It was probably after the fourth time in about 3 miles that I pulled over to jump out of the car to take a photo of another stunning view that I came to realise this is one of my favourite places in Spain.
The Serrania de Cuenca National Park is a small to medium-sized natural park that covers around 73,000 hectares a little under an hour’s drive north of Cuenca.
We recently stayed in a casa rural in the tiny village of Fresneda with the idea of just relaxing for the weekend and doing nothing, but funny how things never work out that way.
After breakfast on the first day, we wanted to go for a quick drive and explore before slipping into doing nothing for the rest of the weekend. As we are rubbish at doing nothing, we ended up filling both days with solid exploring.
So, on the back of that, here is my rundown of the best things to do in Serrania de Cuenca National Park.
1. Drive the CUV-9031
I absolutely adore a good mountain drive and this has certainly become one of my best driving roads in Europe. It has everything.
The road starts off through a valley as the road takes the same route carved out by the Río Escabas. I have never been to paradise, but I’m pretty sure this river runs through it. The colour and clarity of the water is breathtaking. I found myself pulling over every other mile to take another photo of the river.
Either side of the road were imposing vertical cliffs towering over us. At some point, they even overhang the road. It’s one of those drives that I really had to focus on my driving, there was so much to entertain my eyes, it’s easy to get distracted.
Just before the road starts climbing to the top of the valley, towards the village of Fuertescusa, we passed through the Puerta del Infierno – Hell’s Gate – three small rock-cut tunnels in a row.
Fuertescusa makes a nice stop for a coffee before continuing the climb up to Poyatos.
This is where the hairpin bends start and the views change from the dramatic valley bed to expansive mountaintop panoramas.
The road is a delight to drive and has very little traffic, we probably saw about 4 other cars in 2 hours, although we were visiting in the colder months, so I would imagine there is more in summer.
The pattern of driving, stopping, photoing continued for quite a few miles until we reached one of the most famous places to visit in the Serrania de Cuenca National Park, the Nacimiento del Rio Cuervo, more on that later.
2. Playa De Cañamares
At the junction of the CM-201 and the CUV-9031 you’ll find the Playa De Cañamares, a natural, freshwater swimming area in the Río Escabas.
While I can imagine it is popular in the summer, as I pulled over to take a closer look, we were the only people in the area. Given that is was only a few degrees above freezing, I guess that shouldn’t have been a surprise.
In the summer months, there is a small terrace bar close by so you can kick back and relax for as long as you like.
There are a couple of places to stay nearby, Camping La Dehesa is a campsite next to the beach with 154 plots among 2 hectares of pine forests. If you fancy something with a bit more structure you can also take a look at the Cabañas El Llano de los Conejos, just a 5-minute walk up the road.
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3. El Hosquillo Park
The Hosquillo was created as an Experimental Cinegenetic Park in 1964. Since 1986 is has been conserved by the local government (although it is in dire need of extra funding) to study and conserve wildlife.
The landscape is pretty spectacular. High cliffs on steep slopes covered with a dense pine forest. But as well as the scenery, the local inhabitants are also a big draw.
El Hosquillo is home to a great diversity of birds as well as deer and mountain goats. However, the two most famous inhabitants are the Iberian wolf and the brown bear, also the emblem of the park.
It is possible to visit the park and see the semi-wild inhabitants but you must book a visit in advance. They have accompanied tours where the guide will show you around and talk to you about the wildlife that inhabits the park.
The price of the tour is a little over €12 for adults and €6 for kids and takes around 3 hours to complete.you can find out more information about visiting on the El Hosquillo website.
4. Mirador de la Peña del Reloj
There are many miradors (viewpoint) I could include in this list, but I’m going to limit it to two of my favourites, this is the first. The Mirador de la Peña del Reloj is a short walk that ends in expansive views over the whole of El Hosquillo Park.
5. La Ciudad Encantada – The Enchanted City
This is among the top two places that people visit the Serrania de Cuenca National Park for. La Ciudad Encantada is a large area with weird natural rock formations.
The quick overview is that the bizarre rocks are a result of erosion when the area used to be an underground cave system. Water channels carved through the rock leaving the weird and wonderful visitor experience that exists today.
Of course, there is more to it, but I’ll save that for my more in-depth post specific to The Enchanted City which is coming soon.
There is a €5 fee to visit La Ciudad Encantada, €6 if you would like a guided tour. You get a small map with the recommended route to follow as well as the names of the more iconic rock formations.
Some, such as the boats and the Roman bridge, are pretty obvious, but others, like the dog and the seal, well let’s say you need a certain amount of imagination to see what they saw.
Fun Fact: La Ciudad Encantada was used as one of the filming sites for the cult classic Arnie movie Conan the Barbarian.
6. Los Callejones de las Majadas – The Alleyways of Las Majadas
In many ways, Los Callejones de las Majadas is similar to La Cuidad Encantada. It is an open space with some wonderful, naturally eroded rock formations, but one major difference, it is free!
You can take several routes, with the shortest one being 3.6 km, but there is no map handed to you. Several of the routes are signposted and the paths are well worn so it is quite easy to make your way around the many rock formations and through the labyrinth of alleyways without getting lost.
If you would like to know a little more about Los Callejones de las Majadas, you can read my post about my last visit to this area of Spain.
La Cuidad Encantada Vs Los Callejones de las Majadas
A lot of people compare the two which is understandable as they are very similar. If I were to choose between the two on the interest of the formations and the information available, then I would have to say that I thought The Enchanted City was slightly better.
But, Los Callejones de las Majadas has no entrance fee, so that is a big plus. There was also a lot more space to run abut in and the rocks could be clambered on, so maybe if you are with a family, the financial saving and the freedom may mean that this would be the better choice if you can only visit one.
7. Nacimiento del Rio Cuervo
The Nacimiento Del Río Cuervo, which translates to Birth of the River Raven, is a wonderful place for a medium difficulty hike. There is no cost to enter and there is plenty of free parking.
The hike starts super easy as the main entrance that takes you from the car park to the main attraction, a large series of waterfalls, is a well-built wooden walkway.
The waterfalls did disappoint a little bit as I had seen many spectacular photos of this place online while researching, but when you are there, the view of the main falls is quite concealed by trees rising out of the rock face.
The walk from the car park to the falls is only about 5 minutes and it is easy to get a stroller or a wheelchair there. However, if you want to do the full hike, it’s not suitable.
There is a marked route up the side of the falls that take you up and over the top. A nice reminder that waterfalls always look better from the bottom. As the name suggests the walk takes you right to the source of the river before guiding you back down to the car park in a nice loop.
What really stood out to me was the brilliant colour of the water, it is some of the clearest I have ever seen and at each stage of the hike it seemed to take on a different glow as the surrounding landscape changed.,
There is a nice little picnic area close to the car park towards the end of the hike by the river. In total, a couple of hours here should be plenty.
8. Mirador Ventanto Del Diablo – Devil’s Window
This is the second of the viewpoints on my list, although there are many more fantastic stops. This is a popular one due to its location of the main road between Cuenca and the heart of the Parque Natural de la Serrania de Cuenca. It is well signposted and has a large pull-off area with plenty of spaces. Although be careful, it is on a rather sharp bend in the road.
Once you have parked it is about 50 metres to the viewpoint which, as the name suggests, is like a window. The open rock cave has 270-degree views to the river waaay below you and up into the valley. It is a great little photo stop.
There is a small souvenir stand but not much else. In total, you probably won’t spend much more than 15 minutes here en-route to one of the larger attractions in Serrania de Cuenca National Park, but it is certainly 15 minutes worth spending.
Getting to the Serrania de Cuenca National Park
Unless you are part of an organised trip, the only way to really enjoy the Serrania de Cuenca National Park is by having a car.
If you don’t have a car yourself, car hire in Spain is quite cheap. Be sure to brush up on the Spanish driving laws before you do though. The last thing you want is a run-in with the Guardia Civil.
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Where to stay in Serrania de Cuenca National Park
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El Torreón Apartamentos Rurales – Fresnada
Fresnada is a tiny village with just 20 year-round residents on the fringes of the National Park. It is built up around a haunting church that was destroyed during the Spanish civil war but never restored.
El Torreón Apartamentos Rurales is where we stayed on our second visit. The rooms are comfortable, not really luxurious, but what makes this place stand out are the owners.
Jesus and Isabel were there at breakfast and evening looking after us and we honestly felt like family. It was a privilege to get to know such a friendly couple.
I’d highly recommend this place if you are travelling as a group. The apartments have a kitchen area and a living room, a great spot for a family or friends gathering.
La Utrera – Las Majadas
We stayed in La Utrera on our first visit. These are individual little buildings in a rural complex. Each one is good for a family with a double bedroom downstairs and twin beds upstairs.
We were staying just the two of us and the place really felt like home. I would say the actual accommodation is nicer here when compared to Fresnada, however, the owners were pretty cold and we didn’t feel half as welcome as we did in El Torreón.
Jardín del Río Cuervo – Vega del Codorno
While we didn’t stay in Jardín del Río Cuervo, we did stop here for lunch and the owner showed us the rooms, they are excellent. It’s similar to Le Utrera in that they are individual huts, but the luxuriousness just goes up a notch.
What I love about this place (aside from the food) is that they pride themselves as bio sustainable built under criteria of minimal environmental impact.
More Places to stay in Serrania de Cuenca National Park
Where we ate
Jardín del Río Cuervo
So let’s talk about the restaurant. Well, we didn’t plan on ending up here, so bear with me while telling you my little tale.
We were enjoying the drive along the CUV-9031 so much that we kind of lost track of time and before we knew it it was 2:30pm. Feeling peckish we thought we’d stop in a restaurant in the next village, but nothing was open.
No problem we thought, the next one will have something. But again . . . nothing.
It was now nearly 3:30pm and the hunger was stepping up a notch when we were flagged down by a family at the side of the road.
Mum, dad and two girls. They had gone off the road about 1 km further up and asked if we could pull them out. Taking the opportunity to be the hero in someone else’s story, we of course agreed.
It was snowing and cold. We asked how long they had been waiting and we were the first car to pass by in an hour and there was no phone signal to call for help, they were really starting to get a bit worried.
They had everything needed to raise the car that was in the ditch, most importantly the knowledge of where to tie the rope on my car.
We asked if they knew anywhere around here for lunch, which they did and recommended the Jardín del Río Cuervo. We followed them there and all enjoyed lunch together.
While not the cheapest place to eat, it was delicious food that I still feel offered value. The menu was very creative and all of our dishes were very well prepared.
Basically, that’s the really long way of saying a lovely place to eat but not cheap.
El Ventorro Hostal
The only thing this place has in common with the last restaurant is the fact the food is great. It is simple food specialising in local dishes that offer outstanding value.
It was recommended to us by Jesus and Isabel from our apartments and is clearly a popular place with the locals. We had to wait a little while for a table and they were being turned almost instantly.
The grumpy service also felt authentically Spanish.
Restaurante La Tejera
I’m never too sure whether to trust restaurants that pop up so close to major tourist attractions, but this one opposite the entrance to the Nacimiento Del Río Cuervo was a nice treat.
While the food isn’t spectacular, it is well cooked and served in a nice, cosy environment. It has the feeling of one of those places best enjoyed in the winter months with a hearty stew buy the fire after to warm up after a long winter walk.
Final thoughts on Serrania de Cuenca
I hope I have enthused to visit one of my favourite spots in Spain. It is a wonderful balance of having plenty to keep you busy while not really doing much.
I know for certain I will be back to explore a bit further afield, there are spots that we still haven’t reached. Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway or a family adventure, if you love nature, you’ll love Serrania de Cuenca National Park.