We had breakfast in the Condesa Hotel in Chinchón this morning. Spanish hotel buffet breakfasts are predictable on the whole – one is offered sugar-glazed (why???) croissants and pastries, bread that you can toast, butter and jam, and if you are lucky then there is also fruit, ham, yoghurt and crushed tomato to make that DELICIOUS “catalan breakfast” where you squeeze a tomato onto a slice of toast, add olive oil and some salt and just enjoy the freshness of it all. It’s fine, not terribly exciting, but the BIG advantage of a Spanish hotel breakfast is always the coffee. Unlike in France where they have given up proper coffee for breakfast, in Spain you will almost always be given PROPER coffee. I’m sorry to say that our lovely Condesa Hotel has gone French. What a disappointment. Machine coffee. Yuk. Yes, I know there are real coffee beans inside it but they are not given time or the water temperature to produce a decent cup of coffee, and if you want it with milk it is particularly disgusting since the milk is always powdered and only reconstituted by pushing steam through it. There was a full breakfast buffet in a very nice breakfast room (obviously a dining room before the hotel gave up the unequal struggle with the Plaza Mayor and stopped serving lunch and dinner) but the whole thing was coloured by MACHINE COFFEE. Sigh.
We made one last foray after breakfast to the Plaza Mayor, where we just HAD to go in to a cerámica shop and buy a couple of plates, then we set off on our long journey from Chinchón, south-east of Madrid, to the tiny hamlet of Altron in the Spanish Pyrenees, a journey of 620 km which should take 6h20min if one doesn’t stop.
We take the road up to Madrid, skirt round the capital on the outer ring road then set off on the road we’ve come to know well over the past couple of years, the E90 to Zaragoza then off towards Lleida and up into the Pirineos from there.
The road after Madrid crosses mountains then drops down onto the red/orange plain around Zaragoza with that long escarpment to one side of it which is covered with entire hectares of wind turbines. The sight is striking but doesn’t allow itself to be conveyed in a photograph, although every year we try.
Then finally we are heading up to the Pyrenees, my favourite mountains.
Miss Google takes us up past a series of lakes and reservoirs, alongside the Lleida to Pobla del Segur Thomas the Tank Engine railway line, up into the “Parc del Alt Pirineu” – at one point she takes us into a tiny village which still has medieval streets about 6 inches wide, in an attempt to shave 2 minutes off our time. We curse her, in the nicest possible way, Samson breathes in, and we squeeze out again onto the original road.
We were running short of petrol and hadn’t seen a petrol station for a while, so I was very grateful when we found an unusual one near Balaguer. I filled Samson, then took one of my favourite photos of the trip so far – I just love that diesel pump, with the mechanism propped up on a bit of wood, and the idea that you would call a bar the “Bar la Gasolinera”. This picture should win a prize…..
It was also a tad frustrating that as soon as we had driven off from that petrol station we then drove through a pretty little town that had AT LEAST six petrol stations, with prices varying from .99 per litre to 1.16 per litre. Drat.
Anyway here we now are in the tiny tiny hamlet of Altron in the middle of the Spanish Pyrenees, and it is so pretty all around that we find it hard to stop taking photos.
Our host in the Roch Hotel, Xavi, is charming and helpful and has the loveliest broad smile that makes you feel he’s really thrilled to see you. He asked if we wanted to communicate in French or in Spanish (he didn’t mention English, so I’m guessing he’s quite glad that I told him I spoke both).
Our room is up under the eaves, with wood everywhere and a little window with an amazing view across a tiny square and into the blue tinged mountains surrounding us.
Everything is spotless and prettily arranged, and we are pleased with the 70 euros we’ve paid for bed and breakfast for the two of us.
We asked for the menu, and Xavi asked if we wanted it in English, French or Spanish. I told him we’ve already had a little look at the Catalan one and I understood most of it, but as ever we didn’t want to have an “English language” menu because it is usually a lot harder to understand than the Spanish or French. So he brought us an English menu and a French one (“I can sing you the Spanish one, I don’t have it on paper”), and we discovered an extra element of confusion – the items are slightly different on each language’s menu. These are the wonderful things that happen when you go to interesting small hotels, and the things that you giggle about for years afterwards – what a joy! The dishes were mostly local ones – we tried the amazing “calcots”, which are tempura spring onions – and we ate very well.
Later, I offered to translate Xavi’s menu if he wanted, into English, and have just done so sitting here in the bar, accompanied by a porron of thick fruity Tarragona wine that he releases from a barrel he keeps in the cellar to serve as his “house wine”.
He asked what charge I would make for the translation, I said the porron would be fine!
It is now midnight and we are going to stagger up to bed. Phew a day of many kilometres and a lovely place to lay our heads……