Discovering a Hidden Gem in Cuenca

Posted on 13. Jul, 2010 by in Travel


While most people think Cuenca is in Ecuador (well, they’re right - it is), there’s actually another, lesser known homonym. Today’s Cuenca is located in the autonomous Spanish community of Castilla-La Mancha, two hours east of Madrid. It’s truly one of the best surprises I’ve had when exploring Spain.

We were not even supposed to visit that city – it was s a total coincidence. One of my friends, who happened to be travelling with me (and actually did pretty much all the driving - thanks Dan, by the way), was intrigued by the city for an excellent reason: Cuenca is actually his surname. All he really wanted to do was to strike a silly pose with the city sign, but after researching a little bit, we found out that the Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – that’s usually a good sign that the place is worth visiting. Indeed, it was!

Cuenca, Spain

The true jewel of the city is undoubtedly its location. Situated on the edge of a gorge, it offers incredible views of the region for the visitor who isn’t afraid of heights. And even for those who are afraid, the views are so gorgeous you will quickly forget about the fact that you’re 956 meters high.

We got in Cuenca early in the evening, having visited Consuegra and El Toboso earlier that day. We were a bit in a slow mode, not wanting to rush anything, feeling kind of tired. Cuenca fitted the bill perfectly (although those hills sure did keep us awake). We walked around the Plaza Mayor during the evening, appreciated its authenticity and had a drink at one of the many terraces. And this was the best decision, really: at night, do walk around the city to impregnate its atmosphere and its lovely lights, even in the dark alleys. The scenery is very impressive and different from what it looks like in the daylight.

Cuenca, Spain

The following morning, we started our visit at Plaza Mayor. The somewhat particular Cathedral is not to be missed. Built in 1270 and rebuilt in 1902, it is the first gothic Cathedral in Spain, thanks to Alfonso III’s English wife (no I do not miss any occasion to mention England).

We walked past the cathedral and headed behind it, towards east. We arrived at one of the most impressive attractions of the area, Las Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses). There are only a couple of houses left today but back in the days, the whole gorge was walled with such properties. It is quite daunting to see the porches literally hanging over the gorge, with no apparent support - one of them even hosts a restaurant, from what I’ve heard. For the photographers out there, the other side of Puente de San Pablo is an excellent picture-taking spot.

We walked on Calle de San Pedro, soon arriving at the remains of El Castillo (The Castle), destroyed by French soldiers in the 19th century during the Spanish War of Independence.

I strongly suggest you continue walking uphill from that point on as there is a breathtaking panorama at the end of the road, where you can see not only the city in its entirety, but the whole region when the sky is clear. While you are getting up there, don’t hesitate to bifurcate in smaller streets. That’s probably where you’ll be most surprised by the scenery and the amazing photos opportunities.

Cuenca, Spain

About the accommodation: we weren’t sure on where to stay so we paid a visit to the local Tourism Office, in Plaza Mayor. They recommended Pension Angel, near Av de los Alfares. We decided on a double room with private bathroom, located by the waterfall. Plus, the lovely owner offered to do my laundry. All that for €25. For two people. Need I say more?

The overall atmosphere of the city is very laid-back and slow paced. It seems like time forgot to pass by this little gem, thus entering the visitor into a relaxing and epicurean universe.

As we were a bit stressed out to get to Barcelona on time, we had to leave Cuenca sooner than I cared for. I feel we didn’t do justice to the city by staying so briefly. Next time I’ll make sure to hang around for another day!

Have you been to Cuenca or the Castilla-la-Mancha region in Spain? Have you been to its sister city in Ecuador?

Related posts:

  1. 24 Hours in Cordoba
  2. Spanish Roadtrip Chapter 2: Granada, Cordoba and Malaga
  3. Spanish Roadtrip Chapter 1: Ronda and Gibraltar

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11 Responses to “Discovering a Hidden Gem in Cuenca”

  1. Anonymous

    14. Jul, 2010

    Great report. It makes you want be there already! What would you do differently if you were to go back?

    Reply to this comment
  2. Daniel Cuenca

    14. Jul, 2010

    I’m the one who has Cuenca for surname! And now I’m proud of it! :) I’m sure at 99% that the address of Pension Angel is “5 Calle de San Lázaro. Cuenca”. I think that Cuenca is an inconturnable place for people who love to travel and want to immerge themselves in the Spanish culture.

    Very nice Report Marie, and I hope that we will get back on the road soon!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Jim

    14. Jul, 2010

    Wow!Brings back great memories.Wonderful place and the gorge walkways are stunning.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Marie

    15. Jul, 2010

    Thank you guys for your comments.

    Anonymous - I would stay longer, that’s what I would do differently! I would take some time to visit the modern part of the city and take lots more pictures of the scenery.

    Dan - Again, thanks for all the driving, and the address! I updated my post.

    Jim - I’m glad it brings back great memories. Indeed, the views were amazing. It seemed that we could see the whole world (well Spain) from that point. How I wish I could go back!

    Reply to this comment
  5. Anonymous

    15. Jul, 2010

    Cuenca is indeed very laid back. In fact, this city is exactly the type of city I like to visit: you’re not rushing in every direction to get a glimpse at the main attractions nor you are inside museums from 8AM to 8PM.

    Walking around the city is relaxing, and that’s my perfect definition of vacation. There is no rush at all when you stroll around the city; not being rushed is not something we get to experience very often (even when we’re on vacation).

    Cuenca is located pretty much in the center of Spain, near Madrid. So I would recommend spending one or two days in that city if you’re doing a road trip in Spain, it will energize you and you’ll be in a better fit to appreciate the rest of your trip. The big cities in Spain can be exhausting (in a good way), so think of stopping by smaller and relaxing cities so you can catch your breath between your visit of Madrid and Barcelona ;)

    Reply to this comment
  6. Joannie

    15. Jul, 2010

    One word (or three): I love Cuenca!

    Marie, I like your writing style so much. I had never read you in english…. love it!

    You brought me back there for a few minutes. I could see us walking by the bridge where we could see the casas colgadas. When are we going back?



    Reply to this comment
  7. Steve

    19. Jul, 2010

    This story just goes to show that some of the best travel experiences can happen by accident. Those hanging houses would be amazing to see. It looks like it would be such a laid back and fun place to look around. Great story.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Sonja

    25. Aug, 2011

    Okay. Added this town to my list of towns to visit.

    Reply to this comment


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