La Mancha Country

Continuing the series of blogs about the Paradores we have stayed in, for this particular part of our trip, we planned a leisurely day in Almagro, 200km from Madrid.

Almagro is an old town that was originally an Arab castle known as Almagrib. It used to be far more important than it is today and was once the capital of the region, however, overtaken by its neighbour, Ciudad Real the whitewashed town is now a small oasis, in the middle of La Mancha.

Mention La Mancha and what immediately springs to my mind is Don Quixote. He is the theme that runs through the tourist industry in this area, like a ribbon joining towns, castles, and windmills.

You probably know Don Quixote is the story of a man who believes he is a knight, who rights wrongs, mistakes prostitutes for princesses and “tilts at windmills,” believing them to be giants. It is allegedly the most widely read book on the planet. I tried to read it but quickly gave up … boring!

Madrid (7)

Today, the historic centre of Almagro has surprisingly wide streets lined with whitewashed houses many sporting flower-filled balconies. There isn´t much to do, a few mansions and palaces scattered around but enough to fill a pleasant day.

What Almagro is known for is the Corral de Comedias, the only open-air theatre in the world still intact and still in use since the 17th century. It is reminiscent of the theatre in the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’.

It didn´t take long to walk around so after we finished we stopped for coffee in the Plaza Mayor. It is a very pretty square, with a good selection of restaurants, craft shops and a souvenir shop.

Our plan was to return to our hotel, just 5 minutes from the Plaza and spend the afternoon reading our books and relaxing by the swimming pool.

The Parador we chose is a former monastery dating from 1596; it is very comfortable with interior courtyards and beautiful woodwork. When it was still a Convent, it was a refuge for pilgrims; so much as it is today. It converted to a hospital from 1850 to 1878, only to be taken back by the Franciscans, who finally decided to close it in 1942 due to the dwindling numbers of monks and a lack of interest in living according to Franciscan discipline. Some of the original convent still stands, including the cloisters, clearly Mudejar in style, and the quadrangular with double arches.

The bedrooms, originally the monastic cells, reflect peace and tranquillity. The restaurant offers a variety of local and regional specialities, however, some of these did sound a bit grim, so we strolled one last time through the Plaza that was now full of Spanish families and found a lovely little bar where we ate with the locals.

After dinner, there was time for a few more minutes on the terrace with a game of cards and a couple of chapters of our books. Finally, as the sun moved from east to west in the sky we agreed it had been a good day in Almagro, a quiet day but we had enjoyed the rest.

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