Many visitors to Spain head to the southern coast or the big modern cities, like Barcelona or Madrid. While these iconic destinations are indeed worth a visit, sometimes it pays to go off the beaten track and discover a different side of Spain.
While on vacation in Madrid, take a sidestep visit to Buendía in the Cuenca province of Castilla-la Mancha. Around one and a half hour’s drive from the capital city, this traditional small Spanish town is set among pretty green pine forests and sandstone rock outcroppings.
It is these outcroppings that make the town so interesting.
Over several years, artists have collaborated on the creation of a unique and fascinating hiking route. Dubbed the “Ruta de las Caras,” or the “Route of the Faces,” it passes along 18 amazing bas-reliefs and faces, ranging in size from small to large, all carved directly into the native sandstone.
This artistic route takes people out of the traditional museum environment and into the fresh air, where they can explore the relationship between sculpture and nature on an artistic and cultural journey of spiritual discovery. Each carved image is full of mystical or religious meaning apparently inspired by pre-Colombian cultures.
On a solo walk along the Ruta de las Caras, the only sound a visitor hears is the wind blowing through the pine trees, making the faces somehow come to life. Among the many faces, Krishna, Arjuna and the Maitreya Buddha gaze serenely out over views of the Buendía Reservoir, while the Extraterrestrial, Golem and The Skull make for a rather more unsettling vision.
This hike takes a comfortable one hour to complete and is suitable for the whole family. For the more energetic, there are longer routes, passing from the Rutas de las Caras into the glorious vistas of the Sierra de Altamira. Other activities in the area include water sports on the reservoir, such as sailing, jet skiing, fishing and boating.
While a hike along the Ruta de las Caras can be comfortably accomplished on a day trip from Madrid, the town of Buendía also has something to offer on a weekend away from the big city. Of course, the cuisine alone is worth the trip. Traditional dishes include a delicious garlic chicken and the tasty Cuenca roast lamb, all accompanied by the best local Spanish wines and tempting desserts.
The Museo del Carro de Buendía also takes you back to the past, with its beautiful exhibition of renovated horse carriages and carts. The museum is located in Casa Tercia, a 15th-century granary that is history in itself, offering terracotta tiles and architectural elements of that time.
For accommodation, anyone in an artistic frame of mind should check out the Hotel Rural La Casa de las Médicas in Calle San Pedro. Great attention to detail has been given to every guest room, with each offering a unique, artistic and colorful display. The hotel also has an unusual and attractive restaurant set in a cave.
Take time out of your next visit to Madrid and explore fascinating Buendía and the artistic Ruta de las Caras.