alarcon”. Here, there is a large sign that shows the trails and you can pick up a printed map from the Tourist Office which is very close by.
Heading down, we enjoyed the tall fragrant pine trees and went along the easy trail that headed back in the direction of the castle, further below the houses and hugging the hill. We soon came to a large archway in the village’s defensive wall that still remains and snakes its way down towards the gorge. It stops suddenly at the edge of a cliff where the land abruptly gives way a vertical rock wall that disappears into the tree tops further below.
Then the trail comes to a switchback to the right or you can follow the trail a little further to a stone bridge that crosses the river, which we went and saw as well. From here, the trail begins to climb up along the side of the gorge on the other side and up to the plateau top blanketed with pine trees.
Taking the switchback to the right, the trail hugs the River Jucar and circles around the back of the hill to the other side of the castle. We took this trail and loved walking through the towering trees and right alongside the river.
This trail leads to the small dam that we saw from the viewpoint. Just before this, we noticed a lot of anchors in the rock wall along the trail, evidence of great rock climbing opportunities. There is also an impressive stone bridge there that the trail continues over, leading up to the watch towers on the other side of the gorge. In total, there are five towers that are strategically placed around Alarcon.
Dining in Alarcon
From what we’ve been able to tell, Alarcon has no supermarket. The closest thing to a grocery store that we found was a delicatessen / cafe called La Tienda della Nonna. It’s a wonderful place to get fresh made sandwiches, cheeses and meats, and a glass of local wine or artisan craft beer. Ideal for putting together a picnic for a hike.
And as any true Spanish village has, there are a variety of restaurants and bars. More of them are open in the popular summer months, and the rest of the time there are at least a few available.
We have enjoyed a delicious dinner at the restaurant in the castle. The setting was of course gorgeous, and the service and food were good. Then we had lunch at La Cabaña de Alarcon, located down one of the lovely streets in the center. It’s wonderfully artistic and eccentric interior give off a great energy, the local food they specialize in was delicious, and the owner was so kind.
Some friends who have also visited Alarcon, have highly recommended the Don Julián Restaurante, saying that their food and wine were fantastic, the owner friendly and they have a great front terrace area just across from the castle entrance. Whenever we return to Alarcon, we look forward to eating here.
Accommodations in Alarcon
Above Image – The quaint entrance to the Casa Rural el Hidalgo del Alarcon (also referred to as a ‘posada’).
Of course, if you want that epic castle experience, stay in one of the medieval rooms of the Parador de Alarcon, which is the hotel in the castle.
If the castle is not for you, or is booked up like it was when we visited, then consider staying at Casa Rural el Hidalgo del Alarcón. We stayed there and had a wonderful time. The rooms are each distinctly unique and the beautiful woodwork was hand done by the owner, who is very friendly and helpful. It is a charmingly boutique experience.
Just next door is also the Hotel Hierbaluisa, which is a newer high-end boutique hotel owned and ran by a wonderful couple who used to be designers. We enjoyed their front terrace for a delicious homemade breakfast and we got to see a couple of their creatively decorated rooms.
Wherever you stay in Alarcon, we feel that you can have a wonderfully warm experience of Spanish hospitality.
We’ll never forget the beautiful details of Alarcon, from the time-worn friezes above giant wooden doorways, the smoothly worn stones of the streets, or the trellising plants climbing up wrought iron. The distinctive trait that will definitely remain with us is especially the light, warm-colored tone of the stones, presenting a cohesiveness of the village in that creamy, sand color.
Leaving the village, we passed through the two archways again, making sure that there was no oncoming traffic. We kept looking back, feeling like we had not only crossed the gorge, but had gone through a time portal, returning us to the present, modern time.
Of course, we could not resist pulling into the viewpoint and getting out for another adoring gaze at Alarcon. The scene looked even more rich to us now that we had experienced the castle and village up-close. It truly is a memorably authentic experience of rural Spain and its medieval legacy.
Written by Amalia & Eric
Founders & Producers of Move to Traveling
We’re Amalia and Eric – a traveling couple who are living a traveling lifestyle. Do you love to travel? Perfect! Come along…