El País-Aguilar published a really nice book called "Rutas con encanto (por España)," which describes some routes through rural Spain where you can find beautiful towns and countryside. Inspired by this guide's name, and fortunate to have a family in Spain that loves to do such day trips in and around Valencia, I'm starting a series of entries, "Pueblos con encanto" (towns with a certain charm), on some of the beautiful little towns I've visited, and which Hemingway never managed to get around to visiting or mentioning in his travels here.
This last weekend we went hiking in the Sierra de Gúdar and then had lunch in Linares de Mora, a small town of about 300 people (which grows to 1500 in the summer) in Teruel (Aragón). (They're both about a one and a half hour drive from Valencia.) It was a lovely trip, and I took a ton of photos. So this entry is going to be more of a photo post than a long written exposition.
We started off foraging along a forest trail on a turnoff about 10 kilometers from Linares de Mora, in the Sierra de Gúdar. The most striking (and beautiful) feature of this area is its dark red soil..
The altitude was high enough, and winter close enough, that we encountered snow on the ground in certain shaded areas.
It was hunting season. We saw hunters pulling over along the roads at various points, heard a gun shot, and saw this sign "Coto deportivo de caza" (hunting preserve) put up at regular intervals along the trails, where fences kept daytrippers like us out.
We were hunting for something different. My wife and mother-in-law wanted to make some Christmas decorations, such as wreaths, using some pine tree materials, brush, and other seasonal flora common in this area.
After hiking for a couple of hours, we were quite hungry, and ready for a meal in Linares de Mora, shown below marked by the statue to the patron saint of roads, San Cristobal, with the great motto: "Lo importante es llegar" (the most important thing is to arrive). My in-laws knew a great place there: Hostal Restaurante La Venta. We rushed to the town so as to get some "pan de pueblo" from the local horno, since small-town bakeries are renowned for their bread.
Then we walked over to La Venta for our lunch. It was Sunday, so we reserved a table in advance (which I recommend you do if you are visiting there on the weekends or holidays).
In the entryway they had a display of local mushrooms... hunting for mushrooms is another common thing to do in this region around October and November. This is why, during this season, I make a point of ordering everything on the menu which has wild mushrooms ("setas") in it.
Everything on their menu is great... we've come here several times and tried a wide variety of dishes. Here I'll just post the ones I had this time... revuelto de setas (wild mushrooms in scrambled eggs), bistec a la brasa, and the amazing "postre casero" (homemade dessert) shown below.
In what was a very classy finale to the meal, the chef brought us "miel sobre hojuelas"(fried leaves with honey on top), which is not only quite tasty but also a very old, classic dish. As my father-in-law explained there is even a line in Cervantes's masterpiece about it (the true test of Spanish authenticity): "Esto me parece argado sobre argado, y no miel sobre hojuelas" [transl.: This [business] seems to me a tangle upon a tangle, not honey over leaves.], where argado sobre argado would signify 'not straightforward' in contrast to miel sobre hojuelas which would metaphorically be 'something that is easy or going well'.
Stuffed with delicious and hearty food, the next most natural thing to do is stroll through the town. It has many of the usual features of a picturesque Spanish town: narrow cobblestone roads, houses with simple, yet pretty windows or balconies, a nice church and/or church tower, and comfortable lazy-looking cats.
The town had one additional feature which makes it worth a visit, a beautiful backdrop of hills tiered with old stone walls, probably part of some earlier agricultural era, though still inhabited by grazing farm animals throughout the area.
It was a lovely day out with the family, and one of the best ways to get to know a more peaceful and comparatively hidden side of Spain.
1) get up early and drive to destination
2) go hiking or foraging mid morning along some local nature trail,
3) get to small town no later than 1PM to buy bread/regional pastries at the horno
4) have a big and hearty lunch in at the main eatery in town
5) stroll around the town, enjoy its particular charm (and if it's Saturday, be sure to support the local shops and purchase something)
6) drive back home feeling relaxed and contented.
It's a winning combination, and a way to see a different kind of Spain from the usual Madrid-Barcelona-Andalucía-Pamplona path.
Addendum: So obviously I'm not the first to think of visiting small towns like this, but apparently I'm not even the first to come up with this title. In the process of writing this entry, I discovered a nice website for "Pueblos con encanto" with information (in Spanish) on nice towns throughout Spain. This kind of rural tourism is quite popular with Spaniards, so I can't more highly recommend it to all you expats!