Explore Cuenca, Spain in Just 36 Hours!

For the past two years, Cuenca, Spain has been calling our names. Our friends who have visited before have always raved about their incredible experiences. Eager to embark on this adventure, my partner John and I decided it was time to prioritize a trip to Cuenca as soon as travel within Spain opened up again. We reached out to our friends, Catherina and John P, who also had Cuenca on their travel bucket list. Together, we made the unanimous decision to plan this getaway sooner rather than later. We settled on the weekend of June 12-13, realizing that a day trip wouldn’t suffice. Little did we know, even a whole weekend wouldn’t be enough to fully explore this captivating destination!
Considering that Catherina and John are vegetarians, we left the restaurant choices up to them. Despite my John being a devout meat lover, Catherina and John graciously searched for restaurants that could cater to all our culinary preferences.

When it came to accommodation, Catherina took the lead and conducted thorough research. We agreed to stay in the historic part of the city, close to the castle ruins, to fully immerse ourselves in the picturesque surroundings.

John P took on the responsibility of renting a car and planned to pick us up promptly at 8:30 am on Saturday morning. The journey began with a delightful drive, interrupted only briefly for a quick coffee break and pit stop for bathroom needs.

First Impressions of Cuenca

Upon our arrival in Cuenca, our first order of business was a much-needed coffee break at a specialty shop called Moka Natural Coffee, as per Catherina’s plan. Catherina opted for an affogato (espresso with vanilla ice cream), John P enjoyed a cortado, John L savored a café con leche, and I decided to go for a refreshing smoothie. Fortunately for me, because it seemed the coffee didn’t quite hit the mark. Catherina described her coffee as stomach-churning, barely tolerable due to the presence of ice cream. Both John P and John L found the coffee too weak for their liking.

With our caffeine fix taken care of, we continued our journey and made our way to Hostal San Pedro. We parked the car near the castle ruins and strolled downhill to reach our hostel. We were warmly welcomed by a gracious host who guided us to our respective rooms. Catherina and John were allocated rooms on the main floor, while John and I opted for a room on the second floor, offering us a stunning view overlooking the Parador below.

Well, our trip was just getting started and it was time to head over to Hostal San Pedro. We parked the car just before the castle ruins and walked down the hill to our hostel. We were greeted by a wonderful man who showed us to our rooms. Catherina and John checked-in first and were on the main floor. John and I chose a room with a view on the second floor. We were overlooking the Parador below.

cafe con leche moka cafe

A Delightful Lunch Experience

After approximately 30 minutes, the four of us gathered downstairs and set off towards our lunch destination, Tomates Verdes Fritos. The walk itself was a pleasure, with numerous sights to behold. We were captivated by the vibrant, colorful buildings and the captivating architecture that adorned the streets. As we finally arrived at the restaurant, we were met with a delightful surprise. Adorning one of the walls was a captivating artistic depiction of Frida Kahlo, which instantly resonated with me. The interior decor was intriguing, featuring an old-fashioned cash register that added a touch of nostalgia.

Being a weekend, Tomates Verdes Fritos offered a Mexican-themed menu, which suited our preferences perfectly. The portions were ample, satisfying our appetites, and the food itself was freshly prepared, scrumptious, and beautifully presented. Notably, the restroom was well-maintained and stocked with paper supplies, ensuring our comfort. Without hesitation, we all wholeheartedly recommend Tomates Verdes Fritos as a must-visit dining establishment during your time in Cuenca, whether you’re traveling alone, with a companion, or with your family.

appetizers at Tomates Verdes Fritos
appetizer at Tomates Verdes Fritos
burritos at Tomates Verdes Fritos

Exploring the Iconic Hanging Houses of Cuenca

Following our satisfying lunch, we eagerly set off to visit the renowned Casas Colgadas de Cuenca, famously known as the Hanging Houses of Cuenca. However, our excitement was momentarily dampened as we discovered that the road leading to the site was closed due to ongoing construction. Determined to make the most of our time, we approached a nearby security guard to inquire about the estimated duration of the detour. He reassured us that the alternative route would take approximately 15 minutes.

John L and I decided to take the uphill path, while Catherina and John P opted to explore the adjacent art gallery, housed within the very same Hanging Houses. With a plan in place, we separated temporarily, knowing that we would reunite later in the evening for dinner.

Undeterred by the slight setback, we embarked on our uphill journey, eagerly anticipating the breathtaking view that awaited us.

view from San Pablo Bridge
Casa Colgadas de Cuenca

Exploring Cuenca Cathedral

As we trekked uphill for approximately 10 minutes, we reached a vantage point that afforded us an impressive view, perfect for capturing some memorable photos. Further up the hill, we spotted the Parador, a historic hotel. After a brief photo session, the heat started to become overwhelming, prompting us to seek refuge inside the cool confines of the Cathedral.

However, our trust in Google’s estimated walking time was quickly shattered as we realized that its calculation failed to take into account the number of steps we would need to climb. What was initially promised as a 4-minute journey turned into a 30-minute ascent! Nevertheless, we persevered and finally arrived at Cuenca Cathedral, an architectural gem dating back to the 12th century, boasting a captivating blend of Gothic and Romanesque styles. Regrettably, I had forgotten my earphones, but luckily, we were able to download the audio guide onto our mobile phones. With the cathedral relatively quiet, John L and I were able to listen to the guide as we wandered through its magnificent halls. We also made the decision to visit the tower, which brought back memories of climbing the tower of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. From the top, we enjoyed a modest view of the square below, but what truly fascinated us was the opportunity to gaze down upon the cathedral’s interior from a lofty vantage point—an experience we had not encountered before.

Dinosaurs at Dinner!

After our visit to the Cathedral, we made our way back to Hostal San Pedro to reunite with Catherina and John P. Recognizing that we had already done quite a bit of walking for the day, we decided to let John take the wheel and drive us to Natura Restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, Google Maps led us on a wild goose chase, but after a few attempts, we finally found the correct road and arrived at the restaurant just in time for our reservation. To our astonishment, the restaurant’s garden was adorned with life-size dinosaur sculptures, creating a surreal atmosphere as the sun began to set. We were escorted to the terrace, or at least most of us were. Our table was missing two chairs, and even the person who showed us to our table failed to notice the oversight. When John L caught the attention of a passing waiter, he mistakenly assumed we were only looking to place our drink orders. Realizing the issue, I went inside the restaurant to inform them that we were missing chairs. After another ten minutes of waiting, they finally brought over the remaining chairs. Just as we settled in, a gust of wind picked up, accompanied by a rather loud singer providing entertainment, making it difficult for us to hear each other speak. We politely requested to be seated indoors, where we could still enjoy a pleasant view of the city below and the dinosaurs in the garden. Although the service throughout the evening was slow, we savored a delicious meal in the company of good friends and engaging conversation. Following dessert, we took a leisurely stroll through the nearby park, serenaded by the enchanting melodies of frogs. All in all, it was a magical evening in the company of dinosaurs. We then returned to the hostal, where we parked the car in a nearby garage (taking advantage of the 2 euro discount coupon provided by the hostal) and retired to our rooms for a much-needed rest.

A Refreshing Morning and a Hearty Breakfast

After enjoying a restful night’s sleep at Hostal San Pedro (although the firm mattress wasn’t the ideal choice for Catherina and John P, who preferred a softer one), we checked out and made our way up the hill, just beyond the castle ruins, to Restaurante El Torreón. There, we indulged in a simple yet satisfying Spanish-style breakfast. We relished freshly squeezed orange juice, creamy coffee con leche, and toasted bread topped with flavorsome tomato and cheese (accompanied by jamon for John L and me). Surprisingly, the bill for our delightful breakfast amounted to a mere 20 euros. John L couldn’t stop raving about the quality of the coffee, which was a significant improvement compared to our previous experience at Moka Natural Coffee. Although I found the coffee to be satisfactory, it was undoubtedly a step up from before.

Exploring the Enchanted City (Ciudad Encantada)

Following our satisfying breakfast, we embarked on a drive towards the captivating Ciudad Encantada, also known as the Enchanted City. John L and I opted to join the guided walking tour, conducted in Spanish, which lasted for an hour and a half. We found it to be an enriching experience, as our knowledgeable guide shared fascinating insights along the way. Meanwhile, Catherina and John P chose to explore the site at their own pace and equally enjoyed their time there. The Enchanted City truly lives up to its name, exuding a sense of enchantment that will leave you mesmerized. I wholeheartedly recommend visiting this remarkable place at least once. As you ascend to Ciudad Encantada, the journey itself offers breathtaking views that further add to the allure of the destination.

Disappointments at Parador de Cuenca

Following our visit to Ciudad Encantada, we made our way back to the historic part of Cuenca and eagerly anticipated a delightful Sunday lunch at the renowned Parador. We had heard glowing reviews from others about their experiences at the establishment, so our expectations were high. Unfortunately, our visit didn’t unfold as anticipated. It all began with parking. We were surprised to find no mention of parking arrangements or the need to stop by the front desk to obtain a parking space number for their secure parking area. Like most places, we drove through the hotel driveway, which was in a U-shape, only to find no available spaces. As we attempted to exit and search for street parking, a metal barrier unexpectedly fell onto our car, causing three deep scratches. I quickly got out of the car to lift the barrier and ensure it didn’t cause further damage. While driving around, we noticed a parking sign for the Parador, thinking it was a convenient solution. However, upon arrival, we discovered that we had to approach the front desk to obtain a parking space number for their secure parking area. Time was running out for our lunch reservation, so John L and Catherina decided to walk downhill to the hotel front desk. After a ten-minute wait, John L returned to inform us that the woman at the front desk claimed there was a parking space available in the driveway. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the spot, it had already been taken by someone else. John L went back inside to request another space, and this time we were given one in the secure parking area. As we arrived, we noticed a line of other cars without parking numbers, causing congestion. John P had to carefully reverse the car downhill to create space for the other cars to pass. Finally, with the car parked, we hoped for a memorable Sunday lunch. Regrettably, it wasn’t meant to be. Firstly, we waited approximately 30 minutes for our drink orders, and despite my repeated requests, I never received the ice I had asked for. Our food took over an hour to arrive, which was surprising considering the simplicity of our orders: three tomato salads and one veggie lasagna. We were all growing increasingly frustrated, particularly when the salads arrived. Priced at 16€ each, they consisted mainly of tomatoes, with only one artichoke heart in the center. As for my veggie lasagna, it turned out to be layers of crispy taco with sautéed veggies between them, rather than the traditional noodle-based dish. While it was tasty, the overall experience overshadowed the meal for all of us. The bill amounted to 85€, which felt rather steep considering our modest order of one large water, two beers, three tomato salads, and one veggie lasagna. To add insult to injury, while waiting for our food, a bird happened to leave its mark on John P’s shirt. When I approached the front desk to settle the bill, I inquired about the prolonged wait for our food, especially considering it was just salads. The hostess attributed the delay to Covid, claiming that it had caused kitchen delays. It left me puzzled as to how Covid could be the reason. If the Parador prides itself on being a top-notch hotel, one would expect their restaurant staff to be well-trained in customer service. Perhaps management’s decision to rely heavily on part-time workers on a busy weekend, particularly on a Sunday, was not the wisest choice.

Travel Options:

Train:
Regional train runs 3 times a day from Valencia Estacion du Nord to Estación de Cuenca. Ticket cost 13.50€
AVE (the fast train), offers 4 trips a day from Valencia Joaquin Sorolla to Cuenca Fernando Zóbel, 6km outside of the city center. The journey takes approximately 54 minutes. Tickets cost from 20€ – 50€

Bus:
MonBus offers 2 trips a day, Valencia to Cuenca. The journey takes approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes. Tickets cost 12€ – 18€

By car:
2 hours and 30 minutes from the center of Valencia to the historical area of Cuenca. Average cost of a rental car for a weekend, 65€.

Any destination will be worth it as long as you bring things that will make your stay more comfortable.

Below is our basic must-haves when heading out for a 36-72 hour get-away, all packed in my favorite, versatile Longchamps Le Pliage Expandable Travel Bag.

72 hours or less basic travel list:

Click here to learn more about how to pack and travel like a minimalist and download our editable packing list.

Postcards from the Road