Next on the list was Spain.I'll put the rest of this behind a cut, to save your friends' page. We visited Andalucia a few years ago and saw the Alhambra and other glorious places and discovered that many castles in Spain have opening hours which don't fit with the marquis' ideas on when castles should be open. (The answer to the latter? All the time, or at least all the time when it's light.) On the other hand, a quick search revealed that Spain has many, many castles (around 3000) and many of them are completely open to the public. And several of them are hotels in the Spanish government-owned Parador chain. So we planned a trip based on available castle-hotels and their proximity to airports with sensible flights. (He wants to go to Madrid to look at the royal arms and armour collection, but we've been stymied twice by flights at really silly times.) That left us with flights to Biarritz, and hotels in Hondarribia (in Euskadi, the Basque Territory), Siguenza (Castille) and Olite (Navarra). All three are in impeccably restored and well-maintained castles, the oldest (Hondarribia) being 10th century, the most recent being fifteenth century (Olite) and the most beautiful, probably, being Siguenza -- yes, the whole building is the hotel. Paradors are wonderful things; they're often in interesting, historic buildings, they are reasonably priced, comfortable and usually friendly.
We spent one night in Hondarribia and three each in each of the others. In the days, we saw a lot of castles. I'm not sure how many -- the marquis has indicated he will be making an lj post about such things (he's narkil). But it was 4 or 5 most days. They ranged from heavily over-restored to barely still standing, from completely open to utterly inaccessible and all stages in between -- and those were the ones we could see clearly and from reasonably close range. There were also three that were completely unmarked in maps, guidebooks or anywhere else we could find, in the middle of fields, very neglected and probably in private hands. (All three were huge, too. Quite extraordinary.) I don't have photographs of any of those, sadly -- one was too far away, one we came across at twilight, and one we saw from a busy road.
Spanish castles are very varied, due in part to the successive cultures and kingdoms that have created and reused them. My favourite on this trip was probably this one, the Fortaleza de Gormaz. It's Moorish in origin, and huge -- in addition to the part you can see in that photo, there's a second, more heavily defended section where the governor lived. We had it all to ourselves: as we explored it, our only companions were a pair of eagles who were riding the thermals around it.
My other stand-out was this one, Montuenga de Soria, in Northern Castille. While the Fortaleza is famous and in very good condition, this one is very ruinous. It stands high over the plain -- you can see it from miles -- and is much redder in colour than the picture makes it appear. The village over which it stands is larger than Gormaz, but felt smaller. Many of the old houses were abandoned, replaced by newer ones further down the hill. The old ones stood on stone foundations to about hip-height: everything above was made of mud-brick and wood.
Castille rather stole my heart. I'd never visited it before, and I wasn't aware of how varied it is: the landscape changed every twenty to thirty miles. Dusty plain led to moorland, led to dunes held together by rough grass and scrub, or to rolling hills or sandstone crags, or to fantastic winding gorges. It's one of those areas that has suffered most from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with people moving out of villages to cities in search of work. Some places, we saw nobody. In the wall village of Palanzuelos, which is a national protected site, our walk around the walls was accompanied by a friendly and exuberant young labrador, who showed us all his favourite places to sniff. He clearly had a home: he was fit and healthy and wore a collar, but no people were in sight or in earshot. The village of Chaourna was crammed into a cleft in a cliff, and crowned by a watchtower, only one or two houses apparently still lived in. Many villages have beautiful, unaltered 12th century churches. I could go back and back to Castille, I think, for the light and the stillness and the niceness of everyone we met.
Navarra and La Rioja were lovely, too. We drove most of a long valley in, I think, La Rioja, and stood and watched at one site as a whole flight of vultures -- around 40 -- passed overhead. At several castles we were on the same level as the birds of prey -- one flew within 4 feet of us, banking to show his paler underside. We saw the famous castle of Loarre, where Ridley Scott filmed part of Kingdom of Heaven (it's a castle-monastery) and tracked down its neighbour, Montearagon, which turned out to be huge and empty and very oddly signposted. (The marquis had Views on that, and will be posting.) And there was a 7th century Visigothic church (Quintanilla de las Vinas)
with sculptures inside of the sun -- female -- and moon (male) as well as glorious angels and beasts and birds and fruit. We came across it by chance, on our way from one castle to another, and then further down the same road found dinosaur footprints, too. (There's another castle -- I can't recall which one, but the marquis will know -- which has its very own dinosaur footprints attached.)
I'd like to go back. We didn't get into Southern Castille. Or into Leon, very much, or Aragon. My feet are itching: I want to go and see.
Skirt of the day: denim