I live in southern Spain and recently visited a good friend in Madrid – the capital city, right in the heart of the country. While I love the city, its vibe, the shopping and the food, I felt I needed an escape from the crowds and noise, and my friend came up with the perfect solution.
It was the weekend and I piled into her car with a small bag, heading off for what was to me, strange and new pastures. She told me nothing about the destination, just smiled enigmatically, telling me don’t worry, you’ll love it. Around 44 miles down the highway, I arrived in the small and quaint town of Buendía, located in the Cuenca province of Castilla-La Mancha.
The town was pleasant, with friendly residents and an ample supply of good restaurants and bars, so I settled in, thinking this was it. However, the next morning, it was back into the car, wearing a comfortable pair of walking shoes, heading out into the countryside for an experience like no other.
Ruta de las Caras (Route of the Faces)
What makes the town of Buendía unique is a fascinating hiking route, which winds around the local reservoir. Out in the healthy and clean fresh air, the opportunity exists to visit an art gallery or museum like no other, surrounded by pine groves and sandstone rocks.
Over the years, 18 artists have collaborated to sculpt from the sandstone rocks a series of faces, all with a religious or mystical meaning. The works measure from 1 to 8 meters in height and represent subjects including Pharaonic Egypt, Arjuna and Maitreya. As I strolled from sculpture to sculpture I was fascinated by the detail of the artwork, always excited to see the next, and the next, often back-pedaling to see a previous work.
While all I could hear was the sound of the wind through the trees, I did notice when passing the Buendía dam that much activity was happening out on the water. There were jet skis zooming past and people relaxing on fishing boats close by, and one man was taking a dip in the water.
While I enjoyed the shorter hiking route around the sculptures that day – which takes around an hour – it turns out the area offers a variety of different routes, depending on a person’s energy levels and stamina. My next hike took me up into the Sierra de Altomira hills, with astounding views across the countryside. Sweeping vistas of the Guadiela River were enjoyable, as was a brief visit to the remains of the Visigothic city located in the Enmedio mountain range.
The hospitality of Buendía
In between my bouts of hiking in the fresh air I took respite in Buendía, enjoying the local delicacies at the restaurants and tapas bars of the town. The first night I dined on a delicious traditional garlic chicken, while the second night I tucked into the famous and supremely tender Cuenca roast lamb, all washed down with some excellent local wines and tempting desserts.
Nights were spent at yet another artistic site – the Hotel Rural La Casa de las Médicas in Calle San Pedro offers a series of comfortable guest rooms, each with a unique colorful and artistic décor. The hotel also has an unusual restaurant, set in a cave.
My experience in Buendía certainly beats the typical Spanish vacation visit to the major cities or coastal resorts and has awakened a desire to see more of the unique and artistic destinations offered by this varied and fascinating country.
Written by: Anne Sewell
Anne Sewell has lived in southern Africa for most of her life and is now a travel writer and freelance writer, living on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. She enjoys visiting the more unusual and off-the-beaten track destinations in her new home country and writing about her experiences.
Maitreya on the Route of the Faces by: Asoka / CC BY-SA 3.0
Skull sculpture by: Diego Delso / CC BY-SA
Official website: www.rutadelascaras.com
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