“In a place in La Mancha whose name I cannot quite recall…”
The wind whips through the narrow, quiet streets of Belmonte, a small hillside town in the flat plains of La Mancha in southeast Spain.
The locals hang thick curtains over their front doors to keep the warm, dusty breeze out of their homes. Many of these woven hangings are decorated with Don Quixote themed patterns: the ‘Ingenious Hidalgo’ and Sancho Panzo themselves riding their noble steeds, churches, inns and, of course, the traditional windmills that the knight-errant tried to battle.
Belmonte is part of the ‘Ruta del Quixote’, a 2500 kilometre official European Cultural route of criss-crossing historic trails, river banks and villages throughout Castile-La Mancha. It aims to place Miguel de Cervantes’ 400 year old literary classic within real landscapes of the region, with locations that acted as inspiration for the author and that may have appeared in the novel.
This town has a lot going for it. Not only is it part of the Ruta del Quixote, but is on the Camino de la Santa Cruz, has an impressive 15th century castle and city walls and of course traditional windmills with spectacular views to a far-off horizon.
But the last couple of years have hit Belmonte hard. The walkers’ hostels and bars lie mostly empty, many houses are abandoned or for sale, and it’s historic attractions have few visitors. The threats to this town are the real giants of economic decline, depopulation and obscurity, like so many of Spain’s tourist destinations. In a post-Covid landscape, can Belmonte find a new hero to rescue it?
I’ll be doing a few more posts on Belmonte and its fascinating and rich history. In the meantime, why not get in a car, on a bus or even a donkey and take a trip to this small but unforgettable corner of Spain.