UNESCO sites near Madrid- Part 2. Cuenca, Ávila, Aranjuez
In Part 2 of this ´UNESCO sites near Madrid´ series, we talk about the locations of Cuenca, Ávila and Aranjuez.
Each very different, these smaller towns and cities each have an individual charm: from the hanging houses of Cuenca that have a medieval fairy-tale air, to the strong walled city of Ávila with its fortress Cathedral, and the elegance of Aranjuez with its Royal Palace and exotic gardens.
Originally known to the Moors as Kura de Kunka, Cuenca was in the perfect location, set on a limestone ridge and between two rivers, for a defensive fort. Today, Cuenca is famous for being a fantastically well-preserved medieval fortress town, which still has a number of intriguing architectural artefacts to discover today. Cuenca blends perfectly into its natural environment, complementing the cliffs and natural fauna into which it is built, its famous ´hanging houses´ balancing on the edge of rock faces.
Cuenca was conquered by the Christians in the 12th century and was built into a new Christian town, spilling down the hill on to new land. This period made Cuenca a royal town full of important buildings, such as Spain's first Gothic cathedral. You can also find in Cuenca ancient churches, old convents and the town´s plaza mayor, as well as a wide range of architectural styles throughout the town, such as Gothic, Renaissance, Moorish, Rococo and Baroque designs.
You can also try traditional Cuencan food and wine whilst in the area, pairing local lamb roasts and fish stews with Cuenca´s Denomination of Origin (DO) wines. Do not miss the traditional sweet cake ´alajú´, made from almonds, figs and honey.
If you would like to find out more about Cuenca, visit their official Cuenca website, selecting the British flag in the top right for English.
The impressive wall that surrounds the city of Ávila is one of the best preserved walls in Europe, and is the symbol of city. It has an incredible 100 towers and a perimeter of no less than two and a half kilometres. The image of the dusky stone wall against the backdrop of the azure sky is a magnificent sight; it is awe-inspiring to imagine its construction centuries ago.
Within the walls of the city you can find a collection of beautiful ancient churches, medieval corners and Renaissance palaces. Ávila has the first gothic cathedral ever built in Spain, which is considered to be not just a religious building, but also a fortress. This ingenious architectural design is built into the east side of Ávila´s wall and took centuries to finish.
With regards to local gastronomy, Ávila offers a wealth of traditional dishes, ranging from savoury to sweet. Savoury dishes include pork chops, sucking pig, traditional fish pasties and local pulses and beans, among many other local recipes. As well as delicacies from the town´s many cake shops, Ávila also offers a wide range of local high quality wines. A fantastic local speciality to try from Ávila is its ´orujo´, a fragrant liqueur made from pressed grape skins.
Aranjuez is a truly beautiful place to visit to see exquisite royal gardens, 16th century palace architecture and ornate fountains. The Royal Palace is a treat to see in person: built in light coloured stone, it stands magnificent and opulent, contrasting against the year-round bright blue sky and lush green gardens that surround it. It was begun in the 15th Century, and by the 17th Century had become a Royal retreat, complete with hunting and pageantry, and served as an inspiration for many Spanish poets.
The gardens surrounding the Palace are extensive and bejewelled with elaborate stone fountains and statues throughout. The original 15th Century garden designs, set out by Phillip II, were intended to reflect his global sovereignty, with a huge collection of exotic and foreign plants surrounding the central Royal Palace itself.
Aranjuez the town was built next to the Palace in the 17th Century and still has a number of ancient churches and convents dotted around the town to explore today. You can also stop at a number of small local restaurants and eateries to try local dishes and local wine, including a highly rated local restaurant, Bonavía, that has food specially adapted for Celiacs and people with gluten intolerance.
If you would like to visit Madrid, Toledo and Segovia (in part 1 of our ´UNESCO sites near Madrid´ post), as well as the towns of Cuenca and Ávila, our Madrid, Toledo and Segovia trip is perfect for you. We can also help you visit Aranjuez, just let us know your preferences.
If you are in Madrid just for a short break and would like to see more than just the city, take a look at our guided Madrid Wineries tour. You can explore the ´real´ region of Madrid, visiting a local town like Aranjuez and 2 fantastic local wineries. Get out of the city for a day with a local wine guide, and experience more than just the tourist routes.
Be transported from the bustling city to the charming countryside on this Madrid wine tour. This tour includes visits to 2 wineries and wine tasting, as well as a 3-course lunch where you can taste traditional high quality food. Discover Madrid wine region with a friendly local guide and relax in a luxury air-conditioned minivan. This is a unique tour with a small group size for a more personal experience. Max. 7, average group 4
BEST PRICE GUARANTEED - This is a luxury guided wine tour of Ribera del Duero accompanied by a friendly wine expert. You can forget about the hassle of driving and be picked up from your hotel in a luxury minivan. Enjoy 3 visits to the best wineries, including wine tastings of at least 6 high quality wines and a high quality lunch. Our tour was mentioned as one of the best wine tours in Spain!.by the NYT This is a unique tour that you will not find on any other site. Maximum 7, average group size 4. Private tour option available
BEST PRICE GUARANTEED - This is a luxury wine and cultural private tour from Madrid. You will discover the amazing city of Segovia and the Ribera del Duero wine region. Relax and enjoy the company of one of our friendly guides while you discover the best Roman aqueduct in the world, enjoy a meal next to wine barrels, and explore a centuries old wine cellar. This is a unique tour that you will not find on any other site and it is only available as a private tour
BEST PRICE GUARANTEED – This is a unique tour to Ribera del Duero and its vineyards. This tour is ideal for those who wish to spoil themselves and relax in the most luxurious of surroundings the region has to offer. 4x4 drive near the Duero river among fantastic vineyards, a wine and food pairing meal at a fantastic setting and 2 wine tasting sessions of some of the most exclusive wines in Ribera del Duero
BEST PRICE GUARANTEED - An amazing tour to Toledo and much more!. Visit La Mancha and the windmills of Don Quixote, a winery that produces award-winning wines and enjoy a high quality lunch. Visit Toledo city in the afternoon and 2-3 of its monuments, including the cathedral and a synagogue or the famous painting by El Greco, ´Burial of Count Orgaz´. A unique, tailor-made wine tour to Toledo from Madrid. Maximum 7 people, average group size 4
Unique small group wine tour of La Mancha and the Don Quixote windmills with hotel pickup in luxury minivan. For wine enthusiasts, literature lovers and those that enjoy discovering Spanish history, gastronomy and culture. Get up close to the famous windmills featured in Cervantes' famous novel. Enjoy the fantastic castle of Belmonte and visits to 2 very different wineries. High quality lunch at a special location. Also, a stop at the UNESCO heritage site of Aranjuez. Maximum 7 people. Average group size 4. Private tour option
This is not just another tour to Segovia, this is a special cultural and wine tour from Madrid for very small groups which can also be booked as a private tour, with an expert guide.You will visit things that are not included in any other tour to Segovia, such as a short stop at the amazing El Escorial Monastery and La Granja de San Ildefonso (a beautiful Royal Palace surrounded by gardens and fountains -Spain´s Versailles). Enjoy a fantastic visit to a local family owned wine cellar with wine tastings of top, high quality wines. This is a unique tour. Maximum 7. Private tour option
This private tour combines 4 fantastic experiences in one. Discover the impressive monastery complex of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, enjoy local wines at a family-owned small winery and taste high quality local gastronomy with a knowledgeable local guide. The tour includes a visit to one of Spain´s best hidden gems: the Bulls of Guisando, a fantastic example of art that dates back to the 3rd century before Christ! Enjoy amazing views and travel back in history with this unique tour from Madrid