We visited Requena last month. Why not? It’s good to do something different and get out of our Russafa capsule!
Plus it has something that we’re deeply interested in: wines, and we got to try the new high speed train line from Valencia—or, new to us at least, as it’s been running for a while now. Double bonus!
The 70km trip takes about 20 minutes. Very fast and you can barely notice the speed whilst in the train! I was so carried away, I made a video:
My phone records videos in stereo, so do listen with headphones if you want to experience spatial audio! The closest thing to being in the train (maybe).
In retrospect, it took me way longer to figure out how to get a taxi from the AVE station to the town proper and get it booked, than actually travelling to Requena.
You see, they built this new shiny station in The Middle Of Nowhere, between Requena and the next big town, Utiel, and although it could be within a moderate walking distance (it’s just ~6km), there is no pavement, only roads and vineyards.
So unless you feel like trespassing and ploughing your way across vineyards, or walking next to noisy roads and trying to cross wherever it looks less dangerous, you need a vehicle to drive you to/from the train station. This involved finding and calling 5+ taxi drivers, one by one, as there’s no centralised taxi service in Requena, and the drivers I called were either booked already, or not willing to take our custom because it was too small (“you’re only two people?”) or they were not willing to commit to booking “too far ahead” (i.e. for the following week). This was quite nerve-wracking!
But we managed to do it.
And it was cold. Like, COLD. No wonder that in addition to winemaking, they also cure meats here—this cold dries you to the core.
It had been a most deliciously balmy 20ºC in Valencia the day before, and it was probably about 9ºC when we boarded the cosy train. Half an hour later, we stepped onto the streets of Requena and were greeted with steam coming out of our red noses and a most unwelcoming 0ºC temperature. Brrrrr!
And the town was eerily quiet, as if people were staying home rather than venturing out into the freezing streets, and I fully understood it, although it was somehow worrisome—would we be able to find somewhere to have breakfast when everything seemed closed?
Breakfast at Cafetería Mirasol
We started walking randomly until we found a bar that looked decent. And it was this really chilled experience that I hadn’t had in a while where the service was actually nice, and nothing was a problem. You wanted a bocadillo? Fine! It is not in the list? Not a problem. You are very hungry and want a big bocadillo? Sure. Small? Also fine. Please have a seat, I’ll bring them to you.
We had the most revitalising bocadillos (sorry, “sandwiches” just does not reflect what they were) I have had in a very long time. Jamón y queso for Devvers, and sobrasada y queso for me.
While we were eating them, we realised that we had accidentally ended up in a very lively place. Lots of locals were zooming in and out of the place, having their coffee and toasted bread with tomato, and leaving after a quick chat. Our instincts were properly tuned to the Requena vibe, and we were pleased about it!
Monumento a la vendimia
It was now the time to explore. We started by finding the Monumento a la Vendimia-literally the monument to the harvest. Winemaking is essentially the main driver of economic activity in Requena, so the harvest time is a big time. No wonder there’s a monument to it (the only in the world, they proudly say).
I found it a very subdued way of exclaiming: “¡Viva el vino!”
A very cold wander
Then up the hill we went to explore the old centre, powered by all the bread and calories we had just ingested.
But even if an hour or so had passed and the sun was starting to slowly warm up the streets, it was still so cold!
And the centre is full of narrow alleys which are very good at defending the city against a siege, but also at keeping the sun out and the street cool as they remained resolutely in the shade. After ten or fifteen minutes, I couldn’t stand it anymore—I had to change into my skiing gloves, which I had brought “just in case”. Devvers asked to borrow my normal gloves—it was THAT cold.
I love taking pictures and there was plenty of good material, what with all the old houses and interesting looking architecture, but at points I just chose to acknowledge the thing and keep my hands (and my phone) in my pockets, to conserve as much heat as possible. Brrrrr!
Cuevas de la Villa
We found going underground to the Cuevas de la Villa supremely pleasant. They are a series of caves connected together, and although the temperature was “low”, it was a constant ~15-16 ºC, which felt positively balmy in contrast with the temperature in the streets!
The story goes that in the old times people would dig these caves into the basement of their houses, and use them for storage, for wine making, as cellars, as graveyard (for the church ones)—you name it.
Yet over time they were abandoned as electricity was invented and people preferred to use fridges for storage, or they filled the basement with rubbish and sealed it off. Eventually the town almost entirely forgot about their existence.
But then they were rediscovered in the 1970s during some sewers and resurfacing works for the square after many years of abandonment and ruin: a digger just collapsed into a hole when the ceiling of a cave under the square gave way. Then the town hall started reconditioning and joining them together, and made into the present route.
It goes for about 1.2 km underground, and allows visitors to learn about the various former uses of these caves, both private and public (as for example there were municipal seed banks to distribute them to growers if there had been a bad year).
There are also samples of equipment used in making wine, principally big vessels from a couple of different regions so we can see how the decoration, shape and size of the jar changes based on where they were made.
At points you could see some beams of light coming down from the street, and the information lady at the entrance was more than happy to explain where the route was going underneath the square houses and where the route could continue but didn’t because the houses were private, but we still could see some closed doors in the caves. I couldn’t stop thinking of the mystery stories that could be written with all of this.
Interestingly we had the whole place to ourselves as we seemed to be the only “tourists” in the town. So it felt like we had booked an exclusive tour! I think it was a combination of it being during the week, plus during winter, and also, obviously, because covid.
Museo de la ciudad
From there we walked to the city’s museum, a veritable treasure trove of all sorts of things related to the city. Curing meats, equipment for various other agricultural tasks, typical dresses (with the highlight being the dresses for the fiesta de la vendimia), geology and natural sciences, farming, and even a literal treasure chest that was accidentally lost and found. In a way, it reminded me to the V&A—that sensation of “everything has a place here”.
Pictures weren’t allowed, so imagine whatever you want!
I personally am still thinking about the idea of the treasure chest with gold coins from all over the world hidden on the steps of a mansion…
Coffee break: at cafetería Reke
It was time for another coffee break, and again we ended up in a place full of locals—though most of them didn’t mind paying the extra 10 cents to sit outside in the terrace, impervious to the cold temperatures I am not made for.
You could feel the intrigue and curiosity as we were “scanned” by them (“who are they? where do they come from?”). It wasn’t hostile, just quite evident that we were outsiders and they were not used to seeing people from outside these days, maybe!
Interestingly the place had a bit of an international flair as they served us speculoos biscuits with the coffees, and they also sold lots of different coffees.
Lunch at Mesón Fortaleza
And then the oddest thing happened: we were NOT the only tourists at lunch time!
There was another table with people speaking English, but it seemed like one of them was Spanish and was showing the town to his boyfriend and parents. So not entirely tourists! We were tourister than them!
This felt really strange after being THE tourists of the town all morning. Still, we wondered: “Where have they been hiding all morning?” 😃
We ordered a bottle of “Bobal en calma”, from Dominio de la Vega, a winery from the town.
Bobal is the local grape variety and I enjoy trying wines made with it each time I have the opportunity to do so (plus it would be really nonsensical to go to Requena and not have a Bobal-based wine).
This one in particular had a reasonable body, acidity and tannins, and paired well with the meat we were about to have.
Historically, the area has been under marked influence from Castilla, belonging to its kingdom and administration multiple times (rather than the kingdom or administration of Valencia), and the customs and cuisine are more Manchegan than Valencian, and thus, it’s very meat heavy.
I started with the gazpacho manchego.
This has nothing to do with the famous “gazpacho” as the cold tomato soup you might have tried before (or what we call “gazpacho andaluz” i.e. andalusian gazpacho).
Instead, this is a mountain stew made with meat and fragments of torta (unleavened breads). Traditionally, this would be something that shepherds and peasants would cook with whatever they could get their hands on plus the tortas, which can last ages without getting mouldy, so it’s got quite a rustic feel to it.
I was curious to see how they would cook it here, and it tasted very chorizo-y, compared to the version I’m used to from Bocairent/Serra de Mariola, which has more of a pebrella, herby flavour.
And I don’t really know why, but Devvers chose the macaroni with tuna. Devvers doesn’t know why either. Maybe my description of the local dishes we should absolutely try was not clear enough? Maybe we were too tired and cold to communicate?
Who knows! All I know is that the regret was immediate, and even more intensified when witnessing (and trying) my gazpacho.
And what is life but a series of disappointments and regret? I am digressing…
We then had two cuts of meats: presa & entrecot. They were quite… copious and filling. I also really liked the paprika on the potatoes, and also experienced a certain feeling of vindication.
We finished with a flan de cafe with the classic, non-ironic Spanish restaurant dessert garnish: some cream on the side.
I once heard an artisanal baker rant for a good ten minutes about the fact that all desserts in Spanish restaurants seemed to be served with a squeeze of cream regardless of the dessert, and to this date I still haven’t been able to forget that afternoon; maybe you won’t be able either!
He looked like a skinny Damon Albarn but with Argentinian accent, and from time to time he would swish his fringe aside, readjust his apron and cause a little cloud of flour come up. It was quite the sight, and they served a very respectable carrot cake in Barcelona, but unfortunately the place has closed.
So let’s go back to the other coffee I had—an actual coffee, but café bombón, which is like a cortado but with condensed milk, and in Spain it’s almost unheard of outside of Valencia (other countries also do similar drinks!). I like having it as a treat and so I almost always order it when I’m in Spain 😋
From there we walked to our next destination: the winery where we intended to do a tour and wine tasting AND also stay overnight. But that is a story for the next post: a visit to Pago de Tharsys.
In the meantime, some addresses if you want to plot your own visit to Requena:
The café-bar with great bocadillos:
Avenida Arrabal, 24
The second café with the speculoos biscuits:
Plaza del Portal, 3
The inn/restaurant (reservation very advisable, I could book mine by email):
Plaza Castillo 3, bajo
You have to admire their SEO skills with that domain name!