Cuenca, SpainCastilla La Mancha
Cuenca is famous for its Hanging Houses
A trip to Cuenca, Spain has been on our radar for at least 2 years. Several of our friends have made the trek and always reported back with great experiences.
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As soon as travel around Spain was open again, John and I decided it was time to make Cuenca a priority. We asked friends, Catherina and John P if they wanted to join us. As it turns out, Cuenca was also on their list of places to visit around Spain, so the four of us decided to make the trip sooner rather than later. Catherina and I quickly decided on the weekend of June 12-13 as we knew a day trip would not be enough. As it turns out, a weekend was not enough either!
Catherina and John are vegetarians, so I let them choose the restaurants. Knowing that my John is a meat lover, they were gracious enough to look for restaurants that catered to all our needs.
Catherina also did the research on places to stay. We decided to stay in the older part of town, closer to the castle (ruins) so we could enjoy the view as much as possible.
John P was in-charge of renting the car and arranged to pick us up around 8:30am Saturday morning. We had a lovely drive including a quick pit stop for coffee and bathroom.
First glimpses of Cuenca
We arrived at Cuenca and Catherina had planned on a coffee stop at a specialty coffee shop, Moka Natural Coffee. Catherina had an affogato (espresso with vanilla ice cream), John P had a cortado and John L had a café con leche while I had a smoothie. Lucky for me because apparently the coffee was not good. Catherina said her coffee was stomach-turning and only just palatable because of the ice cream. John P and John L both thought the coffee was too weak.
Well, our trip was just getting started and it was time to head over to Hostal San Pedro. We parked the car just before the castle ruins and walked down the hill to our hostel. We were greeted by a wonderful man who showed us to our rooms. Catherina and John checked-in first and were on the main floor. John and I chose a room with a view on the second floor. We were overlooking the Parador below.
A wonderful lunch!
After about 30 minutes, the four of us met downstairs and started to walk towards Tomates Verdes Fritos, the restaurant where we were going for lunch. The walk was enjoyable with many things to see. Beautiful colorful buildings, architecture and more! Once we finally arrived, we were pleasantly surprised. On one wall, there is an artistic view of Frida Kahlo which I love. The décor was interesting, including an old-style cash register.
On weekends, this restaurant offers a Mexican menu which was perfect. The portions were generous. The food was freshly prepared, delicious, and well presented. The washroom was clean and stocked with paper. We all highly recommend Tomates Verdes Fritos as a place to eat while you are in Cuenca…. whether you are on your own, with a friend or partner or a family.
The famous Casa Colgadas de Cuenca, a travel destination
After lunch, we decided to visit Casas Colgadas de Cuenca (aka Hanging Houses of Cuenca). We started to walk towards it only to find that the road is closed due to construction. There was a security guard nearby so we asked how long the re-route would take and he said about 15 minutes. John L and I decided to walk uphill while Catherina and John P opted to head towards the art gallery next to the Hanging Houses. We then split up and knew we would meet up again in time for dinner.
After lunch, we decided to visit the San Pablo Bridge to get a good view of the Casas Colgadas de Cuenca (aka Hanging Houses of Cuenca). We started to walk towards it only to find that the road and bridge was closed due to re-construction. There was a security guard nearby so we asked how long the re-route would take and he said about 15 minutes. John L and I decided to walk uphill while Catherina and John P opted to head towards the art gallery, which is housed in the Hanging Houses. We then split up and knew we would meet up again in time for dinner.
We walked uphill for about 10 minutes and saw that we had enough of a view for some photos. Further up the hill was the Parador. After 10 minutes of photo taking, we decided it was getting too hot so we headed towards the Cathedral where we would be indoors. Well, Google doesn’t seem to take into consideration the number of steps you have to climb when it says 4 minutes. It was more like 30 minutes! We eventually arrived at Cuenca Cathedral, which was built in the 12th Century and has a remarkably interesting history along with Gothic and Romanesque style of architecture. Wish I remembered my earphones though …. you can download the audio guide on your mobile phone. Luckily, it wasn’t terribly busy, so John L and I were able to listen to it while we walked around. We also opted to visit the tower. Climbing up the steps, I had visions of climbing up the tower of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome all over again! We had a bit of a view over the square which was okay. What was more interesting for us was we were able to also view the inside of the Cathedral from up high. That was something we hadn’t done before.
Dinosaurs at Dinner!
After the visit to the Cathedral, it was time to head back to Hostal San Pedro and catch up with Catherina and John P. We decided that we all had done enough walking for a day so John would drive us to Natura Restaurant for dinner. Google gave us the run around and after several tries, we finally found the right road and made it to the restaurant just in time for our reservations. To my amazement, there were life-size dinosaurs in the garden and with the sun setting, the view was surreal. We made our way to the terrace where we were seated …. or at least only 2 of us. Our table was missing 2 chairs and sadly, the person who showed us to our table didn’t even notice. When John L waved at him, the waiter thought we only wanted to place our drink orders. I then went into the restaurant to tell them that we had only 2 chairs. After another 10 minutes, they finally brought the other 2 chairs. Just as we finally settle in, the breeze picks up plus the entertainment – a singer – who was a bit too loud so we couldn’t hear ourselves talk. We then asked to be seated inside. The view from the inside was nice, you could see the city below and the dinosaurs in the garden. Although the service throughout the night was slow, we enjoyed a nice meal with good company and great conversation. After dessert, we walked around the park for a little bit and listened to the music of frogs. All in all, a magical night amongst the dinosaurs. We then headed back to the hostal for a much needed rest. We parked the car in a nearby parking garage (the hostal gives you a 2 euro discount coupon) and headed straight to bed.
After a good night’s sleep (for John L and I because we like a firm mattress – not great for Catherina and John P who prefer a softer mattress), we checked-out and drove up the hill, just past the castle ruins to Restaurante El Torreón. We had a simple Spanish style breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee con leche and tostada con tomate y queso (plus jamon for John L and I). The bill came to a ‘whopping’ 20 euros! John L went on and on about how good the coffee was. It was okay and I am guessing a big upgrade compared with the coffee from Moka.
Enchanted City (aka Ciudad Encantada)
After breakfast, we drove towards Ciudad Encantada. John L and I decided to take the walking tour with a guide (in Spanish). It ran for an hour and a-half and we learned a lot. Catherina and John P wandered around on their own and enjoyed it the same. It is a magical place and I highly recommend a visit even if only once. You will see amazing views as you drive up.
Parador de Cuenca
Afterwards, we headed back to the old part of Cuenca and had lunch at the Parador. Everyone had told me about their wonderful experiences at the Parador so I was really looking forward to a lovely Sunday lunch. Sadly, it didn’t work out that way for us. It started with parking. There was no mention of parking nor having to stop by the front desk to get the number of your stall for their secure parking area. So, like most places, you drive through the driveway of the hotel, this one was a U shape, only to find no spaces available. On the way out to try and find street parking, a metal barrier fell onto the car and made 3 deep scratches. I got out of the car to lift the barrier and held onto it to make sure it didn’t fall on the car again. While driving around, we saw a parking sign for the Parador. We thought great…only to find you had to go to the front desk to get the number for your stall in their secure parking area. We were cutting it very close to the time for our lunch reservation. John L and Catherina got out of the car and walked downhill to the hotel front desk. After 10 minutes, John L came back to the car and told us the woman at the front desk said there was a parking space in the driveway. By the time we got there, someone else had taken the spot. John L went back inside and asked for another space. This time, they gave us one in the secure parking area. By the time we arrived, there was a line up of other cars who didn’t have a number. There were cars trying to make their way past us so John P had to carefully drive in reverse down the hill to try and make room so the other cars could pass. Once the car was parked, we thought okay…now it’s time for a lovely Sunday lunch. It wasn’t meant to be. First, we waited about 30 minutes for our drink orders. I asked for ice several times and never got it. It took over an hour for our food to arrive. Imagine that the only food ordered was 3 tomato salads and a veggie lasagna.
Everyone was pretty annoyed, especially when the salad arrived. It cost 16€ and consisted of tomatoes and 1 artichoke heart in the center. I was the only one who ordered a hot entrée, which was a veggie lasagna. It was not a lasagna with noodles. It was layers of crispy taco with sauteed veggies in between the layers. It was tasty but the whole experience ruined the meal and experience for all of us. The cost of the meal was 85€. Pretty pricey considering we ordered 1 large water, 2 beers, 3 tomato salads and 1 veggie lasagna. Oh, and I almost forgot. While waiting for our food, a bird pooped on John P’s shirt.
When I went to pay the bill, I had asked why it took so long to get our food especially because it was only salad. The hostess blamed it on Covid. Saying that Covid caused delays in the kitchen. Not sure how. If the Parador is supposed to be a top-notch hotel, why are their restaurant staff not trained in the art of customer service? If we happened to be there on a day with a lot of part-time workers, not a good choice for management to have that on a weekend, especially on a Sunday.
Regional train runs 3 times a day from Valencia Estacion du Nord to Estación de Cuenca. Ticket cost 13.50€
AVE (the fast train), offers 4 trips a day from Valencia Joaquin Sorolla to Cuenca Fernando Zóbel, 6km outside of the city center. The journey takes approximately 54 minutes. Tickets cost from 20€ – 50€
MonBus offers 2 trips a day, Valencia to Cuenca. The journey takes approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes. Tickets cost 12€ – 18€
2 hours and 30 minutes from the center of Valencia to the historical area of Cuenca. Average cost of a rental car for a weekend, 65€.
Any destination will be worth it as long as you bring things that will make your stay more comfortable.
Below is our basic must-haves when heading out for a 36-72 hour get-away, all packed in my favorite, versatile Longchamps Le Pliage Expandable Travel Bag.
Postcards from Valencia 72 hours or less basic travel list:
- Lip balm
- Packable sun hat
- Scarf (act as sun protection, a beach cover-up or as a shawl on a chilly beach)
- Wet wipes
- Double-walled stainless steel water bottle filled with cold water (1 per person)
- Portable power bank (+ phone cord and wall charger)
- Travel toothbrush/toothpaste
- clothes, walking shoes and slippers
Click here to learn more about how to pack and travel like a minimalist and download our editable packing list.