When someone talks about Guadalajara, chances are they’re referring to Mexico’s second largest city, unaware that there is a city and province that gave the more famous one its name. Castilla La Mancha has four provinces, and two of them lent their names to bigger cities in the Americas, as Toledo also gave its (very butchered pronunciation) name to the real mistake on the lake in Ohio. (Cleveland just has burning rivers. They don’t have toxic algae in 2013, folks. My hometown is about halfway between the two, but Toledo, Spain, is my Spanish “village”.
Lying just north of Madrid, the province of Guadalajara is a treasure of medieval villages, beautiful scenery and the “pueblos negros”, villages made of slate. Most of the time, Guadalajara just serves as a dot on the motorway/highway that connects Madrid, Zaragoza and Barcelona. While I haven’t visited the capital city, I have gone on hiking excursions, visited some of the most special villages in the World’s Greatest Peninsula and seen the great pueblo named Sigüenza. The entire province only has around 250,000 people, and the capital city is much smaller than the famed Mexican location with only 85,000 people. Guadalajara comes from Arab, meaning a stream bed or valley of stones. The name applies.
My first real visit to the province came in 2012 on a hiking excursion with my gym through the hills in the Parque Natural del Barranco de la Hoz del Río Dulce (Natural Park of the Ravine of the Hoz of the River Sweet). I have fond memories of this hike, despite not knowing anyone as most of them were from the other branch of the gym, and I tend to not speak to anyone at the gym due to my shyness. I’m there to get fit, not have a conversation. The hike lead us through stunning scenery, and the grass was green, despite the typical arid climate of the region. There were a few sparsely populated villages along the way, but most of the trip was through the scenery. We stopped a few times on the bus ride back to Madrid to take pictures of the ravine (and for a relaxing café con leche, you know those madrileños like their relaxing cafés con leche!).
My second trip came the weekend of San José in March 2013 on a very rainy Saturday. Sigüenza is about a two-hour train ride north of Madrid, so I woke up early to catch the train. While the city is beautiful and on the Ruta (Trail) de Quijote, a rainy Saturday in March is not the best day to go. Silly me buying the ticket in advance on Renfe to take advantage of the cheaper, unchangeable fare! I still loved the city. The Parador is enchanting, and the medieval feel of the place made me feel like I was stepping back in time.
The third trip was another excursion, this time with a group of gay Christians (Crismhom) of Madrid, to a place that had been on my Madrid Bucket List for quite sometime but is quite inaccessible without a car. The Pueblos Negros! These are small villages in the heart of the wilderness of Guadalajara made entirely of slate, similar to Patones de Arriba in Madrid. While not many people live there, the villages are a popular day trip for madrileños and as there is a lack of public transport, there are not as many tourists as there are in other medieval gems like Toledo and Segovia.
Campillo de Ranas, El Espinar, Campillejo, Majaelrayo, Roblelacasa and Robleluengo are some of the villages constructed from slate. These villages are isolated, and the only way of reaching them is by car. They are in the middle of nowhere but well worth the visit. They remain one of the most unusual things I have seen in a country that does not cease to amaze me with its nonstop list of unique things. They serve as a reminder of a life gone by. And it is rather fun to have a relaxing café con leche in a bar made of slate as the señoritos talk about how “España iba mejor con los Reyes Católicos” too. (Spain was better when the Catholic Kings were around.)
Castle de Atienza
The actual castle (this one is nearby, as I didn’t have any pictures of the actual one. I want to kick 2012 me for not labeling my photos more carefully.) is more impressive and was fought over for centuries by the Catholics and the Muslims, and its location high upon a rocky hill means it can be seen from kilometres away.
Barranco del Río Dulce
The ravine of the Río Dulce offers some spectacular views, but the Parque Natural is best seen on foot. It borders the municipalities of Algora, Mandayona (Aragosa), Mirabueno, Saúca (Jodra del Pinar), Sigüenza (La Cabrera y Pelegrina) y Torremocha del Campo.
The small medieval town of Sigüenza, population 5000, is a charming hamlet not far from the autopista that takes you from Madrid to Zaragoza from Barcelona and is well worth the pitstop. It boasts an impressive cathedral which houses the sepulchre of Martín Vázques de Arce, named the Doncel de Sigüenza by the Generación de ’98 and is an example of Spanish Medieval art. The medieval flare adds the beauty of the city.
Parador de Sigüenza
The Castle of Sigüenza, now an official Parador (one of the castles that have been converted into a hotel), has a history of being changed and added on to. The Visigoths built it in the fifth century, and the Moors built a bigger version of it in the eighth Century. Bernard de Seriac conquered it from the Moors, and Alfonso de la Cerda and Ferdinand IV de Castilla battled for it in 1298. In the 15th Century, it was fortified against attacks from Aragón and Navarra (the actual Kingdoms responsible for today’s indepentistas of their respective Catalunya and Euskadi (Basque Country, I must remark…if you want to annoy a Catalán or a Basque, remind them that it’s Aragón and Navarra that were the Kingdoms responsible for them becoming Spain!) Later, during the War of Spanish Succession, the French looted it for riches. And now it’s a hotel with a café con leche for the mere price of 1.70€ (normal in Castilla La Mancha is 1.20!)
60 kilometres or 37 miles north of Madrid, you can find the capital of the province Guadalajara. Although the main cathedral is in Sigüenza, Guadalajara has many churches, including the “co-cathedral” St. Mary. It also has a river, Henares, with several interesting bridges, and it has several parks.
45 km or 25 miles from the province capital lies the medieval town of Pastrana. The Princess Éboli (NOT EBOLA) was imprisoned here by Felipe II in 1573 at the Palacio Ducal. Rumour has it she was allowed to look out the window for an hour a day on the town’s plaza, giving it the name Plaza de la Hora. The village has a population of around 1000 people today.