All the details of our recent Cuenca road trip are finally out! Let me share this amazing family getaway to the lesser-known corner of Spain which took place this December.
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Traveling to Cuenca
One of the most typical Spanish habits is planning long weekend getaways over the holidays, or puentes, as we call it in Spanish. This year, thanks to Dec 6 (the Spanish Constitution Day) and Dec 8 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), all of our family had a few days off to explore new places in spain off the beaten track.
Initially, I was planning to travel across Zaragoza and Aragon, but could not find any hotel/apartment match last the moment. Exploring Spain with kids is always fun, but it is not always easy to find both nice and budget-friendly accommodation for a group of 4. Especially if booking last moment. So this is how we ended up heading to Cuenca instead of Zaragoza. I have found on booking.com a lovely countryside hotel Hostal Rural Amador and decided to build a new road trip itinerary around the region of Cuenca.
How to get to Cuenca
Cuenca is the capital city of the Cuenca Province in the Castile La-Mancha autonomous community of central Spain.
The city of Cuenca is a great stop on any Madrid to Valencia road trip. Therefore, it could even be a Valencia day trip idea. However, I´d suggest you plan a few days to explore the region of Cuenca. Also, there are a few train options from Madrid´s Puerta de Atocha running daily towards Cuenca Fernando Zobel train station. The best one is a high-speed AVE train (but that´s also the most expensive one). It will take you only 1 hour to get from Madrid to Cuenca with AVE (ticket cost: 25-40 euro one way). While with the regional train, you´ll have 2h40min and 15 euros respectively. The train options from Valencia to Cuenca are similar. You can check the train tickets via RailEurope or Omio.
Visiting Cuenca City by bus is more budget-friendly than traveling by train. The Madrid-Cuenca route is run by Avanza bus company, and Valencia-Cuenca by MonBus. Tickets cost from 12 to 20 euros. You can search for the offers via Busbud.
However, to explore the region fully and follow my Cuenca road trip itinerary, you´d need to rent a car.
3-Day Cuenca Itinerary in Central Spain
Cuenca Road Trip: Day 1
On the road from Castellon to Hostal Rural Amador, we made a stop in the city of Cuenca, one of the top places to visit in the Castile La-Mancha region. The city of Cuenca is known for its Hanging Houses, one of the most iconic Spanish landmarks. The last time I visited the Cuenca province was almost 6 years ago but did not get inside the Cathedral.
The Cathedral of Cuenca
This Cuenca road trip was a perfect chance to finally explore Catedral de Santa María y San Julián de Cuenca, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Spain.
This landmark has completely overcome my expectations: all the architecture and the ceilings were extremely gorgeous. We purchased the combined cathedral tickets which included a walk all the way up to the tower and a visit to the museum Museo Tesoro, where we enjoyed the two famous paintings of El Greco.
After visiting the cathedral we enjoyed a walk across the Cuenca city center towards the Hanging Houses and the bridge Puente de San Pablo (where one can enjoy the best panoramic views).
I wish we had more time in Cuenca to visit the Science Museum of Castile La-Mancha, this place has the potential to end on my list of favorites for Spain with kids. But since it was getting dark and we still had an hour-long drive towards our hotel, we were forced to leave the museum visit for the next Cuenca road trip.
Hostal Rural Amador
Upon our arrival at Hostal Rural Amador, we had a nice dinner in its bar and tried a local traditional dish – ajoarriero. It consists of shredded salt cod, combined with chopped tomatoes, garlic, onions, red and green peppers, and potatoes.
Cuenca Road Trip: Day 2
On the second day of our Cuenca road trip, we planned a visit to the Spanish Christmas park in the small town of Torrejon de Ardoz. (In case you are not visiting Cuenca in winter – do not worry, I will leave for you other alternatives below).
It was honestly not the shortest drive for a day trip (around 2 hours one way). But since last year we missed this park during our trip to Christmas Madrid, we thought this time it was a great chance to get into the holiday spirit.
Since the Christmas park of Torrejon de Ardoz opens at 12 a.m. and all of us are early birds, we had the whole morning to make a stop in Guadalajara. Cold winter mornings in central Spain are meant for churros and hot chocolate. In Guadalajara, there is a popular spot for this sweet treat – Churreria Las Farolas de la Concordia.
After breakfast, we went to visit a top local sight of the city – Palacio del Infantado.
It is considered to be one of the most unique buildings in Spain, built by the architect Juan Guas and the sculptor Egas Coeman in 1480 at the request of the duke Iñigo Mendoza. Both Christians and Muslims worked on the palace, so inside the palace, one can find Renaissance, Gothic, and Islamic decorations. Palacio del Infantado was so unique that two of the Spanish kings, Philip II and Philip V, chose it for their wedding celebrations.
The Infantado Palace has completely overcome my initial expectations. Unlike most of the landmarks near Madrid, the entrance was free (normally, they do not charge for it from Tuesday to Sunday). Additionally, the staff provided us with the activity books for the kids. So, our girls were having a blast searching for objects and completing the tasks. I do recall having quiet solo moments in other museums across Spain while being on the road with kids.
The most unique part of Palacio del Infantado is its courtyard Patio de los Leones, full of lions and griffins from the Eastern Islamic tradition.
Torrejon de Ardoz
Torrejon de Ardoz was one of the top places I wanted to visit during this Cuenca Road Trip since exploring Christmasy places in December has always been a secret passion of mine. However, I ended up a bit disappointed this time…
Any of the smallest Christmas markets in Northen Europe would feel more inspiring and authentic than the Christmas park of Torrejon de Ardoz. All the attractions and activities were overpriced and overrated. After 15+ expat years, it is still a mystery to me why the Spanish do not succeed with the Christmas markets. Maybe, cause it is hard to find snow in Spain (unless you head to the Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada, or Andorra) – so the holiday vibe of the white Christmas is just not there.
But to be fair, my kids had a blast at Torrejon de Ardoz. They were excited about any kind of rollercoaster, no matter how tucky those appeared to me.
You can check more photos from our visit to Torrejon de Ardoz in this post.
If you plan a Cuenca road trip for the first time (or are not traveling in Dec/January to visit Torrejon De Ardoz), on the second day you can visit the Enchanted City of Cuenca and/or the secret village of Alarcon instead.
Cuenca Road Trip: Day 3
Ruta de las Caras
This route includes 18 sculptures of different dimensions from 700cm to 4m tall. Being carved by the facade restorer Eulogio Reguillo and ceramicist Jorge Juan Maldonado back in 1992, the figures were inspired by Indian gods, Buddhas, templar crosses, and even Beethoven.
This trail is an easy 1,5 km-long walk, but you can convert it into a 14 km-long circular hiking route by leaving from the town of Buendia towards Peña de la Virgen archaeological remains.
By and large, I enjoyed the landscape and the concept of an artsy hiking trail, but Ruta de las Caras was quite crowded. So, not sure I would return.
La Cava Archaeological Site
On the road to Ruta de las Caras, we made a surprisingly interesting stop at La Cava archaeological site, one of the lesser-known landmarks in Cuenca.
This place used to be a hilltop village since the Bronze Age. It felt magical to walk across these ancient ruins on our own with the magnificent views of the Cuenca region.
After visiting La Cava Archaeological Site, we drove to a nice restaurant El Baden Asador in the tiny village of Cañizares: all the food was homemade and delicious.
Hoz de Beteta / Serrania de Cuenca natural park
Our last stop for the day was the beautiful natural setting of Hoz de Beteta in Serrania de Cuenca Natural Park.
To be honest, I have almost regretted visiting Torrejon de Ardoz and Ruta de las Caras on this Cuenca Road Trip since Serrania de Cuenca Natural Park looked stunning: I wish I had more time to explore it. To get a quick glimpse of the park landscapes, check the official video of Castile La-Mancha Tourism.
We have only tested Sendero Bonatico de Hoz de Beteta, an easy 2,6km-long trail full of wooden walkways and ancient Linden trees. Even though we traveled in December and it was obviously not the peak-greenery season, I really enjoyed the hike. This trail ended up on my list of favorite secret hikes in Spain and I dream of returning to explore more trails in the area, like Sendero de las librerias, and to visit a waterfall Cascada de Castro.
Also, while leaving our hotel early in the morning, we saw two deer crossing the road. This was obviously thanks to the fact that Serrania de Cuenca had not made it to the list of Spanish National Parks (each of these gets a fair share of international visitors every year). So far, I have only had a similar experience once, in Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park during our Pyrenees Road Trip. So, one more reason to return to Serrania de Cuenca Natural Park.
By and large, I really enjoyed this Cuenca road trip.
The places I was excited to visit the most – Torrejon de Ardoz and Ruta de las Caras did not live up to my initial expectations. Yet it was great to finally cross those off my Spain Bucket List. At the same time, I loved visiting the Cuenca Cathedral and the Infantado Palace: will definitely return for another weekend to explore Serrania de Cuenca anytime soon.
You can check my IG highlight Cuenca for more details.
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