48 Hours in Cuenca, Spain: More than a Madrid day trip

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Hurtling across the mountains of Spain on high-speed rail, the last rays of a winter sun were bouncing off the rolling green landscape. In under an hour I would be transported from the teeming tapas bars of Madrid to the laid-back, medieval vibes of Cuenca. While many would make this journey as a day trip from Madrid, I was excited to spend a weekend in Cuenca soaking up every little corner of its Spanish soul.

Famed for the Casas Colgadas which translate to hanging house, the old city of Cuenca is well deserving of its UNESCO world heritage status. As I strolled across the San Pablo bridge, with the stars and moon illuminating the sky above me, I felt like I was stepping back in time.

Two days later, when the moment would come to leave Cuenca, it felt bizarre to return down to the modern world. From the pastel-hued houses on Plaza Mayor to the hours I spent admiring sunset from the castle ruins, Cuenca was the perfect 48-hour escape from reality.

Getting to Cuenca, Spain

Arriving at Cuenca, Spain, is relatively fast and affordable. Whether you opt to drive, or use public transport, coming to Cuenca from Madrid can be done in under an hour.

You can quickly get to the out of town station of Cuenca AVE (Fernando Zobel) in under an hour by high-speed rail or a slower, and slightly cheaper train service goes directly to the new part of the city which is the station simply named Cuenca.

From Fernando Zobel, a new terminal specifically built for high-speed rail, a bus, at the cost of €2.15, will bring you to the heart of the old city in under 30 minutes. A similar timed walk, or 15-minute ride, serve the central Cuenca station to Plaza Mayor.

The city of Cuenca is split into two parts, ‘new’ Cuenca, which is where the stations and many stores are, sits underneath the shadow of old Cuenca, both literally and figuratively. While the new part of Cuenca is nice enough, the main attractions and hidden gem aspect of the city is atop of the rocks which support the hanging houses, and for this 48-hour guide to Cuenca, that will be the focus.

I’ve tried to keep this itinerary relatively relaxed, but if you are a culture vulture, like to stay busy, or plan to explore the local area with a car, check out my full list of things to do in Cuenca and nearby.

Checking in to Posada San Jose

When it comes to booking accommodation in Cuenca, you’ll find a surprising number of options. Be mindful of the old and new parts of the city when securing your accommodation, and I highly recommend you stay in the old city as the sunsets, and after dark atmosphere, are magical.

I researched plenty of different choices and eventually settled on Posada San Jose (pictured above), mainly sold by the reviews promising fantastic views, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. While premium rooms with balconies are a little pricer, I booked a double room with shared bathroom for €30 a night (in December 2018). For the chance to sleep in such a historic building as this, once a convent and then a choirboys school, it seemed a very fair price.

The rooms were immaculate, if a little dated, but this all added to the charm. From crooked wooden beams to the slight creeks of the staircase, the maze-like interior was charming. Of course, the main highlight though is the views from the restaurant or balcony, so be sure to take breakfast or dinner here, or both, which I highly recommend.

First evening marvelling at the hanging houses

With the sun already set, and my stomach already lined on arrival, I set out to scope the land. My go to first activity on a weekend escape anywhere, it’s my first suggestion for 48-hours in Cuenca.

With the daytrippers gone, and likely fewer tourists in the off-season, this hidden gem in Europe felt magical in the dark.

The city is perched on limestone rocks and seems to rise above both the rivers on either side dramatically, the Júcar and Huécar. The hanging houses do indeed seem to dangle over the gorge, but there is only a handful of these left to admire. For the first evening I suggest enjoying the views from across the iron San Pablo bridge, then dipping into one of the bars on Plaza Mayor for a night-cap before an early night, ready for a (hopefully) awesome sunrise.

Day One in Cuenca, Spain

Starting the day right, the light clouds that hung in the air suddenly were illuminated with dramatic shades of pinks and oranges as the sun rose behind the mountain, as yet not in view.

At 8 am on a December morning, I felt like I was the king of the castle, as not a single other soul was to be seen. I scurried around the old-town looking for the best viewpoint. For sunrise, I highly recommend taking the short walk from Posada San Jose to near the castle ruins. From here you can enjoy a breathtaking sunrise as Cuenca slowly starts to bathe in the golden glow.

After a café con leche and breakfast at the hotel, where the view is equally as impressive, and a front-facing balcony bedroom might be the very place to enjoy a lazy sunrise, it was time to start putting together this weekend in Cuenca itinerary.

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