The Journey to Alcala De Jucar
Today we are taking another coach trip with David’s Coaches. We are heading 2 and a half hours North of Torrevieja to a town called Alcala de Jucar. It is here that we will get to see and experience the Cave Houses.
Boarding our coach for an early start we are able to fully relax. The air conditioning and USB charging points in the bus mean we can relax. Time to enjoy the scenery, something that usually only one of us can do at a time! We collect the other passengers and continue our journey. As we travel our rep brings us lots of information about the towns and villages that we pass.
The bus is a happy one today. People say hello to the new additions as they board. A steady chatter fills the coach. There is a real mix of age groups on the tours we have been on. Sometimes there is an age bracket and personality type associated with coach trips. We found that to be untrue. The tours was were filled with people from all age groups and backgrounds.
As the journey was so long, we broke our route with a brief stop in Almansa. Almansa stems from the Arabic المنصف (al-manṣaf), “half way of the road” and this was very apt for us. Set in the province of Albacete and built at the foot of a white limestone crag. At the top is a castle built during Moorish times. During the Reconquest, a long period in history where the Christians and Muslims fought over territory in Spain and Portugal, this area became a ‘frontier’. This was between the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and the Muslim kingdom of Murcia.
The castle was built in the early 12th century. Quite a few remains of this original building survive in the present structure. As with many historic castles, the building we see today is a vastly modified castle. Over the years, and changes of inhabitants, it has seen parts added and removed. The castle finally fell inactive at the end of the 15th century, after the expulsion of the Moors and a unified nation emerged.
Over the hundreds of years the castles fell into decay. In 1919 the Mayor requested its demolition. The castle was saved and declared a national monument following an outcry to save it. Restoration work continues still today to save the castle. Sadly during our visit we could not go inside due to this work.
That didn’t stop us having a wander around the charming town’s high street and narrow side lanes. There were local bakers with windows full of sweet pastries. Cafes with chairs on the pavement serving hot drinks as well as refreshing cold drinks while the sun warmed up.
The town hall was absolutely stunning and well worth a few pictures. It had a lovely shaded garden with lots of sculptures in and this beautiful courtyard.
The Jucar River is on the Iberian peninsula of Spain. It runs for around 510km from its source in Montes Universales to the sea in the resort of Callera. The gorge where the road runs is very deep in parts, especially as we get closer to the town. Our rep for the day, a delightful woman with a bit of wiggle room on her sense of humour, announces that we are about to start our ascent to the top of the gorge we are currently in. She advises us (tongue in cheek we hope) that our coach driver only passed his test last week and that he is nervous about the road ahead… Great!
Soon we start to see the road ahead. Winding left to right up the side of a mountain reminiscent of Lombard Street on San Francisco but on steroids. Louise and I look at each other and hope we get to tell the tale. Spoiler alert – she was joking and we survived.
We are heading to the top of the gorge for lunch before visiting the cave houses. There are lots of cave houses here and we find out that during the time of the reconquest, the Moors fled for safety. Due to the relatively soft rock in Spain many of them hid in caves. These caves are visible from the road as we drive.
Originally seen as a sign of poverty, recent building and home shows such as Grand Designs, have started to make these cave houses popular. It is interesting to note that these cave houses are subject to the same planning permissions as ‘normal’ houses. This is especially relevant if they want to dig out another room.
There are a lot of benefits to living in a cave house in a hot country. The caves stay an ambient 18-20 degrees. Due to the thickness of the walls and that the windows are at the front of the house only, it stays nice and cool in the summer and retains the warmth in winter. A quick scan of the internet will bring you up plenty of examples of cave houses for sale in the region of 30,000 euros upwards. A point to remember is that walls are hardly ever straight or symmetrical. If you have OCD or want to hang a large mirror, take your spirit level with you to the viewing!
El Mirador Restaurant views
Reaching the top of the gorge after a half hour see-saw of winding roads, we stop for lunch at a stunning restaurant. The town, clinging on the edges of the gorge walls, seems peaceful. An odd shape bull ring lies further down. A tear drop shape.
Standing in the garden of the restaurant you get some amazing views of the gorge. They leave you breathless and suddenly the drive seems worth it. We stop for a few photos before heading inside.
Lunch at Alcala De Jucar
Entering the restaurant you find yourself in an elegant bar area. To the left is the dining area. The tables pulled together to form 4 long banqueting tables to seat the 52 guests and complimentary wine is on the tables ready for our arrival. Organised into our groups we are then seated. We manage to grab two window seats and get to know our neighbours.
For starters we had a serving of traditional of hams and cheese with fresh slices of bread. The main course was a delicious turkey stew (and the vegetarians had a fried vegetable dish). The deserts were what ever they had in stock so we all feasted on Cornetto ice creams!
Louise writes – The wine was going down a little too well. More had to be brought to the tables. Imagine this… each table was given 3 bottles of red and 3 bottles of white to SHARE between them! One lady didn’t get that memo and happily polished off a bottle of white before the main course had been served. She then asked the gentleman, sat to my left, to pass our bottle over and down the hatch it went too. Well, this lady had no idea that the 2 ladies from Germany were watching her and so was I at this point, all the while trying to contain my giggles silently. Em kept looking at me and trying to ask discreetly what was going on.
The chap then asked the waiter for another bottle of white and it arrived promptly……. Drum roll please……. The same lady took it from his hands and filled her glass once again. Bearing in mind these were large glasses and could hold over half a bottle. Well the German ladies rolled their eyes, looked at me watching them and we burst out laughing.
If you thought that was bad – just wait for this!
We got back on the coach to drive us down to the town to the cave house museum. Our rep clocks a bottle of wine in someone’s bag and it turns out that some of the guests felt it was appropriate to steal a bottle of wine from the restaurant. This was a total disgrace. If you took the cost of the trip (27 euros each) and looked at the cost of the menu from the restaurant (17 euros without wine), you would see that they were already offering a highly discounted menu to the tour operator. Bottles of wine in Spain are not expensive and start from around 2 euros a bottle.
Our rep made it very clear to the individuals that this is not what is expected and that what they did was wrong. The told the rep that another couple in the group asked them to do it and lets just say it was made very clear to these people, in front of the whole coach, that this behaviour would not be tolerated. You may expect this from the younger generation but actually this couple were retired and living in Spain.
The Cave House Museum
Moving on, we approached the drop off point for the coach. The rep advised that the paths were very steep and the cobbles could be slippery. A safety briefing warned us to use our own initiative. If we felt it was not suitable for us then to stay on the coach. Most of us decided it was worth the risk, after all – that is what we had come to see. She wasn’t wrong! Steep narrow lanes zig zagged from the drop off point to the museum. Ee don’t think anyone ended up on ‘You’ve been framed’ but it was a miracle!
The outside of the museum looked rather discrete. If you didn’t know it was there you could easily have walked past it. The history of Alcala tells us that there are two important caves here. Garaden and Devils cave. Garadén, has 750 years of history and was used as a sentry post. Due to the gorge, anyone who came through from Castilla-La Mancha towards the east had to pay a tribute. The 170m long tunnel essentially acted as a mini customs area!
Juan Jose Martinez
The owner of the caves is Juan José Martínez, an ex Mayor of Alcala De Jucar. Perhaps better known as the bull fighter El Diablo he is also the owner of the restaurant we visited. I can’t help but wonder how far his influence stretches. We are warned that he is a larger than life character and that he is a poet. He has written in excess of 2500 poems, some of them receiving awards. Best known for his moustache and is often at the caves ready to great guests. Juan Jose Martinez is happy to pose for photos. Be warned – he may try to kiss you as it’s customary in Spanish culture!
We each pay 3 euros and are told that at the end of the tour there is (here we go again) a free glass of wine. We are not sure how much of the caves half of our coach saw as they bee lined to the end for their alcohol… The rest of us had a good look around as we saw all of the artefacts that now reside in the museum. Some not seeming to have a specific reason for being there we might add but most demonstrating the layouts a stereotypical cave house may have looked. There were old farming tools, taxidermy animals, mirrors and old cinema equipment.
Strange goings on in the cave disco!
At the end of the bar is a larger section with the walls full of pictures of Juan Jose Martinez with high profile individuals and images of him with lots of beautiful women hanging on his arm. We get the impression he is a bit of a play boy. Not surprisingly perhaps, when we have a look around the area he commissioned as a disco, we see something our rep hasn’t seen before. We have alcohol fuelled minds in the gutter so we will just let the pictures do the talking!
We asked our rep about the rounding of the wooden bar tables and the strange shapes in the concrete ones. We tell her what we see and she blushes a little before trying to explain to the poor lady working the bar what we are asking! Is that table for more than drinking on? Why is it curved like that?
Bemused we watch as the lady and the rep have a conversation in Spanish before heading off to the area in question. A few moments later our rep is laughing and shaking her head! Apparently the tables are old farm tools, a little like ploughs, that were used to harvest crops. They just flipped them over and made them into a table. The bar lady found it very comical that we thought it was used for secret sex parties!
Back to the coach!
We had some time to walk around the small town of Alcala De Jucar after the cave museum and see some of the houses still being used today. There was a lovely Roman bridge to cross the river and as we were leaving it looked as though they were setting up for a fiesta.
Little shops selling gifts for the tourist trade adorned the streets near where the coach would collect us. Around 2500 people can visit here each day in the height of the season. Something you would never expect on entering the picturesque location clinging to the side of the mountain and carved out of the rocks.
If you are interested in the other trips we have done in Spain.
Click here to find out where you can swim in a stunning waterfall used in the Timotie adverts.
Click here to find out about Guadalest – the most beautiful town in Spain
And here to find out about our journey to Torrievieja
Click here for other locations and don’t forget to Subscribe via email and follow our social media platforms!