Cuenca bewitches with an enchantment that stems from the complicity between city and landscape. The deep gullies carved out by the Rivers Huecar and Jucar embrace its waist, defining and marking the limits of the city. Cuenca is landscape, even in its gastronomy, where the hills and woodland are to be found in the traditional game dishes. Cuenca is colour and warmth, that extraordinary aesthetic force described by the painter Antonio Saura, once an illustrious stranger, now a neighbour. The enchantment has made other painters, like Zobel, Torner, Rueda, Sempere, as well as Saura, choose Cuenca as their preferred spot, the ideal place to give life, in the famous Hanging Houses, to the Spanish Museum of Abstract Art.
CERAMICS, A SAMPLE OF CUENCA’S HANDICRAFTS¶
Cuenca is a city that artists fall in love with, and that is why there are so many art galleries. The city also has a flourishing craft tradition, especially ceramics. You can admire this emblematic art at the traditional craft centre in the Santa Cruz Church.
The city of Cuenca is the ideal place for a relaxed stroll to enjoy its charms. Start from the historic centre of Cuenca, which still conserves the structure of a mediaeval city. The Plaza Mayor, the main square, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Gracia, the City Hall and Plaza de la Merced are essential stops on this journey in time from the 12th to the 18th century. From the top of the old part of town, the Barrio de San Martin district, you will see the houses built on the rock, called the “skyscrapers of Cuenca”. You will also find in this neighbourhood the Santa Cruz Church, today an exhibition centre and craft shop.
Continue your route as far as Plaza de Ronda and you will come face-to-face with one of the old city gates which leads to the San Pablo Bridge. It is precisely here where you should stop, contemplate and enjoy the most representative symbol of the city: the Hanging Houses, an emblematic Gothic building with civil architecture which, until the 18th century, was the seat of the City Council. Today, the building houses a restaurant and the Spanish Museum of Abstract Art, founded by Fernando Zobel and which boasts important works by Millares, Tapies, Saura, Chillida, Torner, Mompo, Canogar, Feito and Guerrero.
The extension to Cuenca of the high-speed train line which connects Madrid with the eastern coast of Spain brings the city closer to the main communication lines of the peninsula. Just 50 minutes from the Spanish capital, the train will leave you at the new station 4 kilometres from the city and a bus service will take you to the city bus station, where there are many services for easy transport all around the city.
In Cuenca, lovers of rural tourism will find the ideal place to roam on alternative green routes with enormous contrasts. There are three main natural areas to the province: the mountain range, the Mancha and the Alcarria zones. Many of the towns of the province, in all three of these areas, still preserve interesting examples of popular architecture, as well as customs of great ethnographical interest.
If you like active tourism and sport, Cuenca and its surrounding area, located between mountains and rivers, can offer a wide range of activities for all ages: rock climbing, canoeing, canyoning, horse-riding, cycling and more.
The fiestas are also an important part of the traditions of Cuenca. Some are purely religious while others go back so far in time that they will take you back to the pagan traditions of the first Iberian settlers. The Easter Week celebrations and the Religious Music Festival are outstanding and have been declared of International Tourist Interest. The Fiestas of the patron of the city, the Virgin of La Luz, are held in late August and 21 September is St Matthew’s day, whose highpoint is the release of the vaquillas enmaromadas, young roped bulls which trot through the narrow streets of the old city.
The night in Cuenca also offers plenty of fun. In the classic “La Calle” zone and in the Plaza Mayor, in the old part of town, you will find bars to suit every taste, with all different kinds of music and atmosphere.
Discover the traditional game and fish stews, made with pulses, mushrooms, garlic, tomato and peppers. Add to these basic ingredients all of the nuances to be found in the province of Cuenca, with its excellent cheeses and the white, rosé and red wines. But, without doubt, the flagship dishes of Cuenca cuisine which you must not miss are the morteruelo (a pig liver dish resembling pâté), the ajoarriero (a dish with potato, garlic, eggs and oil) and gazpacho pastor (a dish with unleavened bread, meat and aromatic spices). Mutton and lamb prepared in many different ways are also traditional dishes. Pork is another staple and the traditional slaughter has always been an important event in the area. And don’t miss the zarajos, cleaned and marinated sheep tripe, which is rolled around two stems of a vine and served cut in slices. It is usually eaten as a starter.
For dessert, enjoy the sweetness of alajú, the best of Cuenca’s bakery, made with honey, almonds or walnuts and wafers.
Another way of enjoying Cuenca is to start in the city centre and take a stroll around the tapas bars that you will find in Calle San Francisco. You can also shop in Calle Carreteria, the city’s main shopping street where you will also find the famous Cafe Colon with its small dance orchestra under the shadow of the famous journalist, Cesar Gonzalez Ruano, a prolific writer of articles.
And in the oldest part of the city, in Plaza Mayor and its surrounds, you will find craft and ceramic shops as well as other delights such as bakeries, where you can take home some of the typical sweets of Cuenca.