During a business trip to Madrid I was looking for another small town to visit in the plains close to the capital. Another one of those treasured small towns that I long to see, with a unique history and recognized as a world jewel. Internet searching for UNESCO World Heritage recognized towns or villages is always a good idea. The Internet is the defacto tool to find places like this, while searching, I ran across Cuenca, Spain.

Situated in Castilla La Mancha, 166 Kms south-east of Madrid on N-400, this can make for a nice day trip. Cuenca is not a small town these days, but the old city center or “upper city”, found at top of the deep canyons formed by the Jucar and Huecar rivers, nestled in the hills of the Cuenca Mountains, gives this town the feel of an old town, transporting the visitor to its medieval days of glory. The viewpoints from atop are spectacular. From the Jucar valley where modern Cuenca is located, the rouged and deep gorge of the Jucar river to the west and the course of the Huecar canyon to the east, where atop another hill sits the magnificent Convent of San Pablo, now serving as a hostal (Parador de Turismo). A bridge links the old center to the convent grounds. A trade mark of this town are the Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses), homes that hang precariously over the cliffs of the gorge and cobbled stone narrow streets.

Traveling from Madrid by car you arrive via the Jucar valley to the city of Cuenca. You start to navigate up the hill through winy and narrow cobble stone streets of towering old houses leading up to the old city center.

Upon reaching the “upper city”, you come across Los Arcos (the Arches), the Town Hall building crosses the narrow street with its three arches at the bottom acting as the gateway into Plaza Mayor (old town square).

Cuenca's Plaza Mayor and Municipal Palace

In the narrow Plaza Mayor is the Gothic Cathedral of Cuenca. Construction for this building started in 1196 and was finish in the 15th century. The cathedral is known as Nuestra Señora Gracia. There are a number of other religious buildings all around the upper city. Some have been turned into beautiful and charming hotels. Some of these hotels have balconies that over look the Huecar river canyon. I visited, but did not stay, atPosada de San Jose. This would definitely be a place worth considering if an overnight is required.

Cuenca's Gothic Cathedral

All the buildings in the upper city are very close to one another, forming charming streets and passages, each with unique character. I made my way through these around the Cathedral to Puente de San Pablo (St Paul’s Bridge). From the bridge you can admire one of the highlights and trade marks of this town, the Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses). The wooden balconies of the Casas Colgadas hang over the cliffs formed by the course of the Huécar. These homes date back to the 1400’s. They today host a museum (Museo de Arte Abstracto). Once you crossover the river you will enjoy the best panoramic views of this landmark.

Cuenca's Casas Colgadas

Cuenca's Casas Colgadas and passage

Once across you can visit the Convent of San Pablo, now a Parador (hotel) under the same name Parador San Pablo. I read that eating here can be a treat, we chose to head back up and eat a small place in Plaza Mayor, enjoying the view of the Jucar deep gorge and cliffs.

Cuenca's Convento San Pablo

Returning across the bridge into the Cuenca urban layout,  between the main plaza and the Casas Colgadas you can visit the Provincial Museum, the Casa del Curato, the Diocesan Museum and the Bishop’s Palace.  Making your way north walking along the east most narrow street,  you will enjoy the many fountains in small plazas, navigating through urban tunnels like the one pictured here.

Cuenca drinking fountain

Cuenca's upper city street passage

Cuenca's more elaborate drinking fountain

Along this street is Posada de San Jose which I made reference to in the introduction.

Posada San Jose in Cuenca

Once back into main street going north, the only street in and out of town (Calle de San Pedro), you will encounter what I call the “north gate”. This path is an upward incline that leads to some great views of the old and new city of Cuenca. Past the north gate is the Barrio del Castillo. Here some of the history I read on the “north gate”. This fragment of wall, the arch and an only tower are the remains of an ancient Arab fortress. The arch (arco de Bezudo) is named after Gutierre R Bezudo, who fought the Arabs with King Alfonso VIII to conquer Cuenca. The fortress was destroyed in the 19th century during the Peninsular war by French troops.

Cuenca's upper city North Gate

On your way north, you may choose a quick stop and navigate towards the west side, crossing what I call a “west gate” is a street (Calle de Ronda del Jucar) from where you can view the west edge of town, the cliffs and deep gorge of the Jucar river.

Cuenca's upper city west gate

View of the city of Cuenca from the upper city

Jucar river cliffs

The view to the east once past the north gate is astonishing as well. You can view the entire “upper city” from afar, the cliffs delimiting the hills where this city was settled and the Huecar river. At a distance, a great view of the Jucar river valley where the new Cuenca continues to grow. The San Pablo bridge, crossing the Huecar, leading into the Convento San Pablo.

Cuenca's upper city in the mist

The old Convento de las Carmelitas Descalzas is one of the last old structures found while walking up towards the north gate away from the upper city’s Plaza Mayor.

Convento de las Carmelitas Descalzas

Before reaching this historic convent, while walking up the incline, one can pause and turn to admire the architecture and perspective of the tile roof tops. An intricate of churches, convents and old homes, all coming together to give life the colors of this city and its religious history, cemented in the number of stone carved crosses. I personally love the following picture that tells this story of time passed.

Cuenca's upper city tile roof collage

Driving along these roads has always been a pleasure, not only to admire the natural beauty of this land, but also some of the small towns along this route. Here an image in an attempt to capture the character of this land.

Road to Cuenca landscape


You may have read my previous posts on the Coca and Penafiel castles.  In these blogs I provided a detailed description of these mayor sites I visited. However, in my one day trip, driving a total of 492 Km (300 M), along a loop I made north of Madrid during the longest day of the year (June 21). I visited a number of additional medieval castles. This blog provides a brief synopsis of these towns and pictures of such lovely sites.

Following in part “La Ruta del Cid”, along the high plains north of Madrid there are a number of small sleepy towns, each featuring interesting medieval sites, historical paths traveled by brave men in their quest, in route to the Holy land. These are the additional towns I visited in order or appearance. You may have taken note of the “one day” remark. This is indeed true, I was amazed of the distance traveled, not to mentioned the number of castles visited, but you may remember my motto “rapid can be memorable”. When you love medieval times, have read ahead and virtually traveled these, visiting these sites in Google Earth, this is indeed possible. Bottom line, if you know what you are looking for, proper planing and careful execution will take you there!

The first stop north of Madrid (142Km) was Coca, site feature in a previous post. Leaving Coca on a very bright sunny day, with my car windows down, I can still feel the sense of freedom, enjoying the quite and small roads. Admiring the golden fields of what appeared wheat, contrasting with the green short conifers, adorned by one deep blue sky in the background. Not a cloud in sight. Oh, the memories of small Spanish towns. After traveling north another 20 Km is the town of Iscar.

Iscar landscape

Iscar landscape

Iscar Castle sits atop of a elevated hill, overlooking the village by the same name.  A nice and small castle ruin. Built in a pentagonal plan in the 15th century by Don Pedro Zuñiga de Avellaneda.  The main structure is protected on one side by three well built towers, very close in proximity to one another. These towers protect the once standing wood draw bridge and stone steps to access the tower.

As I have read with other castles in this area, the current structure is built where a Moorish castle once stood. An Arab chronicle of the year 939 mentions this older Moorish structure during a raid into Christian territory. At one point, later in the 11th century this castle was owned by a noble man, which was a lieutenant for “El Cid”. Thus my reference to “La Ruta del Cid” as a central theme in this blog.

Iscar Castle

Iscar Castle main tower and defending towers

As I left Iscar in route to Cuellar, I stopped at Cogeses de Iscar. I found a sign along the road indicating the “Ruta del Cid”, so I followed this small road, that lead me to Cogeses. In this town I found this old church, from the distance I could see its tall bell tower. A couple of features that caused me to pause and admire this old and beautiful structure were, the stone cross in the court yard, the old wooden door and its stone arches, both well weathered by time and the tower attached to the bell tower. I did not take the time to enter this building, but it appear as you will note in the picture the adjacent tower to be an access staircase into the perhaps different level inside the main tower. I can also picture the “Holy warriors”, the crusaders, heading to the Holy land, going along this route and pause to say a prayer by the cross carved in stone.

Cogeses de Iscar old church

Cogeses de Iscar old church

A more detail view of the features that caught my attention are presented in the following picture, the stone carved cross and main wooden door and arches.

Iscar medieval church and cross

Iscar medieval church and cross

The city of Coca, in the Segovia Province part of the autonomous region of Castilla-Leon, is a small town north-west of Madrid hosting an amazing medieval castle.

The city is located at about 140 km from the capital, just a few kilometers off  the main highway connecting Madrid and Valladolid.  An alternate way is to drive from Segovia, another great destination. Coca is north-west of Segovia at about an hour drive. This alternate route can make for a nice loop (Madrid-Segovia-Coca) if you plan to visit Segovia, a must stop in the cities to visit north of Madrid.

Coca features an impresive medieval castle that takes the name of the town, Coca Castle. Built in the second half of the 15th century (around 1493) it is one of the most important castles in Spain from this era and a unique castle not only is Spain but throughout Europe.

Coca Castle overview

Coca Castle overview

As you may note from the pictures, the castle is built of bricks in the Mudejar style. The castle is built in a sandy and wooded land poor in stone. The castle is not Islamic in plan or disposition despite its brick construction but rather Christian.  Built by Don Alfonso Fonseca, Archbishop of Segovia.

Coca Castle south-east view

Coca Castle south-east view

The castle is built as three “concentric rings”,  figuratively speaking “rings” since it is actually a rectangular structure.  The outer structure featuring four corners with polygonal towers that rise from the bottom of the moat.

Coca Castle polygonal tower.

Coca Castle polygonal tower.

These polygonal towers emerge from a huge and deep moat that is about 40 feet deep. The moat appears to me as being man made. There are two draw bridges to access the castle, I have included pictures of both.

Coca Castle defending wall

Coca Castle defending wall

Here you can  see the second “ring” of extremely strong walls that make the main part of the castle. This also feature polygonal and round towers. You can climb the outer defending wall in the back and get a feel of the warfare this place may have endured.

Coca Castle defending walls and moat

Coca Castle defending walls and moat

There were two draw bridges, one is in use today as the main access to the castle. The other one is a standing column that would have help the bridge. You may note this remnant in one of the pictures. The main draw bridge is in great condition and is the main access to the structure. Crossing the main draw bridge leads you to the outer court yard.

Coca Castle moat and main entrance

Coca Castle moat and main entrance

Once in the outer court yard you can walk around the entire structure, climb the defending walls or go through some interesting passages as you navigate your way to the entrance of the main tower. To gain access to the main tower, now used as a school, there is a set of door, one being a medieval style drop door.

Coca Castle main structure entrance

Coca Castle main structure entrance

I like to include pictures of the landscape surrounding this beautiful towns and interesting featues found along the way. During my drive, a long loop north of Madrid visiting town after town the prevailing scene is included in this blog.

Segovia Province landscape on the way to Coca

Segovia Province landscape on the way to Coca

An interesting feature of this region is the number of stork’s nests, found in just about ever tall structure, literately in very town I visited. In this blog is one found in Coca.

Nesting storks

Nesting storks

Second in the “Madrid Afar” series is Penafiel, located in the Valladolid province in the Castilla-Leon region of Spain. The town is located north-west of Madrid (182KM). 

On my way from Madrid, I stopped and visited other towns and castles. I will highlight these in my next blog in this series, but the scene at Peñafiel calls for it to be the blog’s second stop.  My plan was to take a route north of Madrid, along “La Rute del Cid”, to visit as many medieval castles as possible in a short amount of time. Remember, “Rapid can be memorable” with proper planning. Buy a good book. I recommend the “Eyewitness” series. You study ahead, use the book’s images and the brief but meaningful history and references provided. You can take the book with you as your tour guide. Before you take off, remember to hop onto Google Earth to review the routes, terrain and images others have captured to enhance the book experience. As you will read, “La Ruta del Cid” (The Cid’s Route) turned out to be an incredible journey.

Visiting Peñafiel, a small and picturesque Spanish town in the “Ribera del Duero”, would not only allow you to enjoy a nice stroll through a small Spanish town with a lot of character and history, but also allows you to visit the valley that gives birth to some great and famous wines that carry the name of the Duero river valley (Ribera del Duero) where its grapes are grown at a number of vineyard plantations. One striking natural character of these plains is the golden to green color contrasts. Featured here is the Abadia Retuerta, a XII monastery turn into a winery and vineyard plantation.

Penafile Winery House

Abadia Retuerta Winery House

Ribera del Diero Vineyards

Ribera del Diero Vineyards

The Duero river valley geopraphy along this area features short hills, surrounded by golden color fields from dry grasses or what appeared to be wheat, contrasting with some short conifer pine trees or vineyard plantations

Duero River Valley Coloring Constrast.

Duero River Valley Coloring Constrast.

As I arrived to Peñafiel, sitting at another hill top, perched over cliffs, was a majestic castle, overlooking the Duero river valley. From out of a medieval fairy tale, there stood a solid rock structure. Its round and rocky turrets. Did you ever as kid played with the “Exin Castillo” castle making blocks? The Peñafiel castle would be a true replica of those models.

Penafiel Castle

Peñafiel Castle

Peñafiel’s Castle is a massive and rock solid structure that has stood the taste of time. Equally impressive are the turrets at each end. The castle walls are shaped after the contour of the rocky hill where it stands. An elongated structure as you can judge by the picture, along with its massive building structure in the middle gives this castle the nick name of “el buque” (the ship). It measures 210 meters long and 35 meters wide. Originally founded in the 11th century, the castle walls and main structure where built in the 13th and 14th century by Don Juan Manuel. The second wall and a number of turrets along the walls were built in the 15th century. Today the main structure in the castles hosts a provincial wine museum.

Penafiel Castle East Turret.

Penafiel Castle North Turret.


Penafiel Castle West Turret

Peñafiel Castle South Turret

This castle was the scene of some bloody battles, always faithful to the kingdom of Castilla, is what gives this town and castle its name. Peñafiel is Spanish means “Loyal Rock”. I read that this place was designed to be “unconquerable” and that its gatehouse is one of the best built. The main structure hosts a wine museum. As you get passed the main gate and climb up a number of stairs is the entrance to the wine museum. As you enter you notice the first wall and its turrets, these were built a century before the second or outside wall.

Penafiel Castle Gateway

Peñafiel Castle Gateway

Penafiel Castle Entrance

Peñafiel Castle Entrance

The view of the valley, called the Ribera del Duero and the city itself are very pleasant. The typical “teja” roofs and the old church along the narrow streets, given way to a number of small parks or plazas.

View of the Duero river valley from atop the Penafiel Castle

View of the Duero river valley from atop the Peñafiel Castle

Town of Penafile viewed from Penafiel Castle

Town of Peñafiel and San Pablo's church viewed from Peñafiel Castle

As you drive back the windy road heading back into town, make time to sit to relax to taste small town Spain. Sit on a bench at any of the many many plazas in town. You can enjoy the view of the castle at the distance, the well groomed flower beds or pick up a chat with any of the locals. There is always an older man, sitting, boina (Spanish black barret) and all, ready to talk politics and the town’s history. Also in town you will find the church of San Pablo, founded in 1324, constructed in  a Gothic-Mudejar architecture.

Penafiel Plaza with view of Penafiel Castle
Peñafiel Castle within view from a plaza.


Every time I have had the opportunity to travel to Madrid, the capital of Spain, I have taken time to visit the incredible towns in the high plains. I will start a blog series on these small towns. Some are very well known, some others which I consider small jewels, are not traveled as much. It is well worth making a special trip to discover and enjoy them as true pieces of history. My blogs feature pictures from my own collection.
The series will start with Don Quijote and the famous medieval windmills from the novel in the city of Consuegra, in Castilla-La-Mancha.
The city of Consuegra, just a short drive south of Madrid (136 KM) is a small town of about 11,000 people. The town has a lovely main square, you can sit and enjoy a refreshment during the summer months, since it can be hot. Here a view of the plaza while sitting enjoying a lemonade with my dear brother and lovely sister in law, whom I had the pleasure to enjoy and discover this great town.
Consuegra Town Square

Consuegra Town Square

Just south of the city is the site of the medieval windmills featured in the book “Don Quijote de la Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes, a classic of Spanish literature. Driving from town via a winding road, you go up a hill called Cerro Calderico, you park the car and walk up a path to the top of the hill where you will encounter twelve windmills, lined up like soldiers, overlooking the plains. Four of these still in operation. These have been reconstructed to their original specification, the machinery used dates from the XVI century. Each windmill has its own name, written on the outside, an interesting and funny feature. Most famous one being Sancho (Molino Sancho).

Don Quijote Windmills - Consuegra (La Mancha), Spain

The view from the top is incredible, you can see the plains of La Mancha for as far as your eyes can see. Including some vineyard plantations.
View from Cerro Calderico in the city of Consuegra, Spain

View from Cerro Calderico in the city of Consuegra, Spain

Along the walk to the windmills, you will find a medieval castle. If you, like me, love medieval sites, features and stories, you will find this castle fascinating. Believed to have been orginally built by the Moros in the late 10th to early 11 century by Al-Hajib Al-Mansur, better known by Almanzor. It was later used by Alfonso VIII (1155 – 1214) during the Spanish Reconquest.
Medieval castle at top of Cerro Calderico in Consuegra

Medieval castle at top of Cerro Calderico in Consuegra

 As you enter the castle walls, you will find a number of towers, each containing multiple stories, each story being a room that served a purposue. You will find the dininig room, kitchen, chapel and bedrooms.
To enter the main tower, you first encounter an incredible feature, a medieval door. You follow narrow paths into rooms, very simple and rustic.
Consuegra medieval castle entrance

Consuegra medieval castle entrance

There are a numbers of terraces and pathways that connect the different towers. These lead to the top, where you can experience another incredible view of the plains. As you navigate your way out of the castle, as  you head down from the top, at one end is a small garden inside the castle walls.
Consuegra castle medieval door

Consuegra castle medieval door

The town hosts a number of festivals, perhaps the most famous being the  “Rose of Saffron”. This is celebrated in the last week of October. There is also the festival “Cosuegra Medieval”, this is celebrated in August. This last one celebrates the history of this place, with reenactments with people dressed in original costumes. I did not have the chance to attend either, given I traveled in June. I wanted to mention it in case you plan to travel during these time frames to line up some extra fun.
Pacific Ocean Dream Cove

As you open the Google Earth application (earth.google.com). Start at Monterey, California, travel south down Pacific Hwy 1.

You will find a number of pictures, taken by traveling fans like you or I. As I virtually traveled down the road, I found a caption on this beautiful scene. It immediately reminded me of the Mermaid Cove in the Peter Pan movie by Walt Disney.

As we planned a family vacation to sunny California, we decided that visiting this breath taking cove at Julia Pfeiffer Park had to be a must see. Had I not virtually traveled and research, I would have missed the opportunity to experience such natural beauty.

Pacific Ocean Dream Cove

The picture is from my private collection. I encourage you to spend time using this great Google Internet tool to share the vision of so many travelers, sharing through their camera eye their experiences.

Corsair Landings are places I have been to around the world.

Why “Corsair Landings”? As you may have guessed, the name has an obvious source. My name being Josep Cors, thus the use of the word “Cors” in the name.

The add-on “air”, comes from the fundamentals of why I decided to start this blog, start with a dream, therefore out of “thin air”.

You put these two together and get “Corsair”. Add a bit of context and you have, a ship that conquers, an airplane that achieves purpose, or perhaps vehicles used for travel.  You got it, traveling is what this is about.  Landing is the ultimate goal in traveling, getting there.

My hope is that this blog helps you, enthusiatic travelers like me to get you there! Not only to the places I have been to, but to use the techniques and tools I have used to take you where you may be dreaming of going.