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Home / Learn About Spain / Stories About Spain / January, 2014

Stories About Spain

Discovering Rustic Spain

Written by: Don Harris

narrow Spanish street with bell towerSome of you may have been reading the evocative NY Times best seller The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti. It is the narrative of a sophisticated 21st century American writer who dreamed of living in a simpler time, and took his young family with him to the village of Guzmán, close to Maderuelo in the province of Segovia. The author became intellectually and emotionally involved with the local men, many of whom would spend hours talking while they sat around in a room that harbored their rustic and famous cheese.

Last year, my wife Ruth and I decided to find some rustic rural village that would be far away from the cities and the tourism and the trappings of the 21st century. Of course, Ruth and I could not accomplish anything like The Telling Room experience in a couple of weeks of driving - the book’s author made a commitment of months or even years. But we hoped by drawing on our past experiences, supplemented by various accounts on the Internet, that we could select the perfect place 'to pitch our tent.'
the hilltop village of Maderuelo
We chose the hilltop village of Maderuelo, enclosed by defensive walls that rise above a rushing river. There, we hoped to spend three or four days amongst the local people in order to get a real flavor of what their life and values might be, and, if all went as planned, experience their Semana Santa observance. In ancient times, Celtiberians inhabited these lands, followed by Romans and then Muslims, until the latter part of the 12th century, when triumphant knights settled the area with fellow Christians to secure their gains. This is a land filled with watchtowers, battlements and castles, all vital during the era of the Reconquista in which Moorish domination was challenged and defended. While there are no longer invading armies, these battlements remain, sort of like a collective unconsciousness of the people.

To reach Maderuelo, we crossed the successor to a Roman-era bridge and followed the road around the surrounding battlements until we found a medieval stone arch on the far side which gave us entry to the town. The ambiance was amazing and gave the feeling that we were lost in a medieval village. The puebla was truly silent with no evidence of human activity. It was getting late and we needed to locate the place where we were to lay our heads.

Our friend Jamie, who lives in the Basque Country, had done some preliminary sleuthing, found a phone number for a bed and breakfast, and contacted a lady who assured us that we could stay in her home for two or three nights – or as long as we wanted. She had also inquired as to what we might like for dinner, since there were no restaurants or other public establishments in the town proper.
Don Harris sitting on a ledge in a rustic village
However, with no street signs, signs on the buildings, nor people in the streets, it seemed there was no way for us to find this woman. We decided to seek the central cobblestone plaza. In its heyday, Maderuelo had more than a dozen churches; now the number has dwindled to only one, Santa Maria, located on the edge of this Plaza Mayor. I tried the door of the church but it was locked (I later read there was a mummified girl inside). So I rested my back by sitting on the stoop of an extreme 'fixer-upper' building with a crooked handwritten sign saying se vende - for sale. It would take an extraordinary realtor to move this property before it collapsed.

Finally, we saw a truck that was blocking much of the narrow street. I asked whether he knew of Marta and Jorge Padilla, the innkeepers. He said, "Of course, she’s right down there!" and pointed down the curved cobblestone walled street where everything looked the same. Fortunately for us, our host heard the talking in the street, and stepped out to greet us with an umbrella, since it was drizzling by that time.

And what a delight she and her husband turned out to be. It seems that he was an accomplished IT technician, a person in great demand throughout Spain because of his valuable skills. But after a while he started re-evaluating his life and wondered what the purpose was for him to drive and problem solve from city to city all over Spain as a slave of electronics. His wife also yearned for a simpler life away from all the frenzy and chaos of a big city like Madrid. When she was a little girl, she used to visit her grandmother who lived, of all places, in Maderuelo! And after investigating what was available in the rustic town of her youth, Marta and Jorge left the modern world and moved into the medieval town of her grandmother to run a bed and breakfast. They seem very pleased about their decision.

We spent the night in the ancient structure that had been restored by the two of them as a labor of love. There were beautiful rugged beams, narrow stairs climbing here and there, and the bedrooms were cozy. Down below, on the lowest level of an essentially vertical building, was the place where we were served our dinner: simple hardy fare, rustic bread, a plate of fruit and good company – all surrounded by rugged stone and ancient rafters. Of course we did have electricity; and most remarkably we were provided Wi-Fi (which is pronounced 'wee fee' in Spanish). But, when you think about it, of course that follows: Jorge was skilled in the world of IT and did not shun it all: taking advantage of Wi-Fi would be a drawing card for their bed and breakfast.

But the thing that struck me the most in Maderuelo, and something most of us hardly ever think of, is that it was silent: no internal combustion engines, no radios and TVs, virtually no people. There were not even roosters to welcome us at dawn in this rural puebla! I suppose it goes without saying that our quest for a medieval Semana Santa procession was misplaced in a village only numbering one hundred and fifty people.
romanesque fresco in a church
Undaunted, we climbed into our car and drove further into the isolated area of rural Segovia and by happenstance came upon a wonderful little town called Allyón during market day. People from the countryside had come to town to buy and sell food and sundries. As in medieval times, stalls were spread out in the Plaza Mayor. I have never seen such spectacular huge fresh cauliflowers, or lettuce, beets, turnips, chickens and tubs full of olives and artisan cheeses, as well as unfortunate skinned rabbits. Under the granite colonnades, which bounded one side of the plaza, we noticed an inviting hotel restaurant where we savored a dinner of roast suckling pig and lamb for which the region of Segovia is famous.

When we finished our meal and stepped out into the Plaza we were greeted by Maria, a local girl who works for the tourism office there. Her English was quite good and her warmth and enthusiasm was even better. In the brief time remaining she invited us into St Michael’s, her Romanesque parish church which was adjacent to the open air market. Within it, she showed us beautifully made pasos – with life-sized figures for the town’s Semana Santa processions.

Our search was tantalizingly close to fruition in the village of Allyón, but unfortunately by then we had run out of time and had to return to Madrid to fly home. On the way to Madrid, we did stop by the sublime walled city of Ávila and participated in a beautiful Pascua, Easter Mass, celebrated by a warm and friendly archbishop. The choir was composed of a dozen or so local men, not professionals but lovers of church music.

So our quest was not in vain, it just turned out differently than we had planned. Although we did not find any rustic medieval procession, which probably only exists in my imagination (unless it would have been in Allyón!), we were with good generous people, making our trip very much a holy week.

Tu amigo,


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"What an excellent description of your adventure! I savored every word to learn a little bit more of the land of my ancestors. It was short enough to read before leaving for work but long enough to give one a feeling of traveling with you. Loved it. Thanks."
January 2014

"Dear Al, I am delighted that we could travel together to Spain in the spirit, I find that that is a real honor. Thanks For letting me know that we are simpatico in our love for Spain."

"Oh Don, your experiences so often mirror our own in Spain. Thank you for sharing them with us."
January 2014

"Hi Jane, I am glad we are so simpatico!"

"Your blog brought back so many great memories of our tour we spent in Spain way back when. Nice to see so much has not changed. Just to know there are still small villages where life is lived and not at a hectic pace we see was truly worth reading about."
January 2014

"Dear Lana, The villages remain as does small town life. Of course all is not as you remember it. But I am sure that you would be delighted should you plan to return to the Spain you loved. "

"Not far west of Ayllon are the Roman ruins of Tiermes with a small hostel on site that was built much like a Roman villa. Years ago I was fortunate to be there during May and witness a small rural romeria celebrating the virgin Mary of the Ermita which was built directly over the ancient Roman city. Delightful experience! -An anthropologist"
January 2014

"That must have been fascinating to you to see the fusion of two quite different events...but, then again, the intention of the worshipers might be quite similar, don't you suppose?"

"I have just finished reading this writeup. As always, a most interesting, descriptive and well-written article. Historical background info did set the tone. Sure sounded like a ghost town at the very beginning. The story of Jorge and Marta Padilla was really very interesting and heart warming and moving. They talk the talk, they walk the walk. Simple as that. Your later description of the rural pueblo of Maderuelo was something one would think came out of a storybook about older times of adventure. Envy your adventures. I also appreciate publishing the writeup in the Spanish language. Thanks for the Great Reflections of Spain!!"
January 2014

"Hola Patrick, As you know, we had a wonderful experience among the villages but did not get to experience a low key devout Semana Santa. So this year we are going to return to Castilla-León but this time pick a little larger population centers (where we can be sure to hear a rooster or two). One on the towns will be the mystical medieval town of Soria which I have always found to be evocative with her many Romanesque structures. The other one will be Palencia -- a little larger, but steeped in history. I will let you know how it turns out."

"Having lived over 4 years in Spain and travelled throughout most of the country, I especially enjoy reading of others' experiences in the real Spain, i.e., the small towns."
January 2014

"Dear Rita, Thanks a lot for your kind words. It is fine to be able to recall good memories, isn't it? "

"Hi Don, Just finished reading about your quest to find a small town with a simple way of life. This type of trip is right up my alley. My wife and I are planning a driving trip through Spain in June. We are starting in Barcelona and driving toward France. I wonder if you have any ideas for us. We love great food great wine and great unique places. We love your products, I keep promising myself to come visit, don't be surprised if I come knocking one day. Thanks, Richard "
January 2014

"Dear Richard, I sure do have lots of ideas. Email me at dbhamigo@gmail.com. By all means visit Girona with an amazing cathedral with a world famous tapestry. Also in town is a fascinating Jewish section and resource center. The place to really go to is Viv, just one hour north. There you will see an astonishingly beautiful museum of hand carved medieval polychrome statuary. But more than that you all be at the gateway of the ancient towns nestled in the Pyrenees. I can connect you with a gracious and knowledgeable friend of mine named Marina. It will be a trip off the beaten path that you will never forget. Do email me. "

"Dear Don, We really like your visits to Spain...but we do not say or write "puebla", the word is pueblo. Thanks for all you do, we have been customers for some years, Maria Luisa"
January 2014

"Dear Maria Luisa, Thanks for catching that Puebla/pueblo misspelling. Thanks for reading my reflections. They are very satisfying to write. Right now Ruth and I are in Madrid visiting our new granddaughter after a wonderful few days in Cantabria, revisiting one of our favorite paradors in the restored medieval village of Santillana del Mar. "

"I am forwarding your essay to my daughter who lives in Madrid. She and her husband, a native of Madrid, had their first child (our first grandchild!) in August. They are starting to consider whether they want to raise their child in the noise, harshness, and impersonality of the city. I hope that your essay will be balm to her soul, as it was to mine."
January 2014

"Dear Mariann, Thank you for you kind note. It sometimes takes a few years for a person to realize the joy which comes from being away from "where the action is." Right now we are in Madrid visiting our youngest son and his wife who are diplomats at our American embassy. They have a cute little baby girl who is the apple of their eye, and she has changed their life view, of course. Thanks for valuing my essay so much, and be patient with your daughter and her new family. "

"Next time take me with you!! Stunning story! The only thing is (I don't eat meat)... The rest sounds divine."
January 2014

"Dear Noixa, I am delighted my reflection resonated with you. We are in Madrid and will head home on Monday after a satisfying drive along the Basque and Cantabrian coast. Such amazing natural beauty with the thunder of the surf next to grazing sheep on rolling green pastures. "

January 2014

"Dear Phil, Thanks a lot for your words of encouragement!"

"Good Stuff. God Bless."
January 2014

"Thank you, Tom and may you have a good year ahead."

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narrow Spanish street with bell towerPuede que alguno de ustedes haya leído o esté leyendo el evocador best seller del New York Times titulado La Sala de Contar Historias de Michael Paterniti. Es la narración de un sofisticado escritor americano del siglo XXI que soñaba con vivir en una época más sencilla y que se llevó a su joven familia al pueblo de Guzmán, cerca de Maderuelo, en la provincia de Segovia. El autor acabó involucrándose intelectual y emocionalmente con los habitantes de la localidad, con muchos de los cuales charlaba durante horas mientras pasaban el tiempo sentados en una habitación en la que guardaban su rústico y famoso queso.

El año pasado, mi esposa Ruth y yo decidimos buscar alguna aldea rural que estuviese lo más alejada posible de las ciudades, del turismo y de todo lo que representa el siglo XXI. Ni que decir tiene que Ruth y yo no logramos una experiencia ni mucho menos parecida a la descrita en “La Sala de Contar Historias” en las dos semanas que anduvimos conduciendo por ahí. (El autor del libro se empeñó a fondo durante meses o incluso años). Pero teníamos la esperanza de que echando mano de nuestras experiencias pasadas y complementándolas con algunos datos encontrados en Internet, podríamos elegir el sitio perfecto para “plantar la tienda.”
the hilltop village of Maderuelo
Escogimos la aldea de Maderuelo, una villa amurallada enclavada sobre una colina y rodeada por un pantano. Allí, teníamos la intención de pasar tres o cuatro días entre los habitantes de la aldea para hacernos una idea real de lo que son su vida y sus costumbres, y, si todo salía como lo teníamos previsto, experimentar sus celebraciones de Semana Santa. En épocas antiguas, estas tierras fueron habitadas por los celtíberos , seguidos por los romanos y luego por los musulmanes hasta la última parte del siglo XII, época en la que caballeros victoriosos se asentaron en la zona junto a otros cristianos para así garantizar sus logros. Esta es una tierra sembrada de torres de vigilancia, almenas y castillos, todos vitales durante la Reconquista en la que la dominación musulmana fue contestada y defendida. Aunque ahora ya no hay ejércitos invasores, estas fortificaciones permanecen en pie como una especie de inconsciente colectivo.

Para llegar a Maderuelo, cruzamos el sucesor del antiguo puente romano y seguimos la carretera que iba rodeando las fortificaciones hasta que encontramos el arco medieval de piedra que marca la entrada a la población. El ambiente era increíble y nos daba la sensación de estar perdidos en una aldea medieval. El pueblo estaba realmente silencioso, sin rastro de actividad humana. Se hacía tarde y teníamos que localizara el sitio en el que íbamos a reposar nuestras cabezas.

Nuestro amigo Jaime, que vive en el País Vasco, hizo unas pesquisas preliminares; encontró el teléfono de una casa rural y se puso en contacto con una señora que nos aseguró que podíamos permanecer en su casa dos o tres noches, o todas las que quisiéramos. También le preguntó qué nos gustaría para cenar, ya que no había restaurantes ni ningún otro establecimiento abierto al público en el pueblo.
Don Harris sitting on a ledge in a rustic village
Sin embargo, sin nombres en las calles, sin letreros en los edificios y sin gente en las calles, parecía no haber forma de que pudiéramos encontrar a aquella mujer. Decidimos pues buscar la empedrada plaza del pueblo. En su época de mayor apogeo, Maderuelo tenía mas de una docena de iglesias, hoy en día el número se ha reducido a una, Santa María, situada en una esquina de la Plaza Mayor. Intenté entrar en la iglesia pero estaba cerrada (luego leí que había una niña momificada en el interior). Así que descansé la espalda sentándome en un saliente de un edificio que necesitaba una seria reforma y del que colgaba un cartel manuscrito que decía “se vende”. Haría falta todo un vendedor nato para colocar esa propiedad antes de que se viniese abajo.

Finalmente, vimos un camión que ocupaba prácticamente la totalidad de una calle estrecha. Pregunté al conductor si conocía a Marta y Jorge Padilla, los dueños de la casa rural. Me dijo: “Claro que sí, están ahí abajo” y señaló a una curvada pared de piedra en la que todo parecía igual. Afortunadamente para nosotros, nuestra anfitriona oyó la conversación de la calle y salió para recibirnos con un paraguas, pues estaba chispeando en aquel momento.

Y que encanto resultaron ser ella y su marido. Parece que él era un reputado informático, una persona muy solicitada en toda España debido a sus grandes habilidades. Tras un tiempo, empezó a reevaluar su vida y se preguntó cual era el propósito de conducir y resolver problemas de ciudad en ciudad recorriendo el país como un esclavo de los aparatos electrónicos. Su esposa también anhelaba una vida más sencilla, apartada de todo el frenesí y el caos de una gran ciudad como Madrid. Cuando era pequeña, solía visitar a su abuela que vivía casualmente en Maderuelo. Después de averiguar lo que había en la aldea rural de su juventud, Marta y Jorge abandonaron el mundo moderno y se mudaron al pueblo medieval de la abuela de Marta para llevar una casa rural. Parecen muy contentos de su decisión.

Pasamos la noche en el antiguo edificio que había sido restaurado por ambos en una obra de amor. Había unas bonitas y robustas vigas, estrechas escaleras que daban a un sitio y a otro y las habitaciones eran acogedores. Abajo, en la parte inferior de lo que era esencialmente un edificio vertical, estaba el sitio en el que nos sirvieron la cena: alimentos copiosos, pan de pueblo, una fuente de fruta y buena compañía, todo ello rodeado de piedras robustas y vigas antiguas. Claro que teníamos electricidad, y aún es más, teníamos WI-FI (pronunciado a la española). Pero cuando uno se pone a pensar en ello, es evidente: Jorge tenía muy buenos conocimientos informáticos y no renunció a ellos: poder usar WI-FI era un atractivo más para su casa rural.

Pero lo que más me llamó la atención de Maderuelo, y es algo en lo que la mayoría de nosotros casi nunca piensa, es que era silencioso: sin ruido de motores, ni radios, ni televisiones, sin casi gente. ¡En esta aldea rural no había ni gallos que nos saludasen al amanecer! Supongo que no hará falta decir que nuestro intento de encontrar una procesión medieval de Semana Santa no se produjo en un pueblo que sólo contaba con ciento cincuenta habitantes.
romanesque fresco in a church
No desanimados por ello, nos subimos al coche y nos adentramos aún más en la aislada zona rural de Segovia y por casualidad nos topamos con un pueblecito llamado Allyón en día de mercado. La gente del campo había venido al pueblo para comprar y vender alimentos y artículos diversos. Al igual que en la época medieval, los puestos ocupaban toda la Plaza Mayor. Nunca había visto unas coliflores frescas tan enormes, o lechugas, remolachas, nabos, pollos, tarros llenos de aceitunas y quesos artesanos, y también unos pobres conejos despellejados. Bajo la columnata de granito que delimitaba un lado de la plaza, vimos un tentador hotel restaurante en el que saboreamos una comida a base de cochinillo y cordero, especialidades por las que la región de Segovia es famosa.

Cuando terminamos de comer y volvimos a la plaza fuimos recibidos por María, una chica del pueblo que trabaja en la oficina de turismo local. Su inglés era bastante bueno y su calidez y entusiasmo aún mejores. En el poco tiempo que nos quedaba nos invitó a San Miguel, su iglesia parroquial románica que estaba justo al lado del mercadillo. Dentro, nos enseñó unos pasos exquisitamente elaborados con figuras a tamaño real que se usaban en la procesión de Semana Santa del pueblo.

Nuestra búsqueda estaba tentadoramente cerca de llegar a buen puerto en el pueblecito de Allyón, pero desgraciadamente ya no teníamos tiempo y teníamos que volver a Madrid para coger el vuelo de regreso a casa. De camino a Madrid, paramos en la sublime ciudad amurallada de Ávila y participamos en una bonita misa de Pascua celebrada por un entrañable y amable arzobispo. El coro estaba compuesto por más o menos una docena de hombres de la localidad que no eran profesionales pero si amantes de la música sacra.

Por lo tanto nuestra búsqueda no fue en vano, simplemente resultó diferente a como lo habíamos planeado. Aunque no encontramos una procesión medieval, que probablemente sólo existe en mi imaginación (a no ser tal vez en Allyón), estuvimos con gente buena y generosa que hicieron de nuestro viaje una auténtica semana de gloria.

Su amigo,


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