If you’re considering day trips from Madrid and aren’t looking for an action packed day then the Casas Colgadas (“hanging houses”) of Cuenca might suit you. It’s much quieter and far less touristy than Segovia. The old city has those colours and textures that you picture when you think “Spanish towns”. Take those attributes and combine it with the fact that it has 14th century houses teetering on a cliff edge. Has it got you interested now?
A little about Cuenca
Cuenca was originally built as a fortress town by the Arabs atop the hill between ravines formed by the Júcar and Huécar rivers. It was then taken by the Christians and long story short its now part of Spain and is less than 1hr by Renfe train from Madrid Atocha.
Somewhere along the line the inhabitants decided it would be a good idea to build multistory houses along the cliff edge. Only three of the official Casas Colgadas remain with their wooden balconies leaning right over the ravine, but the rest of the buildings along the Huécar haven’t exactly chosen a low risk location either.
Getting there and getting about
There don’t seem to be many taxis in Cuenca and they don’t have the usual light on top, but if you spot a white car with a red sash on the side you’re in luck. Otherwise it is very easy to take the bus and only costs 1.25€ per bus trip. You can take the #12 bus to the new city centre and then take the #1 all the way to the top of old Cuenca at Castillo.
From here you can access the cliff side walk along the ravine and get a great view of Cuenca. You’ll pass through an old gate that seems to be part of an old city wall and then past a collapsed house.
Stick with the higher paths where you can and this will take you back around to the Saint Paul foot bridge that leads to the old Convent of Saint Paul. This area provides the best views of the hanging houses.
If you follow the path up past the hanging houses you can get back to the old Plaza Mayor and easily find the other sites and museums.
Regardless of how you plan to get back to the train station it’s always easier to walk downhill. After a little while you’ll reach the new city centre where you can take the #12 bus back to the station or find a cab.
Where to eat and drink
There are quite a few fancy restaurants along the cliff edge including one in a hanging house, but if you’re looking for a simple meal Los Arcos in the corner on the west side of Plaza Mayor wasn’t bad and had a 9.50€ lunch deal.
In the old town you can find nice shops like La Alacena. The lady there sells lots of gourmet ingredients you’d expect to find in Spain. Here you can find nice olive oils, Spanish wine and manchego cheese – which I think has to be one of the best hard cheeses.
The owner, María, seems very passionate about saffron, which I never even knew grew in Spain until now. Gin is a big favourite amongst the Spanish and here you can even find a saffron flavoured gin.
If you’ve got time to kill and are thinking about afternoon tea look for Confitería Ruiz. They make a lot of nice patisserie and to be honest the hot chocolate is better than the chocolate that comes with your churros at San Ginés in Madrid. They sell mini patisserie by the dozen also make a little local tart with pine nuts. It’s a nice little local place which makes it super cheap and the tea house part of the place seems to attract all the nannas – and we all know nanna knows good tea and good baking!