ROCK OF AGES
Perched on a rugged limestone hilltop, the charming medieval town of Cuenca beckons travellers to explore its narrow cobblestone streets, ancient architecture and modern art museums. Just an hour via high-speed train from Valencia and Madrid, Cuenca is worth a day trip, or an overnighter if you want some respite from the big, bustling cities. Cuenca consists of two parts: the old town in the high quarter, which is about 1,000 years old, and the new town that sprung up in the 19th century. In 1996, Cuenca was named World Heritage site by UNESCO thanks to the preservation of its original urban landscape such as the medieval fortress and rich collection of civil and religious architecture from the 12th to 18th centuries. In the 16th century, Cuenca was said to have the highest “apartment” in Spain. Art buffs will enjoy the Museum of Abstract Arts located in the spectacular 14th century Casas Colgadas or old hanging houses built on the rocky cliff edge. It was said that in 1907, the owner of the last hanging house sold it for 9 euros. Today, the museum’s artwork juxtaposes with imposing views of the canyon walls of the Cuenca Mountains. Consider staying overnight at the Cuenca Parador Hotel, a beautifully restored 16th century Dominican convent house where King Felipe of Spain and Queen Letizia stayed during the first night of their honeymoon. The hotel, which overlooks the historical hanging houses, is connected to the centre of the old town via a hanging bridge. When your visit is over, lug back some alajú, an Arabic confection made of nuts, honey, dried fruits, cinnamon and orange zest, sandwiched between wafers.