Spain is always a delight to visit. No wonder, in the last 4 years, I’ve visited the country thrice. After exploring the urban landscapes of Barcelona and Madrid, we’ve also managed to explore the gorgeous city of Seville in Andalucia and Toledo in Castilla-La Macha, at an hour’s drive from Madrid.
Next up on our bucket list was to explore a relatively smaller Spanish town.
We have always believed that too much of Spain’s likability and warmth are the results of the happy, warm and welcoming locals who literally manage to make you feel at home even in the remotest of places.
For our recent trip to Spain, we decided to visit one of our bucket list destinations in the country- Cuenca.
I was first introduced to Cuenca in 2016 when a friend had returned from a Spanish road trip. I still remember how much in awe he was of this Spanish town, as he described his experience in detail.
We were finally going to make it to Cuenca, 3 years later and it was still a very exciting thought.
Cuenca: The Charming Spanish Town
If cobbled stoned streets and medieval towns are your things, Cuenca is the place to be. Situated in the heart of Castilla- La Macha, Cuenca is about a 170km from the Spanish Capital, Madrid. This town situated on the gorges of the two rivers- Júcar and Huécar was founded by the Moors in Spain. Cuenca is one of Spain’s 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, it is the Casas Colgadas or the Hanging Houses that Cuenca is extremely popular for. Today, the economy of the town that was once a key center of textile production thrives mainly on tourism.
Also making it a very tourist-friendly town to visit from Madrid.
Cuenca is divided into two parts, the Old Town and the New City.
Based on a cliff, the Old Town houses the prime attractions in Cuenca. The New City is home to the emerging culinary scene of the town alongside the up and coming everyday industries.
If visiting a new town sounds silly just to see some hanging houses, there’s still so much more to Cuenca worth falling in love with.
Getting to Cuenca
Spain is undoubtedly a very well-connected country.
But there are only as many as 2 ways to get to Cuenca from the capital city of Madrid.
Whether you take a bus or a road trip is entirely up to you. But unless you’re driving up, a bus journey is likely to be much longer than the train journey.
There are regular trains that operate between Madrid and Cuenca with a frequency of about an hour. You could opt for the regional Renfe trains which cost about €15 per person per journey and take about 3 hrs to get from Madrid to Cuenca and vice versa. The other option is to opt for a more expensive ticket (2x of the regional ticket) and hop onto RENFE AVE train, a high-speed train that takes less than an hour to reach.
Where to stay in Cuenca?
We had booked a lovely home for ourselves in Cuenca. Our Airbnb hosts Anna and Alfonso were the sweetest. Despite the delay in our travel time, Alfonso came to the station to pick us and drive us to his home in Cuenca. As per the Spanish rules for housing tourists, all tourists are to provide their passport details to the host/hotel.
By the time we checked in, Alfonso had loaded us with tons of tips and information to make it easy for us to explore his gorgeous town. We had really been lucky picking such wonderful hosts and a property that was so centrally located between the old town and the new town, making it extremely easy to get around Cuenca.
Apart from the restaurant and bar recommendations, Alfonso also guided us with the best alternatives to explore the old town of Cuenca and the various points of interest.
On our two-day trip to Cuenca (including all the delayed travel), we decided to spend a day exploring the outdoors and the rest of the time laying low at our quaint and charming Airbnb with lots of Spanish wine and food that we picked up from the local supermarkets.
Book your stay at La Casita de Ana
Exploring Cuenca, Spain
As recommended by Alfonso, exploring the Old Town of Cuenca was relatively simple, especially from our apartment which was right between the two sides of the lovely little town.
When we started out, we weren’t quite sure as to how much would we be able to cover. So, we kept going, stopping where we liked for pictures and exploring without any boundaries or timeline.
Old Town Cuenca
When you walk towards the Old Town of Cuenca, you can already notice the medieval vibes, limestone structures and Huécar river flowing along. It was an overcast day, so we didn’t exactly have our hopes too high, but we were liking how this was turning out to be.
San Pablo Bridge
Our first stop came at the San Pablo Bridge which was built over the Huecar river basin. While there are many stories about this bridge, what we enjoyed the most was the view it offered on both sides of the bridge. It was as we call an insta-perfect spot to take fabulous pictures of the surroundings and of yourself.
From the bridge itself, we got a good glimpse of Cuenca’s famous Casas Colgadas or the Hanging Houses.
Casas Colgadas- Hanging Houses
As we cross the San Pablo Bridge, we reached extremely close to Casas Colgadas.
These houses appear to be hanging from the cliff and are hence referred to as the Hanging Houses, attracting tourists from across the world. To be honest, these are only a small part that you can witness on the outside, look seemingly beautiful on the inside and make for great photo opportunities.
Walking in the narrow lanes of Cuenca is a special experience. It has the narrow lanes, cobblestoned streets, colorful homes, balconies which feel as if were reaching out to you, doors to homes and hotels that look inviting and how and little surprises in corners that are hard to resist.
Town Centre/ Plaza Mayor
As we walked further, we reached Cuenca’s town center or the Plaza Mayor that houses the town gate, colorful houses, restaurants, and the Cuenca Cathedral. We were there in the low season, with little crowds to fill up the area. But in summers, I can totally imagine the center being a vibrant and buzzing spot in the city.
You can also find the Tourist Information center here, where you could book a tour of the important sites of the Old Town for just 5eur. You could also check with them for night tours.
Right in front of us was the Cuenca Cathedral, standing tall in the glory of a magnificent architecture on the outside. While it looked all intriguing, we skipped paying for the entrance to visit inside.
There are so many things about Cuenca, which you cannot possibly explain in words and but can only best experience. Walking through the medieval remains and exploring the hidden secrets being one of those.
On our way further, we found a balcony look alike on the left and headed to explore the area. This was when we got the view of the second river gorge in Cuenca, Júcar River right below from the balcony. While on the opposite side of the river was a mountain with eyes carved out. Turns out, the locals call it Cuenca Eyes.
No wonder they ask you to wander when traveling to a new place, how else would we discover such amazing sites without going off the map.
Mirador Barrio Del Castillo
Getting back on top, we continued to walk and walk, through the ruins of the medieval castle of Cuenca until we reached the top- Mirador Barrio Del Castillo. From here we got the most gorgeous, panoramic view of Cuenca, even better the one from the San Pablo Bridge.
After all that walking, we stopped by one of the local restaurants to grab a bite and enjoy a generous quantity of Patata Bravas, some hot bread, and the local Alhambra beer.
Cuenca At Night
Alfonso had recommended that we explore Cuenca in daylight and watch it at night too. We didn’t quite get the exact idea until we started walking back and explored an extremely gorgeous, well-lit town as we made our way downstairs.
There was something so beautiful and calming about the visual that even our talks and laughter could not disturb the peace.
Is a day enough to fall in love with a town? Absolutely. Especially, if it’s Cuenca and with that thought, we hope to return someday. Because there is no place more beautiful than the one that calms your mind and makes you happy too.
What did we skip?
Surprisingly, Cuenca also some of the finest museums, especially- Spanish Abstract Art Museum, Cuenca Museum, Castilla La Mancha Paleontology Museum, Science Museum of Castilla La Mancha. Since we were keen on exploring the outdoors, we skipped the museums and walked around as much as we could. But these museums are well worth considering their high reputation.
Where to Eat In Cuenca? Local Recommendations
Also sharing some local recommendations given to us by our Airbnb Host, Alfonso:
Barrio Del Castillo
- El caserío (budget friendly)
- Restaurante Maria Morena (gourmet)
Plaza Mayor, Cuenca
- Restaurante San Juan
- Posada San José
- Restaurante San Pedro
Calle San Francisco
- Mesón Jose
- Barrica de Miguel
- Mesón fidel
- El Bodegón
Remember, most menus are likely to be in Spanish and the portions served are quite filling. Use Google Translate for the menu and check with the staff on the portions and alternatives.
One of the best things about traveling to Cuenca is cost-effectiveness. While there is no compromising on the wonderful destination that Cuenca is, you’re likely to find accommodation and food across the town in all price ranges, including some real good budget options. Do wander about a couple of restaurants before you make a choice. Also, remember that the food portions at restaurants can be pretty huge.
Apart from traveling in the offseason, Cuenca brought in the peaceful vibes. Having had a crazy day since the beginning to finally reaching Cuenca only close to midnight, there was a much-welcomed peace that surrounded us. Cuenca wasn’t really noisy or crowded.
Even as we headed out to explore, Cuenca was all shades of chilled and laid back, something very typical of Spanish destinations. Certain parts of this town felt like we had the entire town to explore our crazy- walking past rivers, bridges and waterfalls. And then, even when there were tourists and locals surrounding us, it was as if they were waiting to welcome us and made us feel at home. The language was no barrier because despite the difference there were people waiting to feed us, ensuring we got what we wanted and that we got to try what they made the best.
To be honest, pictures don’t do justice to Cuenca’s beauty and words don’t do justice to the beautiful time we had in this lovely Spanish town.
If you want to take a trip to Spain with your best friends, do add Cuenca to your list! This amazing destination will win you over with its beauty and shall provide you the perfect setting to celebrate some downtime with your near ones.