Patones de Arriba (or Upper Patones) is both a secret and a gift. A mystery carefully guarded by the mountain, an encounter that won’t stop amazing us. Its outline suddenly materializes in front of us, only an hour away from Madrid, immersed in the Jarama valley like a sketch of black slate. The unique architecture of Patones remains carved into the rock, sheltered by the peaks and the time long frozen. It’s a secret one should unveil step by step.
As we come close to Patones de Arriba, our car will leave behind not only miles, but also centuries. We will soon spot the dark silhouettes of the buildings, blanketed in layers of slate getting ready to fight the cold winter. They perfectly blend into the landscape, more than 870 yards over the sea. Nevertheless, the church of San José welcomes the travelers. It currently works as a tourist office, but it was formerly a parochial church and, before that, a small shrine made of lime and stone.
Patones was born as a shelter to escape from the Arab incursion into the Iberian Peninsula. This town grew up like a small black kingdom, reigned by its own kings and queens, until the 18th century. It still keeps a unique atmosphere, the result of a symbiosis between the inhabitants and their surroundings. The houses even seem to hover over the slate floor. Meanwhile, we can enjoy from the upper town the arrenes and tinados, rectangular slate constructions that remind us of the farming past of Patones. There are also old ovens scattered through the houses, mostly gathered in the street of Despeñadero. It almost seems possible to halt in front of them and breathe in the scent of fresh wheat bread.
The lavoir and the fountain connect the town with water, and with the creek, the postcard is just beautiful. The sound of the small waterfall on the other side of the slate bridge forms a haunting melody, especially when it rains. There used to be a mill there as well, but now only remains the millstone. The slate shines in contact with water, and it reflects the echoes of all the women who have gathered there from generation to generation. Some believe that, from time to time, one can even hear their whispers.
Senda Ecológica del Barranco (The Ecological Path of the Ravine) connects Patones de Arriba (Upper Patones) and Patones de Abajo (Lower Patones). Indeed, a town with the same name was founded after the Spanish Civil War, seeking a better access to the meadow of the river Jarama. It’s the perfect spot for parking the car and climbing by foot. To do that, we will go along a ravine, the aqueduct of the reservoir of Atazar, and several caves. A true adventure!
On the outskirts of the town, the threshing floors offer a moment of peace. They are rocky level surfaces used for threshing grain, now turned into slate terraces.
The only sound there is the wind gently carrying whispers of old legends, telling stories about families that ran away from the Saracens, about Napoleonic troops getting lost in the mountains, unable to find Patones… Some stories have remained written in this land, on the paths that, even if they are invisible, cross the valley like silent guides.
One of those paths takes us to the shrine of Virgen de la Oliva, dating back to the 13th century. Further on, both history and path point at the remains of a pre-Roman fort, ending up before the dam of Pontón de la Oliva. The past lives at the foot of the mountain too, in the cave known as Cueva del Posteguillo, a faithful guardian of ancient cave paintings.
The legend also reaches Cancho de la Cabeza, a gift to the eyes. Its panoramic view encompasses the town, the mountain range of Sierra Norte, and the reservoir of El Atazar. The path of the stream goes that far too. If we are to come back to civilization, we should turn around and walk from one town to the next, from one story to another. But before we leave, perhaps we could meet with Patones de Arriba for the last time. Have a nice tête-à-tête, a bite of its charming houses and gastronomy, with the arrival of a new sunset that comes to conceal its little secret once more.