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 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.
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 restaurantes, mesones 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.
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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