Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, Don Quixote embarked on the most famous journey in history. The adventure of that gentleman, “one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing”, also passed through Ciudad Real. In fact, this is the land where the well-known character of Miguel de Cervantes fought his worst enemies: the windmills. We, too, will be embarking on a journey through the most beautiful villages from this region in La Mancha, crossed by the Guadiana river and framed by the mountains of Toledo and Sierra Morena.
Only 30 kilometres away from the capital city we’ll find Almagro, one of the most beautiful villages in Ciudad Real. Almagro stands out among other villages mainly for two reasons: the aubergines and the Corral de Comedias. The latter is one of the last traditional Spanish theatres of the kind. Moreover, Almagro has a remarkably old historical centre. More than 70 years ago, its main square was established as Conjunto Histórico (Historic Grouping) by the Ministry of Culture.
Thanks to its rich historical heritage, Villanueva de los Infantes was declared Conjunto Histórico as well. What is more, Villanueva belongs to the Spanish organisation called “Los pueblos más bonitos de España” (Spain’s most beautiful villages).
Another memorable aspect of Villanueva is the fact, as many studies suggest, this might be the exact place Don Quixote first departed from. Indeed, we’ll find different sculptures scattered through the village that pay tribute to this literary figure. Lastly, Villanueva also displays historical buildings like the Clergy House or the church of San Andrés Apóstol.
Puerto Lápice is best known for being a place of passage for traders between Andalusia and Madrid. Its roots take us back to the 18th century, a time where some of the beautiful whitewashed houses that we can see today were built; this architecture style is the distinctive signature of La Mancha.
We can’t forget to visit the traditional windmills that look like coming straight out of the novel written by Cervantes. All these charming spots, altogether with the main square, which was built like a corral de comedia, make this place a must-see village in Ciudad Real.
Nevertheless, if you really want to visit the windmills who dared to fight Don Quixote, the place to go is Campo de Criptana; there are still ten of the legendary mills the courageous gentleman raged against. It’s also imperative to walk through the area of Albaicín, full of white walls and Arabic tiles. The granary of Campo de Criptana, which served as the headquarters of an agricultural bank during the 16th century, is one of the region’s main attractions —and it has a museum inside too.
In San Carlos del Valle we’ll find one of the most striking churches in the whole region: the church of Santísimo Cristo del Valle. This building dates back to 1729, and it was designed to exhibit the power of the Spanish Crown. Thanks to this place of pilgrimage, which was declared a Cultural Heritage site, this 1000-citizen village is considered some sort of Vatican from La Mancha. Other monuments in San Carlos del Valle, such as its main square and the Casa de la Hospedería, have been declared Conjunto Histórico.
We have already talked about famous literary sceneries, so now we’re going to discuss a more film-related spot. The palace of the Marquis of Santa Cruz, officially named a historical monument 80 years ago, was one of the locations where they shot the film Alatriste, based on the Spanish novels The Adventures of Captain Alatriste. The palace, which currently holds the navy’s archive, is an important landmark of the Italian Renaissance. Similarly, in Viso del Marqués we may also visit the chapel of La Virgen de los Dolores or the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.
Almadén is a small village in La Mancha with some interesting mining spots. In fact, its most appealing site is probably the mine of Almadén, which shut down in 2011. This mine, with more than 2000 years’ antiquity, was so relevant that it’s estimated that a third of the world’s mercury came from here. In the late 18th century, Almadén also witnessed the birth of the first mining school in Spain: Escuela de Minas.
We’ll have many treasures to discover in Pedro Muñoz, such as the historicist clock in the Plaza de España. The church of San Pedro Apóstol should also be noted here, as well as its Renaissance and baroque elements. If we keep walking down its streets, we’ll come across noble houses like Casa de los Fernández Cuéllar, Casa de la Paca or Casa de los Granero.
This village in Campo de Calatrava, with slightly more than 4000 inhabitants, stands out for being at least 800 years old. Its religious legacy is vastly rich, since the Order of Calatrava left a remarkable trace there. Some of the most relevant buildings in Santa Cruz de Mudela are the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción and the shrine of Nuestra Señora de las Virtudes. The latter was also declared Conjunto Histórico.
In the mountain range of Sierra Madrona we’ll find this lovely village with whitewashed houses and streets, spreading down the Valle de Alcudia Natural Park. An element worth mentioning here is Fuencaliente’s hot springs, coming straight out of the ground. There’s a remarkable number of natural sources here to visit, like the source of Compadre or Pilar de los Burros.
Last on the list, we have Argamasilla de Alba. Just next to the Guadiana river stands the castle of Peñarroya, a unique place one can visit for free. We started talking about Quixote and Cervantes, and our trip will come full circle in this village, where Cervantes was allegedly held captive in Casa del Medrano. Therefore, it’s in this prison that the author began to write one of the most important narratives in the history of literature, regarded as the first modern novel, which still remains relevant nowadays and makes us fall in love with it every time.
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