Caves and Tunnels: Madrid’s underground restaurants

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When designing an itinerary, the first places that come to mind are usually sun-bathed spots to soak up energizing rays of light, at beaches, of course, or strolling through the amazing parks and gardens all over Spain and Portugal, along the many paths in national parks and natural spaces set aside to preserve the local environment, at sidewalk cafés where you can sip on drinks while people-watching, or at one of Spain and Portugal’s countless outdoor restaurants with views of historical plazas or bustling city streets. Not to mention the usual architectural walks outdoors in Barcelona, Lisbon, Madrid, Seville, Granada, Santiago, Porto and other lovely towns to be seen on the Iberian Peninsula.

However, on the outskirts of the Spanish capital, you may flee from the sun to discover some of the finest dining in the most unusual and memorable ambiences…by going underground. Dotting the Spanish landscape in some small, unknown villages around Madrid are the kind of restaurants you only come across after years roaming the region in search of new sensations. It turns out the hard, arid soil in many of the hills where towns like El Molar and Titulcia are located was ideal for digging usable caves.

The ultra-charming Bodega Cueva El Espada

 

The Arabs discovered this during their conquest of Spain between the years of 711 and 1492, when they burrowed in to create granaries and storage spaces for farming and foodstuffs. Later, when the Christians gradually reconquered this territory, they either continued using the caves this way or repurposed them as wine cellars or arsenals, or even cave-dwellers’ homes.

Whatever their former use, enterprising restaurateurs have had the very bright idea of refurbishing some of these unique, labyrinthine caverns to turn them into cozy and romantic yet mysterious eateries, where you can sample Spanish wines while nibbling on the full range of tapas and hearty meats that are typically served in the Spanish countryside.

Bar Las Cuevas in Ontígola near Aranjuez

 

The star of all cave restaurant locales is the unassuming town of El Molar, just a half-hour’s drive north of Madrid, where a whole street along the hillside boasts at least ten different restaurantesmesones and asadores inside the rock itself. Some consist of one large cavernous space, while others are maze-like, creating private caves with just a table or two each, all lit by candles and torches which produce an amazingly romantic atmosphere despite the lack of a view.

To the south of Madrid, another town with a historical cave is Titulcia, where an anonymous looking restaurant called the Cave of the Moon conceals a centuries-old tunnel allegedly built by the Knights Templar as a hideaway. In Ontígola, a small cave bar also has its own small set of passageways in a hillside near Aranjuez Palace, where you can sample their tapasin an intimate whitewashed cave space. And if you can’t find the time to escape the big city itself, the capital of Madrid also boasts several cave restaurants of its own, including the famous Cuevas de Luis Candelas under the Plaza Mayor, and La Bodega de los Secretos, an old cellar with secret passageways leading under Calle Atocha to reach the Reina Sofía Museum.

La Bodega de los Secretos in Madrid

 

Whatever the cave may be, you are certain to have a unique lunch or dinner in a space you will never forget, by taking an underground culinary journey to one of these charming caves.

 

 

Spain and Portugal Vacations has been designing exclusive tours to Spain and Portugal for more than 20 years. Owned and operated by an American expat who now lives between Portugal, Spain and the United States, our firm has a  team that works with you to design vacations all over the Iberian Peninsula. We are known for creating full itineraries that allow travelers to see these countries in a way that cannot normally be experienced when booking regular tours.

Email us via www.spainandportugalvacations or by calling our telephone number in the United States.

During your private tour to Spain, you may even get the chance to meet the author of this blog, a long-term resident of Madrid who knows the country as well as any native born Spaniard.

 www.spainandportugalvacations.com | 719-639-4325 (USA)

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Asturias and Llanes: A lot to sea in one small region …

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Sometimes planning a European journey stirs up that desire to see ten famous cities in two weeks, to check items off the bucket list and come home with a roster of famous place names to tell friends and family about. But what we truly want is a fulfilling yet varied trip that combines bits and pieces of our favorite travel experiences: pleasant historical city strolls, invigorating hikes with breathtaking scenery, time spent in beautiful restaurants eating unforgettable meals…

fabada, Austurias cuisine

We think we need to travel far and wide to find all this, but sometimes just one region, or even a single township, can provide it all. One of those regions is Asturias in northern Spain, and one of those municipalities is lovely Llanes on its eastern seaboard. Because, when you travel to a place like Llanes in Asturias, you end up checking items off your bucket list, but that list continues to grow in equal measure as you discover that there is so much more in the near vicinity!

Llanes, Spain

Asturias is a unique northern region known for its distinct language, Bable, its culture and its foods, including fabada, a delicious white bean stew with several types of sausage, apple cider and cachopo, a thin steak layered with cheese and ham, then breaded and fried.

Perched above the Cantabrian Sea, as the Spaniards call the Bay of Biscay, the “large small town” of Llanes is not only home to a medieval town center with ancient walls and buildings, traditional bakeries, amazing seafood eateries and the longest lawn-covered seaside walkway in all of Europe (home to the “prettiest park bench in the world”), it also boasts a 35-mile coastline filled with over 30 awe-inspiring beaches of all shapes and sizes.

Some are at the end of long, twisty roads, like Playa Ballota, and others are adjacent to “downtown” Llanes and its port, like rock formation-filled Playa Rodó. Playa Gulpiyuri is a bizarre inland beach, with turquoise-colored waters that seep in from the shoreline a mile away, creating a hidden paradise. And perhaps the star of them all is unknown Playa de la Huelga, where you can walk down a long, remote trail to get the shocking view of a natural arch known as the “Castro de las Gaviotas,” or “Fortress of Seagulls.”

Playa Borazu

If the ocean has not yet provided enough spectacular views, you can head to the Bufones de Arenillas, a natural crevasse into which high-pressured water flows produce mysterious moans and shoot up geysers of foam. Not enough variety for you yet within 30 minutes’ driving time? Well, you can head slightly east to the village of Colombres, where some fortunate Spanish emigrants known here as “Indianos” built an amazing manorial home that now houses a Museum of Emigration, packed with memorabilia from the 1800s and 1900s, collected to remember the experiences of locals forced to cross the ocean in search of a better life in Latin America and the United States.

Museum of Emigration

As a nice final touch to a continent-sized journey within such a small space, you might want to head for the parish church of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Barro, nestled upon the tidal sands known as the Ensenada de Niembru, its gravestones hanging over shifting wetlands like Mont Saint Michel, an island of peace at high tide, a bizarre resting place overlooking wet mud during low tide, and a mesmerizing sight at sunset.

You will be hard up to choose between staying here to watch the sun go down or driving over to nearby Playa Borizu, to gaze as the sun sets behind the snowy mountains in the Picos de Europa, or heading for one of Asturias’ three main cities, Oviedo, Gijón and Avilés, all worth spending a day or two, and perhaps the next places you will wish to explore after so many days overdosing on seaweed, seacliffs and sidra.

Picos de Europa