As I’ve said many times before, Spain is a veritable treasure trove of travel options. The Iberian Peninsula has indeed been blessed with an incredibly diverse landscape, from its beautiful extensive coastline to the lush greenery found in the north and rugged plains to the south. And of course, like any country, Spain’s major tourist-filled cities as well as its many off-the-beaten-path pueblos have their own intriguing identities, which is why I recommend that you visit Chinchon.
Of course, Madrid, as the capital city, is quite popular for its own distinctive personality, one that blends a defiant hold on the traditional while dipping its grumpy toes in the pool of modernity. In fact, many heated arguments have been started by expats and locals alike questioning whether or not Madrid has lost its traditional “Spanishness” in an attempt to bring the city into the current times.
Whether or not that’s true, there are plenty of options for people looking for that typical old-world image of Spain, one with a touch of history and culture, but without all of that fussy WiFi and Starbucks nonsense.
For anyone looking to go back in time to a quiet, tranquil Spanish town, most are advised to head to Segovia or Toledo for a pleasant daytrip. However, few are aware that the sleepy pueblo of Chinchón lies just an hour outside of the capital and is one beautiful example of how Spanish tradition is still alive and well.
Chinchón’s claim to moderate fame is its large, oval-shaped Plaza Mayor, that, like most Spanish towns, is at the heart of the community. As far as Spanish plazas go, Chinchón’s is one of the best, large and sandy, and bordered by traditional restaurants with wooden balconies that are perfect for gazing out on to the happenings in the plaza.
However, it’s not all beauty and social time in Chinchón. The plaza actually goes back to the 15th century as does the town’s elegant church that stands tall over the plaza, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Although it’s hard to find the church open, if you visit, make sure you go in because there’s a Goya painting depicting the Assumption of the Virgin. Actually, Francisco de Goya spent quite a lot of time in Chinchón and even had a house there. His painting is quite the local gem and many Chinchonians will be the first to tell you that it’s a must see.
Although it would be safe to call Chinchón a charming, yet sleepy little Spanish town, it really has a vibrant history. During the War of Independence in 1808, four French soldiers were killed in Chinchon. In retaliation, French troops sacked and set fire to the town and killed nearly one hundred inhabitants. If you explore the plaza, you’ll see two large stone pillars where the soldiers used to line up their victims.
On a lighter note, in addition to its long (and somewhat gruesome) history, Chinchón is well known for its Anís de Chinchon, or Anisetter, an anise-flavored liquor. And of course, as is usual, where there is home-made liquor, there are accompanying local pastries as well.
Specifically, you’ll want to visit the Convento de las Madres Clarisas, where the nuns will sell you some of their homemade pastries. However, ordering them is another story. In true Spanish fashion, the names of certain sweets may leave you blushing. For example, you don’t want to miss the local favorites such as Tetas de novicia (roughly translated as “virgin tits”) or Pelotas de Fraile (Friar’s balls). Both are pastries made with anis flavoring and filled with cream, chocolate or raspberry.
And as you sit at the plaza mayor on a visit to Chinchón, trying to not giggle as you sip the local drink and enjoy the local pastries, watch as another world goes by in the plaza. Children running gleefully around while their parents sip cold beers and cheap tapas, it’s as if you’ve transported yourself into another era. And if you’re lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of local wildlife roaming about.