As we headed back to Madrid to catch our flight to London, we had about three days to kill. I wanted to find a place on the route between the mountains and our friend, Alvaro’s, place in Madrid, so I randomly booked an apartment in a town called Aniñon. We planned to do laundry there, get caught up on work with the WiFi, and generally take a break from touring. Little did we know that the stop would turn out to be one of the most fun and culturally-rich stretches of our trip.
The town is in the middle of an arid desert-like expanse of emptiness, and it’s built on a steep hill with a large Middle Eastern-inspired church at the center. Our apartment was next door to the church at the very top of the hills, and our Fiat barely made it through the narrow streets to get up there.
The kiddo had to jump out of the car and help us navigate, choosing roads where we could actually squeeze through. At the top, we were amazed to find a lovely plaza with old water pumps. There were virtually no tourists in the hardworking town, but our apartment turned out to be a small 4-apartment hotel, and the Nuño and his wife, the proprietors, did all of the work associated with running it, including cooking all of our meals for about twenty-five euros a day. The hospitality was second-to-none, and Nuño loved sending out local dishes and liquors for us to try (at a rate that risked gluttony, on our end). Nobody in the town spoke any English for the most part, so our kiddo was instrumental in helping us all get to know each other. It was a wonderful place for her to spend her 15th birthday, and she was celebrated with special cupcakes with candles and big hugs from our new friends.
A baker in town, the one person we found who spoke solid English, gave us a tip about a hot spring lake, and it was a wonderful day trip. It was an old-school experience, with wrought iron bridges and changing rooms and bathhouses all falling into an elegant state of disrepair as the heyday of the old resort had passed. We loved swimming in the warm waters and some of us loved being exfoliated by the small fish that would start nibbling on you if you stayed still (I did not stay still).
We also went to Monasterio de Piedra in Nuévalos for a day trip. About 4o minutes from our apartment, I have to say I talked the group into this excursion. The kiddo had seen enough monasteries for one trip (including the all-Spanish-language tours we often took), and Phil is never one to go on a “nature walk” on pre-set walkways, but I talked them into it and we were all so happy we went! We had no idea the amazing cascades we would see, and the cave systems we could explore that brought us around the back sides of some stupendous waterfalls. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and my crappy photos don’t do it justice.
While the thermal lake and the monastery were amazing, nothing compared with the hospitality that we experienced from our hosts, and the meals we ate– simply prepared and unfussy– were some of the best we had for the whole trip. We did do laundry and use the spotty WiFi a bit, but our walks through the town and sitting out on the plaza at night enjoying course after course of delicious bites while we watched the World Cup game with the locals– it was just exactly what we’d hoped this trip would be like!
Our time in Spain was drawing to an end, and we had to head back to the airport in Madrid. Before leaving, we spent a wonderful night with our friends, Alvaro and Paloma, and their kids. Alvaro was an exchange student in Phil’s house many decades ago, and we are so lucky that they have stayed in touch. In fact, our nephew from New Hampshire was spending a chunk of the summer at their place in Madrid, so when we visited, we were there together. We had another birthday celebration for our freshly-minted 15-year-old and enjoyed swimming and catching up. We are grateful to Alvaro and Paloma for all they did to advise us on all the aspects of our trip!
We’d been traveling as a family of three for more than three weeks, living in close quarters and navigating unfamiliar circumstances. But we were not tired, cranky, or ready to go home. We had to leave Spain, but were already dreaming about coming back again.