Get away from Madrid
It's a world amidst olive-grove covered valleys, vineyards and grazing goats. ALKESH KUMAR SHARMA on Spain's earthy Chinchon.
ALKESH KUMAR SHARMA
Old world... coble stoned pavements.
REACHING Madrid, the famously hospitable Madrilenos reminded us that it is not only Europe's highest capital city (at an altitude of 2,000 feet), but also one of the friendliest, liveliest and most culturally stimulating. But we were in search of something more. To sample the local and ethnic flavours, we wanted to visit another Madrid, the earthy and atmospheric village, Chinchon.
We were told about the Chinchon Castle and one of its most famous occupants, the countess who, while in Peru, was cured of a high fever by a local doctor with a medicine prepared from a tree bark. She brought this amazing medicine back to Europe where it was named after her; we now know it as Quinine.
After a sumptuous breakfast in our hotel, we left for our destination around 10 a.m., expecting an exciting trip ahead! We were asked to exit the city on the A3, the main road to Valencia. To get to it, we drove down past the Prado Museum and reached the great Arch of the Emperor Carlos.
Following the sign "Valencia" we turned left. The road though it started out with multi-lanes soon narrowed down to a two-lane highway. Slowly, the sunburned hills of the Castilian plateau surrounded us, leaving the city behind. We took another turn-off (after about 35 minutes down the road) at a place clearly marked for Chinchon; the road though paved, was rougher now, heading us into olive-grove covered valleys, past vineyards and grazing goats.
The 50-minute drive from Madrid through these beautiful countryside landscapes, fields ploughed after the harvest and the olive orchards, was delightfully rejuvenating. And quite suddenly, we reached Chinchon with its inviting Sakura flowering trees in white to light violet blooms.
...and away from the Alcala gate in Madrid, a visitor soon reaches Chinchon.
Paved streets with proper signage system, passing through the undulating village terrain, led us to the Plaza Mayor or the main square. The plaza has a central place for parking. It has a proper water storage and recycling system; there is a natural water spring with a pipe to the main central ground. Three to five-storey buildings, with multi-tiered balconies, surround this circular ground on three sides. In the shadow of the lower balconies are food courts, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. We arrived in time to have a mid-morning cup of coffee.
But, unfortunately, we're a little early for the famous bullfight season that falls in April. During the season, the cobblestones are covered with sand, behind a sturdy wooden barricade and the square is festooned with red and golden banners. When not in use for bullfights also, the Plaza is a pleasant square with pavement cafes where many people enjoy the locally produced drink aniseed aperitif. This particular liquor named for the town is distilled here and is popular all over the country.
We learnt that in the 11th and 12th Centuries, large vineyards were planted in the fields of Chinchon (to suit the dry climate of the country), to make wine. After the picking, the harvesters distilled part of the wine in stills in their own cellars. They later performed a second distillation using the pips of the Aniseed plant also harvested in Chinchon finally producing the renowned Chinchon liquor by condensation. One can choose from the two kinds Chinchon dry and Chinchon sweet. Sugar syrup of the first quality lowers the alcoholic strength by a volume of 25 per cent in the case of Chinchon sweet than the Chinchon dry. Both have a clean, bright and transparent colour with an intense, delicate and pure anisette aroma and concentrated anisette taste.
After an hour of relaxed strolling and sightseeing, we felt hungry. We spotted a garden and a sign "Meson Cuevas del Vino", a bar restaurant.
Besides the international cuisines, local dishes featured strongly on our menu. We started with "Sopa de ajo", a soup for lovers of garlic. "El cochinillo", the roasted suckling pig, steak cooked in a herb sauce and flavoured with mustard and mushrooms cooked in olive oil were the specialties of the day.
The village church, Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, is worth a visit. This 17th Century church has a painting by Goya, La Asuncion de la Virgen (Assumption of the Virgin). But, before heading into the Chinchon village church, one could visit the 17th Century Convent of Las Clarisas. Chinchon Castle, a 15th Century monument is another interesting place; closed to the public, this seat of the Condes of Chinchon can be viewed only from the outside.
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Getting there - 45 km from Madrid on N-III highway, take the turnoff near Arganda. Taxi services are available. Buses run every hour from the street Avenida del Mediterraneo, 49. Another option is to go from Aranjuez, which is only a 15-minute ride away.
Tourist information: 91-891 04 27.
Accommodation: Parador de Chinchon, a luxury four-star hotel using a building of the 17th Century Augustinian Convent.
Other facilities are: Hotel Nuevo Chinchon and smaller paying guest establishments.
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