Free tapas and gorgeous setting: Cuenca

You have only a few days to spend outside the Spanish capital? You’ve had enough of the noise and smog of Madrid? Or you’d like to experience the Andalusian tradition of free tapas without traveling hours to the South? Check out Cuenca.

The gorge of the Huecar River
The gorge of the Huecar River from the Cerro del Socorro Hill

As we admire the dramatic setting of the old town, it’s hard to understand how the ancient Iberians and even the Romans could overlook this place. It was the Arabs who built the first fort between the two rivers and called the town Kunka. It remained in Muslim hands for centuries before it was taken by the Spanish.

After the poverty of the early 20th century, today’s Cuenca is a charming city with a prospering tourism industry and a busy cultural calendar. As a result, it was declared a World Heritage site. But what is there to see?

1. The Cathedral

The Gothic building of the Cathedral
The Cathedral, the first church of Gothic style in Spain

The massive building of the Gothic Cathedral dominates the Plaza Mayor. Along with Avila’s cathedral, it is one of Spain’s two oldest churches of this style. But the facade you see today is not the original. In 1902 lightning struck its tower, which then caused the collapse of the ornamented facade. It was soon rebuilt and here are plans to restore the tower one day.

2. The Plaza Mayor

Colourful houses of the Plaza Mayor
Colourful houses of the Plaza Mayor
The Plaza Mayor at night
The Plaza Mayor with the Town Hall at night

Cuenca’s Old Town has a pretty main square with the Cathedral on one side and the Town Hall on the other. There are several bars and restaurants to take a rest before you continue exploring the city. Interestingly, the Plaza Mayor can be accessed through the arches of the Town Hall.

3. The two gorges

The gorge of the Huecar River
The gorge of the Huecar River from the Cerro del Socorro Hill
Cneunca is just as beautiful at night
Cuenca is just as beautiful at night

If the Huécar and Júcar rivers hadn’t created deep gorges around the rocky ridge, probably the Arabs would never have chosen this place to build their castle. And what a sight they provide with the houses and churches balancing on their edges!

There are paths leading to the two hills surrounding the rivers from where you can take great photos. And if you are full of energy, there are paths for hikers and runners.

4. The hanging houses

Old houses of four to six floors
Old houses of four to six floors stand along the edges of the ridge
The famous hanging houses
The famous hanging houses date back to the 15th century

Fortunately, a number of medieval houses have survived the centuries in the old town. We were lucky enough to be invited into one of them and fell in love with it at once. The rooms are small, just like the windows, but that’s no problem if you have 5-6 floors!

Some of these houses were built precariously on the cliff edge and they are just as popular with the tourists as the churches and the bridges.

5. And the free tapas!

You get your free tapas for any alcoholic drink you order. And even soft drinks!
Free appetiser soup before the free tapas
Cuenca is the only place where we got appetizers (small portions of soup) before our free tapas

You’ve got thirsty and a bit hungry walking around the old buildings? The good news is that the lovely Andalusian tradition of free tapas is well and alive in Cuenca. Just order a small beer or wine (or even a soft drink) and you can taste the wonders of the local cuisine. To my surprise, we even received “appetizers” before our round of tapas in one bar! If you only try one (though I don’t know why you’d do that), go to the Bodeguilla. It is where I took my photos and the tapas were… I can’t find words, go and taste them!

Thank you for your attention! If you liked this post, perhaps you’d find this other article interesting about the El Camino pilgrimage route.

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