Spain Day 11: Last 3 Castles!

19 June 2016

Sunday June 19th: 7342 steps 3.3 miles

We enjoyed our last leisurely hotel breakfast with even thicker sipping chocolate, took some photos of the Parador La Concordia at Alca帽iz, the least castley castle hotel of our trip, understandable since it started as a monastery, then drove away headed for the coast again. Tonight will be our last castle hotel at Cardona, and maybe we can swing by one more castle on the drive today… :)

Two more bonus castles achieved! We found the small Castell de Castellet but it only offers prearranged guided tours so we walked around the outside and the view of lake. Then thanks to a quick stop with free wifi at a freeway McDs, Glen the Castle Whisperer found a bonus castle *winery* on our way just south of Manresa near the strikingly jagged Montserrat mountains! We didn’t know Oller del Mas was only for prearranged tours, but since we arrived just after a bus tour had finished their tasting and we were pleading even just to buy a bottle to the winery guy cleaning up, fumbling around with Google Translate, he took pity on us and let us taste three reds from the leftover bottles…he said with a shrug they were already abierto! 馃槈 We tried to tip him but he refused, so muchas muchas gracias from us! Both Glen and I preferred the cheaper Syrah blend, so I bought a bottle as a souvenir!

We arrived at our final castle hotel, the Castell de Cardona, about 7pm and got the big rental car stuck trying to turn around since the tiny hotel parking lot was full, but five nice local guys shouting in Spanish finally got Glen out with no scrapes! They congratulated us and themselves for “internacional” cooperation, and later they waved at us from the top tower after we parked in the larger lot at the bottom of the hill. 馃槈 We saw other cars getting themselves trapped in the same tiny lot later so Glen has his turn laughing at them. As soon as we unloaded our luggage, we strolled around most of the castle since this was our only daylight chance, but there are ticketed entry parts inside some towers that had already closed for the day. By then dinner had opened and we enjoyed our earliest but second-tastiest dinner of the trip!

We missed sunset due to dinner but we took advantage of the full moon and drove and walked around Castell de Cardona for more photos, accompanied by Halloween music. Room 712 of the Parador de Cardona is supposedly haunted but the interior hallways are even less spooky than college dorm rooms, so instead we made our own spooky scenes in the full moonlight…heh! #nofilters

daily driving map:

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Spain Day 10: Coastal Route with 5 Castles to Alca帽iz

18 June 2016

Saturday June 18th: 9287 steps 4.17 miles

Since we haven’t found any bonus castles on today’s route to Alca帽iz, we had a leisurely morning enjoying breakfast with regional scrambled eggs with ham, we are back in the migas fried bread crumbs region again, and they finally had real Spanish sipping chocolate…so thick and delicious! We checked out then got the key for “acceso exclusivo” to the ramparts of Castillo Marques de Villena aka Parador de Alarcon! After we had enough of the walls, we retuned the key & got in the car, but we found a dirt road that ended under the castle at a walking bridge across the gorgeously teal River Jucar for more fantastic views. I matched the teal river and Glen matched the castle walls…haha! As we drove out of town the same way we drive in, we still hadn’t yet had our fill of castle views, so we parked and walked around the outer gate tower too! We highly recommend spending more time here if you ever get the chance, but for now we say farewell to Alarcon!

We left Alarcon around 3pm and changed from our original inland route to a coastal route in hopes of a seaside snack and maybe a bonus castle. After I took over driving, Glen spotted three more castles from the road and took photos for me! From we could tell by our offline maps, they were something near Castellon de la Plana, Oropesa Castle overlooking Oropesa del Mar, and Xivert Castle in Alcala de Xivert, but it was already taking too long for our revised plan so we didn’t have time to stop and made it to Pe帽iscola around 6pm. Glen found us an awesome bonus castle…Castillo de Papa Luna in Pe帽iscola right on the gorgeous teal Mediterranean Sea! From the big sign it looks like they’ve filmed some Game of Thrones there too? We paid our admission and explored the big gray castle thoroughly, had a quick ice cream on our walk back down the hill, then we dipped our toes in the Mediterranean Sea…another bucket list item for this trip! Hooray!

Back on the road again we went inland again headed for Alca帽iz. As the sun was setting we saw some structure in silhouette, then when we drove through Morella, the castle at the top was straight up above the city! Impressive but we were already going to be very late for dinner so we only paused for photos. We made it through lots of curvy mountain roads with wild Iberian ibex goats to Alca帽iz into the Parador La Concordia by 10:45, barely making it to dinner before they closed, but we finally we were not the last ones to leave! 馃槈 Our room is on the corner with a view of the cathedral nicely lit at night, but we could hear the wind howling all night…it’s chilly up in the mountains! Tomorrow is our last day in Spain so we will make the most of it!

daily driving map:

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Spain Day 9: Vintage Windmills & 3 Castles to Alarcon

17 June 2016

Friday June 17th: 10813 steps 5.04 miles

We both really needed the rest, so we woke up after 9am to find we had our own balcony with a gorgeous view of the mountains! We were even the last ones before breakfast closed! Strolling around the Parador de Ja茅n we discovered the hotel was built on ruins of the two older castles and the “new” castle from 1300s is the Castillo de Santa Catalina, and they have quite a nice little tour and three towers to climb for only 3.50 euros…so that’s our first bonus castle for today! We have a long haul to Alarcon by dinner, but hopefully we can find one or two bonus castles along the way…

Internet peeps, check it out…they are renting antenna platform space on top of the 14th century Castillo de Santa Catalina! Hahaha!

One hour outside of Ja茅n we found a bonus castle in the tiny old town of Ba帽os de la Encina! We saw three different names on different signs, Castillo de Ba帽os de la Encina aka Castillo Bury El-Hamma aka Castillo y Ruinas de Santa Maria, but it is only open until 1pm weekdays so we only saw the outside along with cactus and horses on the hillside. Glen couldn’t believe we didn’t see any people but it was 3pm, smack in the middle of siesta time? When we got back to the freeway we stopped for car snacks for a light lunch, and Glen found more super tasty olives!

We had found that the Castillo de Belmonte was one of the castles where they filmed El Cid starring Charlton Heston, and it was only an hour away from our castle hotel so would be a good stop after so much driving. We didn’t know if they even had tours, so the bonus was that this time we got inside! We arrived at 7:15, spent too much time on the audio tour of the inside rooms before climbing the ramparts, so we ended up kicked out after official closing about 8:45pm! We drove a street over for a better sunshine view of the castle and ended up seeing vintage windmills from the street “Ruta de Don Quijote” haha!

Our first view of Alarcon was stunning at sunset so we had to stop for a photo before we even arrived! The old town is on a natural peninsula of cliffs surrounded by the River Jucar, with a narrow winding road as the only way in. The entry into town by the fortress was so dramatic Glen put on some epic movie music…haha! We had to drive around the town before we could see the fortress again, and that was a touch less dramatic since we entered in the parking lot full of modern cars. 馃槈 Our reservation included dinner and breakfast so we tried the local “tarsting” menu and enjoyed it without being too stuffed, but we were last to leave dinner yet again. Our room is one of only six in the tower with a little balcony overlooking the central courtyard, and there are only 14 rooms in this hotel! They even left a little scroll of information, thankfully both in English and Spanish, including that as hotel guests we can ask for the key to climb the ramparts! We will definitely explore more of Castillo Marques de Villena aka Parador de Alarcon in the morning!

daily driving map:

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Spain Day 8: Alhambra through C贸rdoba to Ja茅n

16 June 2016

Thursday June 16th: 20483 steps 9.55 miles

Since I was ready before Glen, I strolled around the hotel grounds of the Convento de San Francisco Parador de Granada learning about the monastery that used to be here, how Queen Isabella specifically requested to be buried here, and how badly it was destroyed by Napoleon, then enjoyed some breakfast out on the terrace again, mobbed by tiny birds! 馃槈 Alhambra is a whole compound of gardens and buildings including the Nasrid Palace, and now we get to leave our car and luggage at the hotel while we tour the rest with the tickets we barely got online several weeks ago. This place sells out fast and only 6600 visitors allowed per day. Then around 2pm we should be on the road again to C贸rdoba!

Alhambra was as stunning as expected and well worth the visit! We picked up our prepaid tickets and got inside the gardens by 11am, toured the Generalife and gardens, which we now know as our dinner view, walked the Alcazares fortress including up the big tower, and got into the amazing Nasrid Palace at our 1pm ticket time. We still cannot believe the intricate carvings, plaster work, and tile mosaics everywhere, plus I absolutely love all the garden design. After a couple souvenir purchases each, we finally got on the road around 3pm, thankfully a fairly easy route out of town this time and all freeways to C贸rdoba!

We arrived in C贸rdoba, found parking (not easy in all these historic city centers!), and found our way to the Mosque-Cathedral of C贸rdoba about 5:30 when they closed at 7pm…whew! As soon as I walked inside, I knew M. C. Escher had been here since recognized his sketch! This site had a very early Visigoth Christian church in the 500s, remnants seen through the new floor, then a mosque in the 700s that was remodeled into giant proportions in the 1100s, then when the Christians conquered the Moors, they decided to build a cathedral INSIDE the mosque, even swallowing up some of the cool striped arches…how bizarre! The cathedral is impressive even with dueling pipe organs! There are also mini chapels all around the inside walls with paintings and sculptures…but Glen said they needed to “plus it” by adding some animatronics to the sculptures…haha!

We only had car snacks for lunch and we happened on a restaurant free flamenco show with dinner, so we enjoyed some tapas tipicas de C贸rdoba with a fantastic up-close performance! Since we didn’t leave C贸rdoba until midnight, we were finally in our room at the Parador de Ja茅n at Castillo de Santa Catalina by 2am…our longest day yet but so much fun!

daily driving map:

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Spain Day 7: The Rock of Gibraltar to Alhambra

15 June 2016

Wednesday June 15th: 3692 steps 1.64 miles

It was so warm with weak AC that we slept with the windows open so the roosters crowing woke me up bright and early! Some last lovely views of the gardens and castle hotel Alcazar del Rey Don Pedro aka Parador de Carmona as we eat breakfast in the car on our way to the Rock of Gibraltar!

It took almost an hour of stressful driving on too small one-way streets to get out of Carmona, then it was open roads to Gibraltar with even more fields of sunflowers than yesterday, passing the fancy Basilica de Los Carmelitas de la Santa Faz in El Palmar de Troya, a splinter sect with its own pope, a huge line of traffic for border control into Gibraltar, then the maze of unsigned one-way streets inside the town until we finally found the cable car station to the top of the rock! The Apes of Gibraltar are ready when each gondola arrives, grabbing bags and anything possibly food related from inside bags, but it is a huge fine to feed them. We saw other people get attacked, and I moved my bag to my other side to remove the temptation but a monkey grabbed anyway and hung on tight! Glad I zipped it closed in preparation! Gorgeous views from the top and we can see all the way to Africa! Posting this from the free wifi at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar! 馃榾

We drove another 3 hours from Gibraltar to Granada along the Costa del Sol, seeing all the resort towns along the beaches only by car and paying new tolls every few miles. We made it to Alhambra around 9pm but it took us three tries to find our hotel! We finally figured out we had to be buzzed in through a gate since we are inside the Alhambra Palace where all the other visitors pay for parking! This hotel is not a castle, but the old Convento de San Francisco, modern inside the rooms but gorgeous panoramic views of Alhambra Palace around us from the bedroom! The Parador de Granda is on several lists of the top luxury hotels in Europe so we decided to splurge, and Glen said it was the smoothest and best luxury hotel checkin experience he ever had! We quickly changed clothes for dinner on the terrace and look at our view! Dinner was absolutely delicious with the best olives glen has ever eaten and even finally some chilly weather! Sadly we were both too tired from another long day and not finishing dinner until almost midnight to open the surprise complimentary champagne in our room! Tomorrow is touring Alhambra Palace, the most visited tourist attraction in Spain!

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