Sigüenza

A bit over an hour north-east of Madrid lies the town of Sigüenza. I remember going there for an excursion for lunch once with my father when I was a teenager, and again with my family in my twenties, but I had not gone back since. In early January I went with my girlfriend. What a great town it is for a quick week-end getaway!

There are two main highlights to the town but many interesting bits to fill in between those two bookends. And bookends they are as they are situated on each side of town: The castle sits at the top of the hill, and the cathedral at the bottom. They are connected by the medieval wall. Within those walls are a handful of old churches, from Romanesque like Santiago and San Vicente to 19th C Santa Maria. There is a Renaissance town square, monasteries and convents, and like any good Spanish town a bunch of bars and restaurants!

The medieval castle, where queen Blanca de Borbón was kept prisoner for a few years since her dad King Jean II le Bon did not pay the dowry, became the bishops’ palace and eventually was turned into a gorgeous Parador hotel in the 70s. Imagine staying in a medieval castle but with awesome water pressure, great food and Wi-Fi!! We got a great deal, so we stayed there!

The town is perfect for walking around. Although we went in early January and it was freezing, there are plenty of places to check out and warm up!

The highlight is the Cathedral, originally Romanesque and then modified in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and eventually Neo-Classic styles. The main attraction in the cathedral is the tomb of “El doncel”. This fellow, Martín Vázquez de Arce was a local nobleman who was killed fighting for Ferdinand and Isabelle against the Moors in Granada in 1482. What is extraordinary is his tomb: he is not lying down like every other bishop and nobleman in every other cathedral… he is reclining, reading a book in his suit of armour, waiting for his eternal rest. The detail in the carving of the alabaster is exquisite to the point of whimsical: his page carefully holding his foot, his eyes open, etc. it is a gorgeous sculpture –funerary art at its best!

The rest of the cathedral is no slouch: a Greco painting, an outstanding collection of tapestries, amazing architecture, two pulpits: a Romanesque and a Renaissance one, etc., etc.

The Clarisas convent just happens to have an ancient burying ground outside their doors which is simply covered with a glass for you to appreciate the architecture and human bones! The nuns make the best chocolate truffles you can imagine. Since these nuns do not allow you to see them you have to buy the sweets via a rotating door. As a certified chocaholic, I can attest to the quality of the truffles! I did not bother tasting anything else.

As in any good Spanish town, food is the soul of the place. Sigüenza lies pretty much along the dividing line between Old and New Castille  – so called as Castille progressed on the expulsion of the aforementioned Moors… So you get both cuisines, North and South.

The surrounding villages are obviously much smaller than Sigüenza,but are very rich in history and culture. Make sure you check out Atienza and Medinacelli.

Santiago de Compostela

One of the advantages of being a freelancer is that I can take a couple of days off when I can fit them in. So recently we escaped to Santiago de Compostela. I know this Northern jewel well, but last time I was there when I finished my Camino in June of 2018 I didn’t stick around and took the first train back to Madrid. This time we went for three days.

Santiago was built since Roman times mostly out of granite so if it rains and it gets dark the streets and the buildings take on a mystical glow, a very special shine. We were lucky it rained when we went!

Of course the main event is the Cathedral which has been there in one shape or form welcoming pilgrims since the Middle Ages, although the Romans already had a temple there. Other must sees include the square Plaza do Obradoiro (check out the live webcam!) that houses the Cathedral, town hall, parador and university, the awesome modernist market, the park, the contemporary art museum, the folk museum, and, of course, a bucket full of churches/monasteries. But really the best thing to do is to walk around the old town enjoying the atmosphere, the little shops, the bars and restaurants…

We were lucky to stay at the Parador, the original pilgrim’s hospital which is on the Cathedral square and is the oldest hotel in the world!

The other main attraction is food! Needless to say the seafood cannot get any fresher as Santiago is a few miles from the sea. The octopus, the barnacles, any fish is just perfect! There are two local wines to have: the crisp, seabreeze infused Albariño and the lesser known cousin Ribeiro made inland along the local rivers (thus the name).

The Cathedral was under extensive restoration efforts so we could not enjoy mass with the massive incense burner – the Botafumeiro, oh well, maybe next time.