A Great Escape: A Weekend in the Gredos

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A Gredos Escape: A Weekend in the Mountains

© Marshall Carter-Tripp

Spain is filled with wonderful layers of history, and it’s tempting to try to poke through them all...sometimes, however, the best of all is to do nothing special - which itself is very special.  From Madrid, for a special excursion, head for the Gredos mountains, via the N-V to Talavera and right on the N502.  This takes you up through the pass, where there is a very substantial castle and long segments of a Roman road.  The road rises quickly toward the Puerto del Pico at 1352 meters, and the country of the Cinco Villas.  The first attraction (not counting the big cave at Cuevas del Águila) is Mombeltrán, where don Beltrán de la Cueva, Duke of Albuqueque, built a huge castle in the 14th century.   This gentleman received his domain from Enrique IV, and there were many knowing stories about the role that Beltrán played in the pregnancy of Enrique’s queen that resulted in the royal daughter Juana, la “Beltraneja”, who contended with Isabel for the throne of Castile.  These stories of course, by denigrating the contender, also served the interests of those who supported Isabel, the eventual winner - short of DNA analysis, who will ever know?  The town is ringed by the other four villas (Santa Cruz, San Esteban, Villarejo, and Cuevas, all “del Valle”) and surrounded by groves of olives and figs - accounting for the sobriquet of “the Andalucian Ávila.”

From Cuevas del Valle the main road leads to the pass, and here also begins a great stretch of Roman road that once went on to Ávila . . . stop, and walk on it!  (But bring good shoes, the surface is very irregular and very hard, and it is also part of the Cañada Real or livestock road.)  .The view is gorgeous as you climb to the pass, where there is a corniche or balcony to admire the Cinco Villas.  Another 10 km further on, a turn left on the CL500 brings you to the Gredos Parador, the first-established of the great Paradores chain.  This could be one stopping point for a Gredos weekend - we chose ,this time, just to have lunch here, and traveled on to the Milano Real (named after the red kite, one of the indigenous birds of the area) in Hoyos del Espino, about 12 km further down. 

The Milano Real is a small hotel (a member of the Rusticae group), created by the Hispano-American couple, Paco and Teresa - the former manning the kitchen and the latter attending to your needs in general.  At the top of the building is a large library, flanked by a couple of dormer rooms.  In the main building there are 16 relatively simple rooms, from many of which you can see the Gredos range.  (An annex under construction will offer several suites).  Room size does not matter much as most of the time you will either be walking, reading in the library, relaxing in the sauna, or eating.  With regard to the latter, Paco’s cooking is divine, and you are well advised to take the “Maridaje” menu, “marrying” specific wines to specific foods - five courses with wine for 6000 pesetas, about $30!

Wherever you are staying, the options are pretty much to walk, read, eat, read, walk.  There is a fine leather shop in Navarredondo de Gredos if you must shop!  If you are lucky you will see the elegant mountain goats, much hunted in these parts - but far better admired alive.  A short ride or long walk (12 km) from the Milano Real is the Laguna Grande, a glacial basin in the great volcanic Gredos cirque.  Other wildlife abounds.  If the wild life of Madrid is too much, this is a nice escape!

Practicalities:  Milano Real, Tel. 920 34 91 08, or central reservations at 91 523 23 07.  E-mail Rusticae@edigital.es; web-page www.rusticae.es.  The Gredos parador:  tel 920 34 82 05 or central reservations 91 516 66 66, www.parador.es.  Country Code for Spain - 34.

© Copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, Richard W. Tripp, Jr.