The region of Castilla-La Mancha is one of Spain’s lesser-known jewels, though I discovered on a recent trip there an incredible richness of culture, culinary and otherwise.
Home to Miguel de Cervantes (the Shakespeare of Spain), the wondrous Windmills of Consuegra as featured in Don Quixote, and the most important cathedral in the country in Toledo, Castilla La Mancha is also a melting pot of Christians, Jews and Muslims making it one of the most culturally exciting and diverse places in Spain.
In the province of Ciudad Real in Castilla-La Mancha, Almagro is considered to be one of the most beautiful towns in Spain. Its heyday was in the 15th and 16th centuries, when the Fugger family (bankers to King Carlos V) lived in the town.
With cobblestoned streets and whitewashed walls on the centuries-old buildings, walking through it felt like stepping into a scene from a Pedro Almodovar film, who in fact is one of Castilla-La Mancha most notable sons.
I was amazed by the gorgeous Plaza Mayor, the town’s highlight, with its fine arcaded and colonnaded buildings, each with green-framed windows, a legacy of the Fugger family’s influence.
We arrived in the midst of a public fiesta – old ladies sat together crocheting lace – a specialty of the town. People were painting, kids were running around, giving an inspiring insight into the community living in Almagro.
On one side of the square is the Corral de Comedias, a 16th century open-air theatre which regularly hosts performances of classical Spanish theatre.
There were no performances on the day I was there, but travellers can still visit during the daytime and so I checked it out. It is a fascinating spot and the only theatre in Spain of this period. It is the Spanish equivalent of London’s Globe Theatre, except that it is an original building, not a recreation.
Also worth a visit are the town’s Teatro Municipal de Almagro which was magnificently restored in the 1970s, and the National Museum of Theatre.
These are among the venues of the Almagro’s International Festival of Classical Theatre, which takes place each July, and is a great opportunity for theatre lovers. For 2017’s full programme, visit the Festival’s website here.
Almagro is a charming town, where the pace of life seems to have gone unchanged for centuries. It is a great place to immerse yourself in the way of life of people in this part of Spain, with a proud, strong and interesting cultural heritage.
The National Park of Tablas de Daimiel
The Tablas de Daimiel is a huge area of protected marshland, located in the heart of La Mancha region. Created by the overflow where two rivers (the Guadiana and the Cigüela) meet, it is one of the most important wetlands in the world, with an impressive diversity of wildlife and stunning landscapes.
I was there in Spring, and was able to see a huge range of multi-coloured birds and waterbirds rearing their young. Great-crested grebes, herons, egrets and Iberian ducks are common visitors here.
The National Park of Tablas de Daimiel is a great place for walking through meadows of wild flowers, hiking, bird-watching or just chilling out, and I highly recommend a visit.
Lunch at Mesón El Bodegón
Headed by brothers Chef Rubén and award-winning Sommelier Ramon Sanchez-Camacho and their mother Maria Infante, Mesón El Bodegón is one of the top restaurants in Daimiel. I had a fantastic 9-course tasting menu there at the staggeringly good value price of €44, plus €20 for a matching wine flight.
In the little town of Daimiel, the restaurant may not look much from its exterior, but the quality of its food is superb and the cavernous wine cellar is a sight to behold. The site was the family’s winery from 1795 to 1975 before being converted into a restaurant.
We started with a visit to the wine cellar, and a glass of local bubbly expertly sabraged by Ramon.
Returning to the dining room, our Manchego (of La Mancha) culinary adventure began. There were so many highlights - I thoroughly enjoyed his green and black foie “olives” with delicate skins made from apple (green) and sweet wine (black), served with chorizo migas and marmalade, olive oil and saffron.
Another noteworthy dish was Rubén’s delectable version of Castilian soup, a rather rustic affair normally made with egg yolk, ham, paprika and garlic. Here, it was elevated to another level with a delicate quail egg yolk, steamed garlic, saffron, and Iberico ham.
Next up was a super-crispy morsel of octopus, utterly tender on the inside, served with the chef’s red wine mayonnaise.
A month-old kid (baby goat) was meltingly soft, cooked sous-vide at 40°C for 18 hours, and served with chanterelle and perrichicos mushrooms, and a velvety carrot cream.
I was very impressed by the quality of Rubén’s cooking, and the lightness and sophistication of his dishes. He explained that many of these dishes were his reinterpretation of La Mancha’s food classics. I highly recommend Mesón El Bodegón, if you are visiting the region, please see the restaurant details in the Travel Essentials section.
The #InLaMancha campaign was created and sponsored by Turismo Castilla La Mancha in partnership with iambassador. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control over all content published on this site as always.
Almagro and Ciudad Real are about 2 hours drive or 50 minutes by train from Madrid.
Corral de Comedias
Plaza Mayor, 18
Almagro’s Municipal Theatre
Calle San Agustín, 20
National Museum of Theatre
Calle Gran Maestre, 2
Almagro’s International Festival of Classical Theatre
National Park of Tablas de Daimiel
Carr. a las Tablas de Daimiel
Mesón El Bodegón
Calle Luchana 20