I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to go home for Christmas.
So, I decided on Plan B: spend the winter holidays in sunny Cadiz, a port town in Andalusia. Because if I’m going to spend Christmas alone, I may as well spend it alone at the beach, right?
I planned the trip. A few days in Cadiz, and a day trip to Tarifa, the southernmost city in Spain. I was about to book the Airbnb and the bus tickets. No one could sto—
Oh. Well, then.
Honestly, I’m not too surprised that traveling to different autonomous communities is restricted (unless you have family or close friends to visit – why don’t you rub a bit more salt in that wound, would you?).
However, travel is not restricted within the autonomous communities.
Oh. Well, then.
The autonomous community of Madrid is more than the capital. While playing with Google Maps (a travel hack that served me in Basque Country), I found several adorable villages tucked in the mountains.
So, I am starting a mini series on this blog for the month of December: the pueblos of Madrid. Starting with the first destination: Patones de Arriba!
How to Get to Patones
Step 1: Go to the metro stop Plaza de Castilla.
Step 2: Go to the bus station. Ask someone where the next bus leaves for Patones, and which number door to wait near.
The bus I took was ALSA 197, with its last stop at Uceda. I’d double check the number, as from my experience, this information can change, and then the next thing you know, you’re stuck on the outskirts of town. Again. My recommendation is to ask at least two people.
Step 3: Get on the bus. I paid for the ticket in cash on the bus (there is a Bankia ATM in the bus station if you didn’t come with cash). The ticket as of December 2020 cost 5.10 euros one-way. Some people had bought their tickets beforehand, but I don’t know where.
And off we went!
The trip is about an hour and a half by bus. However, it’s a gorgeous and relaxing ride. After months of living in the city, it’s refreshing to see the countryside again.
How to Get to Patones de Arriba
No, that was not deja vu. The bus takes you to the town of Patones.
But the real magic is in Patones de Arriba.
To get to Patones de Arriba, you have to walk. This is fine. I like walking.
But there’s one little fact I overlooked.
Arriba means “up” or “above” in English. NOT “north,” like I’d assumed. UP. Somehow, this little fact went right over my head. How I graduated with a B.A. degree in Spanish (and with department honors!) is a mystery to me.
Since Patones de Arriba is indeed “up,” you have to walk up a mountain. My friends, I was wearing fashion boots and sparky sweater dress. What else do you expect from your favorite inappropriately dressed travel blogger?
Granted, it wasn’t an impossible hike. I saw one family take their baby in a stroller up the mountain.
But at least they were wearing appropriate shoes.
After about 30 minutes, I wondered if this town even existed, or if we were simply on a long hike to nowhere. But then, a few exasperating breaths later, I ended up in this plaza:
So it is a real town!
And it was decently crowded for a holiday afternoon. People were walking through the narrow, rocky streets and taking photos next to the old buildings made of rocks. I’d arrived at lunch time, so several people were eating traditional Spanish food, overlooking the mountains.
As I walked through this town, I had questions: How do people deliver mail on the tiny streets? What kind of car do you need? (Hint: a small one.) Is it expensive to live in this isolated village? (Given the lunch prices, probably.) What is it like to grow up here? What was it like to grow up hundreds of years ago in these brick houses?
The town was quite small. You could circumnavigate the entire place in around 15 minutes. But around the town were tons of hiking trails, many of which went through the ruins above Patones de Arriba. (Which would make this part Patones de Super Arriba.)
It was interesting to think that I was staring through, and sometimes walking through, what used to be someone’s house. Some people actually went inside to look around.
However, I got an uneasy feeling about breaking into what used to be someone’s home. (Except there wasn’t a door to break into, but still entering a stranger’s home.)
Maybe I’m paranoid, but if I were a ghost, would I appreciate tourists walking through my home all day? I don’t know. Something just felt off, so I tried to avoid it. Tried being the keyword, because what I thought was a shortcut was a waltz through someone’s living room.
The views were incredible. The town looks even smaller from above. And I didn’t realize how much I missed fresh air and grass until I was up in these mountains.
A friend (and former colleague) wrote to me, “I can’t believe we were this close to this place!”
Had it not been for the travel restrictions, I wouldn’t have known it exists. I wouldn’t have bothered to look at the pueblos in Madrid. I had no idea there was this much beauty and charm around us this whole time.
And as we passed through these small towns, some of which were so small they didn’t have a streetlight, I wondered what people did for fun. The city of Madrid has all the entertainment and glamour you could want, even during a pandemic. In these small towns, people had to make their own fun.
I bet their imaginations run wild as they grow up playing under the sun. And I wonder if relationships are stronger and valued more. Living in a big city has been like a dream, but when everything is going so fast, and when the parties (before the pandemic) are constant, and the glasses of wine keep pouring one after another …
It was like Gatsby. Fun but not sustainable.
But the relationships these people have with each other, I imagine those are sustainable. Before the bus back to Madrid arrived, I sat in a bar to have a snack, and listening to the people talking in the bar, watching the clients interact with the staff, reminded me of when I lived in a small city in Colombia. They knew each other; they joked around with each other.
I’d love to talk to people who’ve managed to have both – a life of movement and sustainable relationships. I want a life of movement, but we all long for connection.
Food for thought as I headed back to Madrid.
Travel Tips for Patones de Arriba
So! Patones de Arriba – absolutely would recommend. It’s an easy and cheap day trip. That being said, here are some tips to make your day better:
1. Wear appropriate shoes.
2. Pack a lunch or snack.
Lunch at the restaurants was minimm 18 euros. You’re probably paying for location, not for a gourmet meal. I brought a few sandwiches and some grapes, and had a small picnic on the mountains.
3. If you do need a coffee, you can go to La Cata Gastromarket. It’s a cute café with some pastries as well, and you can either sit inside the cozy old building, or outside overlooking the mountains. There’s also a small shop attached in which they sell beeswax products and bread.
4. 4-5 hours is a good amount of time here. Unless you’re doing extensive hiking, this will give you more than enough time to see the sights.
5. The bus routes on weekends aren’t as frequent. I arrived at 12:30pm, and the next bus back to Madrid didn’t leave until 7:15. I would have stayed in the village more, but I wanted to hike back to the bus stop before sunset. Thankfully, I had my phone and a Kindle.
6. Bring cash. They do accept cards, but as said earlier, I did have to pay cash for the bus ticket.
7. Bring a portable charger. I did have phone service in this remote area, but I noticed my battery drained faster. That could also be my phone specifically, but still, when going to remote places I recommend a portable charger.
And that, my friends, is the first part in the series of exploring the pueblos in Madrid! The next edition probably won’t be out until Christmas vacation, but here’s a taste for what’s to come.
Do you prefer day trips to big cities or small towns? What do you like to do there? Let me know below!