The city of Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shutterstock

Cuenca travel guide

About Cuenca

Cuenca in Castilla la Mancha is a remarkable historic walled town built by the Moors atop the sheer cliffs of two spectacular river gorges.

Situated high up between the gorges of the rivers Huécar and Júcar, Cuenca has a great defensive position looking down across the La Mancha countryside which was first recognised by the Moors. A fortress town controlling the vast area of Kura de Kunka, the Moors were eventually forced out of the area by the Castilian conquest. The first building constructed under the Castilian was the cathedral, built on the place of the Moorish mosque. The cathedral is the first example of Gothic architecture in Spain and represents the transition between the Romanesque and Gothic styles. As the Christians expanded the city, the fortified town was taken over by the religious institutions whilst the textiles industry flourished in the lower town outside its walls. However, when this industry collapsed in the 17th century, Cuenca became a monastic town and the economic deterioration meant that several ancient buildings collapsed or were demolished because they were no longer safe. In the 20th century, Cuenca found a new lease of life through tourism and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cuneca's most famous buildings are undoubtedly the Hanging Houses, the Casas Codegas, which seem to grow out of the sheer cliffs of the Huécar Gorge. The views from their wooden balconies are simply stunning and inside 2 of the houses you'll find the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art containing works by artists such as Chillida, Rueda and Saura. There are many other art museums throughout the town. Those interested in religious art will enjoy the Diocesan Cathedral Museum with its paintings, sculpture and tapestries. Its most outstanding piece is the Byzantine Diptych, the Shrine of the despots of Epirius. Cuenca is also the home of the Science Museum of Castilla la Mancha, a superb museum housed inside a former convent and its more modern extension. Inside you'll discover the history of our solar system and galaxy though interactive exhibits, see what it would be like on the surface of Mars with gravity and light experiments, and visit the planetarium and observatory at the top. Other fascinating exhibits look at paleontology, biodiversity, weather, and renewable energy.

The magnificent countryside around Cuenca is a draw all by itself. The stunning Serriana de Cuenca mountain range is an impressive site of rocky climbs and beautiful hidden valleys that was designated a Natural Park in 2007. There are some incredible geological formations, serene lagoons and a rich variety of native vegetation. At Villar de Humo there are also some prehistoric cave paintings. Get active outside and go canoeing, canyoning, caving and climbing. The Cuenca province has lots of hiking routes and there are also 2 in the city following along the Huécar gorge and its sister the Júcar gorge on the other side of the town. Take a walk out onto the Bridge of San Pablo which crosses the Huécar River from the Hanging Houses to the 16th century Convent of San Pablo, now a Parador hotel.  The views from the bridge are truly spectacular. Coincide your visit with Easter and enjoy the processions of Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which is celebrated here every year, or see the Festival of San Mateo in September where concerts, bullfight, parades and fireworks are just some of the events that mark the date of the Castilian conquest of the town.

In the walled town, try shopping at the local food market and at traditional bakeries and butchers for some real local flavours. More modern shopping can be found in newer parts of town but the old town is great for souvenirs hunters. A popular tapas dish here to enjoy with a glass of La Mancha red wine is zarajos, marinated lamb intestines that have been roasted under a grill. Cuenca's most famous local dish is probably morteruelo, an unusual stew that is very thick and mushed up and is usually made using 3 birds (partridge, quail and chicken) and 3 meats (hare, rabbit and pork), thickened with breadcrumbs and spiced with thyme and rosemary. In winter the dish atascaburras, also known as ajoarriero, is served and is made of salted cod, potatoes, garlic and olive oil mashed together and served with walnuts and boiled eggs. For a sweet snack, enjoy an alaju pastry, of Arabic origins, which is a gingerbread style slice made from almonds, honey and breadcrumbs between 2 wafers. Castilla la Mancha wines are well-known and some local wines to try are D.O. Ribera del Júcar, predominantly reds made from the Tempranillo and Bobal grapes, and D.O. Úclés where the red wines are made from vines at least 6 years old and the whites from vines at least a year old.

OVERVIEW

  • Country: Spain

  • Region: Castilla la Mancha

  • Province: Cuenca

  • Population: 57,000

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