Don Quixote, Sancho Pancha, and a place called Alcala

Known as the home of Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote the epic novel Don Quixote, Alcala de Henares — Alcala for short — has all the trappings for a perfect day trip from Madrid.

Alcala de Henares is a tourist-friendly destination just outside the Madrid city center. | PHOTOGRAPHS BY AUDREY GIONGCO FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE

September 11, 2022

ALCALA DE HENARES, Spain — There is so much more to Spain than just Madrid and Barcelona.

Though the two rival cities get the lion’s share of tourist arrivals, low-key cities in the Andalusian region like Cadiz and Cordoba, Alicante in the Mediterranean, and the four hidden gems of Galicia — Pontevedra, Vigo, Santiago and A Coruña — also have lots to offer.

The same is true for a town just 40 kilometers from the capital of Madrid that is famous for Miguel de Cervantes, highly-acclaimed as Spain’s finest author.

Statue of Miguel de Cervantes at Plaza Cervantes in Alcala de Henares, Spain.

Day-trippers’ delight

A short train ride from Plaza Mayor, it’s a little-known municipality that merits big time story-telling.

Known as the home of Cervantes, who wrote the epic novel Don Quixote, Alcala de Henares — Alcala for short — has all the trappings for a perfect day trip from Madrid.

The writer gets the chance to ‘mingle’ with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

It has mouthwatering food, scenic sights, and a rich history.

From the train station, Alcala’s ground zero can be reached in 10 minutes or so on foot.

Tops on the list is a stroll along its cobbled roads that lead to Cervantes’ ancient home that has been transformed into a museum.

Along the way, there are cafes and eateries, as well as souvenir shops that will make one’s quick trip here a memorable one.

Between to jolly figures

The highlight of the day tour is a visit to Cervantes’ residence.

On display at the museum (free entrance) are some of Cervantes’ personal items and original copies of his masterpiece.

This work has been translated into every language in Europe, including Turkish, a testament to its incredible worldwide appeal.

The humorous novel tells the story of an eccentric and skinny fellow named Don Quixote who was later knighted under abnormal circumstances.

An early edition of ‘Don Quixote’ is on display at Miguel de Cervantes’ home in Alcala de Henares.

Believing he was destined to right the wrongs of the world, Don Quixote would later pair himself with a woman he endearingly called Dulcinea, tap a pot-bellied peasant named Sancho Panza, and ride a bony horse he named Rocinante.

The ‘noble’ Don and Sancho would then set off to countless adventures and misadventures, including the iconic battle with giants that, in reality, were just windmills.

Outside the home, there are life-sized statues of Don Quixote and his lovable sidekick, something that visitors — old and young alike — find hard to resist.

It has become customary for visitors to pose between the two jolly figures, and yours truly just couldn’t help but do the touristy thing.

Several meters from the fabled Cervantes home is a massive church whose construction dates back to 1497: The Catedral Magistral de los Santos Niños Justo y Pastor.

Also worth seeing is Plaza Cervantes, a perfect site for weary legs, and the University of Alcala, which was founded in 1293.

Entrance to the prestigious University of Alcala, one of Europe’s oldest institutions.

Delicious stops

After all that walking, the next stop should be the dining table.

But do mind the time in Spain — stores and even restaurants tend to slow down for siesta, which is usually between 2 p.m. until 5 p.m.

Still, there’d would be plenty to choose from when hunger comes a-calling, from the ubiquitous bocadillo (ham or seafood) to tapas.

Feeling famished, tourists can then relax and soak up the atmosphere by dining at Alcala’s many restaurants along the street.

This place boasts some of Spain’s most-loved culinary delights.

Widely available are Flores de Hojaldre (puff pastry dusted with powdered sugar), costrada (crusty bread topped with chopped almonds and icing sugar and filled with cream and meringue), rosquillas de Alcala (ring-shaped pastries dipped in egg yolks and sugar), and carne de la Sierra de Guadarrama (local beef steak).

Indeed, a trip to Spain guarantees the tourist a grand and exhilarating time.

Alcala may be often overlooked, but a few hours here would be such a welcome change of pace and atmosphere.

Bet your bottom dollar (or in this case, €) that you won’t find a lot in your clique who could brag about sitting between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

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