It took us 12 years of living in Valencia to finally visit the neighboring state of Castilla-La Mancha — to be more specific the town of Almansa, just across the border. With this visit, we finally made good on a decade-old promise to our first landlord in Valencia, who is originally from the town and still has a house there.
Upon moving to Valencia in 2008, we rented our first apartment from a painter and gallery owner, with whom we have remained friends throughout the years. He’s invited us several times to visit his place of birth, Almansa, wanting to show us around, see the castle, and sample the local cuisine in his favorite restaurant… but it had never worked out.
However, a few weeks ago we ran into our old landlord while taking a walk in Valencia, and he mentioned that he’d be spending the following weekend in Almansa. When he suggested that we come along, we agreed. Our sudden interest seemed to take him off guard, after so many years of it not working out.
When Sunday came around, we drove out of the city, across the border separating Valencia and Castilla – La Mancha, and into Almansa. As we pulled up to his house, our old greeted us with a huge smile on his face. It has taken us twelve years to finally visit his home, and I don’t think he really believed we were going to show up.
Exploring Almansa – Plaza Santa María
We set out to explore the old town, soon arriving at the beautiful Plaza Santa María with its duck fountain. We ducked into the church, as well as the Palacio de los Condes de Cirat which is also the city hall. From the plaza, you can see the Castle of Almansa looming at the top of a nearby hill. This would be the next stop of our excursion.
The climb up to the castle was easy, and the closer we got to the top the castle, the more we noticed how narrow the structure actually is, probably due to the terrain not allowing anything wider. The thin castle is unique and has been well-upheld, making it fun to explore inside and out. The two highlights were a distinctive spiral staircase, that looked straight out of a fairy tale, and the incredible views over Amansa and its surroundings.
By the time we were finished with the castle, we had to hurry to make our lunch reservation. Out in the fields and situated in an old farmhouse, the Restaurante La Ventica was the perfect choice to fill our bellies with rural Castilian delicacies. For the main course, our host insisted we have Gazpacho Manchego, served with several side dishes, one of which we didn’t recognize. “Ahh…” said our friend, “pig’s face!” Like… wait… just the face? “¡Sí!” The whole face, just cut up and deep-fried? “You got it! Cheeks, eyebrows, everything!”
Here’s a tip for Gazpacho Manchego which we learned at La Ventica: once you’ve finished eating the stew from atop the giant tortilla, wave over the waiter and ask him to take the tortilla back in. He will come out later with the remaining tortilla, all rolled up and drizzled with honey. It’s like two meals in one.
What an amazing day this was! I can’t believe it took us so many years to visit Almansa for the first time. I think we won’t wait that long for a return visit: there seems to be a lot of beautiful nature and cool hikes in this area.